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Receptionist – The People’s Person

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The reception area is the center of action in any office. As the person behind the desk, you can make all the difference- with your smile, tone of voice and helpfulness-in the first impression clients and callers form about your company. If you like hustle and bustle and can handle the stress of answering many phone lines; you may find that being a receptionist is the right office job for you.

Every office has its own pace: Some are hectic all day long, some have sporadic quiet periods and some are fairly calm all the time. Receptionists are responsible for creating a pleasant, business like atmosphere. Welcoming and directing visitors and answering the phone are their major responsibilities.

Being able to size people up and make good judgments is important; not everyone who shows up in a reception area belongs there. It's your job to buzz security or the appropriate manager if you detect something about a particular visitor. No matter who you are dealing with, however, it's critical to behave in a calm, authoritative way without being off-putting. You must also maintain your cool no matter how many people, phone calls and requests are coming in all at once.

To be successful, you not only need a pleasant voice and personality but an ability to take down people's names, phone numbers and messages accurately. If you are working on a sophisticated phone system, you will need to master the controls-nothing puts callers off more quickly than being cut off by the receptionist.

Most receptionists are asked to handle some clerical duties as time permits. They often involve typing, preparing a mailing or inputting information on a computer.

The hardest aspect of being a receptionist is being confined to a desk for long periods of time. Until someone can relieve you, you usually cannot take a break because calls will go unanswered and visitors will be left to their own resources.

Performing this job well can give you a good reputation in the company and help you to learn a great deal about the business. If you prove yourself as a receptionist, chances are good you will be considered for other clerical openings in the office.

If you are a "people person" who gets satisfaction from giving out information and providing help, a job as a receptionist may be your entree into office work.

What You Need to Know
  • Commonly used business words

  • Basic office procedures
Necessary Skills
  • Ability to quickly master electronic switchboards, multi line phone consoles or voice mail systems

  • Ability to take accurate and legible messages

  • Phone etiquette

  • Ability to talk to and get along with a variety of people

  • Ability to type 50 words per minute (minimum)

  • Computer know-how a plus

  • Office equipment know-how a plus
Do You Have What It Takes?
  • Good listening and comprehension skills

  • Ability to maintain composure even when others are rude

  • Tolerance for answering similar questions over and over

  • Ability to react calmly even when there are simultaneous demands for your attention

  • Discipline to consistently arrive on time
Physical Requirements
  • A pleasant phone voice

  • A strong back (you'll be sitting in one place much of the day)

  • A well-groomed appearance
  • A high school diploma or equivalent is usually required.
Licenses Required
  • None
Getting into the Field

Job Outlook
  • Job openings will grow: faster than average Turnover is high, and part-time and temporary opportunities are expected to increase.
The Ground Floor
  • Entry-level jobs: receptionist; receptionist/typist; receptionist/secretary; information clerk

Beginners Responsibilities
  • Answer phone lines and take messages

  • Greet and direct visitors

  • Give out information, handle customer request

  • Monitor security as directed

  • Do light typing and other clerical tasks as needed

  • Sort and distribute mail (smaller offices)

  • Accept deliveries
Experienced Receptionists

All of the above, plus:
  • Make travel arrangements for managers

  • Handle busier or more sophisticated phone systems J Conduct company business over the phone when

  • appropriate (may do some ordering, handle more difficult queries, investigate a problem)

  • Handle higher-level clerical tasks as needed
When you'll Work

Time Off

A 40-hour-a-week schedule is typical.

Receptionists receive the same vacation benefits (usually one or two weeks a year after working 12 months) as a full-time employee. Unlike some clerical staff, who may be needed to work on holidays or weekends when phones don't ring, receptionists are usually not tapped for this type of overtime. Sick days, personal days and major holidays are usually the same as those given to other company employees.
  • Health insurance (most employers)

  • Tuition reimbursement (some employers)

  • Retailers and wholesalers

  • Manufacturing firms

  • Hospitals and health service companies

  • Financial service firms (banks, insurance companies, brokerages)

  • Schools and universities (public and private)

  • Businesses of all kinds, large and small

  • Social service organizations

  • Local, state and government agencies

  • Back and shoulder strain (if your chair, desk height and monitor position are not adjusted properly)

  • Stress-related symptoms (especially headaches) as a result of being "on" all day

  • Hoarseness and other voice problems

  • Perks

  • Who's Hiring

On-the-Job Hazards

Beginners and experienced receptionists: no potential for travel

You'll go

Receptionists sit near the front door at a desk or console that is removed from the work space of other employees. The reception area is usually one of the most attractive and comfortable spaces in the office.

Starting salary: $15,000-$ 17,000

More experienced: $22,500-$29,000

Part-time receptionists can earn $7 to $10 per hour. Pay scales tend to be higher in profit-seeking firms, especially larger corporations, and in major metropolitan areas.

Dollars and Cents


Moving Up

Many secretaries, administrative assistants and experienced bookkeepers start out as receptionists. If you do your job well, try to learn as much as you can about the business on your own and let management know that you're interested in moving up, you will be considered for higher-level clerical jobs. If you lake courses to improve your computer and other office skills, you will also be seen as someone who can be trained for more responsible jobs.

Where the Jobs Are

Receptionist positions can be found virtually everywhere, but the majority of jobs are concentrated in large metropolitan areas where many businesses are located. Approximately one in three receptionist jobs are in health facilities.


Most training is on-the-job because each business has its own telephone communications system.

The Bad News
  • Confinement to one place

  • Low pay

  • Stress of answering many phone lines

  • Having to maintain your cool when others don't

  • Slow advancement and limited jobs in small companies
The Good News
  • Plentiful jobs

  • Regular office hours

  • Opportunity to learn how a business works

  • Part-time and temporary jobs available

  • Little training to set in

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