The Complete Guide to Succeeding as a Receptionist

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How to be a great receptionist

The Complete Guide to Succeeding as a Receptionist

Contrary to cliché, being a receptionist isn’t simply about sitting at a desk and looking pretty. (Ok, the sitting at a desk and smiling bit is true). In fact this role is a vital — and busy — part of the company.

The receptionist wears many hats and handles significant information, people, and tasks, and there’s a great deal of skill in being a good one. It may seem overwhelming at first, but with a little practice you’ll get the hang of it in no time.

Whether working at a swanky office, a hair salon, or a hotel, here are a few main points to consider.


It’s your job to be the first impression and public face for the company

This isn’t to say you’re the company mascot or sole representative. However, when someone walks in the front door, you’ll be the first person they talk to, and you want to represent the company well. First of all, attitude is everything. Be friendly, courteous, and professional to everyone who sets foot in the building, and immediately inquire how you can help them.

Second, dress the part. Your employer may have a dress code, but you should always be outfitted professionally and appropriately regardless. Above all, smile and maintain a positive attitude, no matter how the customer acts (inevitably, not everyone will be on their best behavior).

Bottom line, you want the client to associate a positive experience with the company from the moment he or she steps through the door — and it’s your job to start the relationship off on the right foot.


Organization is your middle name

Time to get down to business — your job involves getting into the nitty-gritty also. The receptionist is typically responsible not only for greeting and directing visitors but also for answering the phone, scheduling appointments and meetings, resolving questions, and helping employees stay informed and organized.

If that sounds like a lot to keep track of, it is. Not only is it a lot on your plate, it’s also essential work. Keep-the-company-running-smoothly work. Needless to say, organization is crucial. Create a system that works for you personally. Whether a digital method, a handwritten planner, or a lot of Post-It notes, what matters is that it makes sense to you and helps you keep track of everything.

In any case, take notes. No matter how sharp your memory is, you’ll be glad for a written (or typed) record when you’re shuffling a million bits of info in your head. Along the same lines, get used to multitasking. You’ll need to juggle guests, phone calls, employee requests, and many other odds and ends at any given time, so being able to efficiently divide your attention and balance various tasks will make you much more successful at your job.


Hone your phone and computer skills

Sitting at a desk and answering the telephone may bring to mind an image of a retro secretary, and it’s true that receptionist roles have changed drastically. All the same, phone skills are still a fundamental aspect of the job, and you should have your employer’s phone and computer systems down to a T.

Step one is to perfect your phone answering. Your new mantra will likely be something along the lines of, “Hello, [your company], this is [your name], how may I help you?” Whether you use a company-mandated script or create your own, be able to rattle it off flawlessly.

In addition, learn how to operate the systems you’ll be using. The basics include transferring calls, putting callers on hold, making internal calls in the building, and entering appointments in the calendar system, as well as using Microsoft Excel and any company intranet systems.

While your supervisor will likely teach you all this when you start, it’s your responsibility to pay attention and ask questions. You’ll be using these programs every day, so it benefits everyone for you to be an expert on it all.


Communication is key

Your job isn’t only about technical skills. As important as phone and computer expertise is, a good receptionist also needs excellent interpersonal skills. Back to point No. 1: courtesy, patience, helpfulness (in person and on the phone). Needless to say, not everyone will be pleasant to deal with, but doing your job well means being polite and patient in all cases.

In addition, make sure you can communicate coherently and efficiently. Your job is to make the path from the door to the visitor’s goal or destination as smooth as possible, which means knowing your info and being focused and alert at all times. Provide as much information as possible in a clear and concise way.

When communicating with both customers and coworkers, be direct, honest, and respectful. Perhaps most of all, listen. Knowing how to listen and pay attention will make a world of difference in your efficiency and effectiveness as a receptionist.


Be familiar with the essential information about your employer

See the point about being the company greeter. No one just walks into the CEO’s office. If a visitor has a question or request, he or she will come to you first. Which means that you need to know the basics (and as many details as possible) about the company — office address, hours, key people and their schedules, contact information, and so on.

Find out as much of this as possible on day one, and write it down for future reference. A cheat sheet isn’t a cop-out; it’s a sign of resourcefulness (and likely to be a lifesaver down the road). In addition, know who to contact if you don’t have the answer to a question or need help with a request.


Find out what specialized skills and knowledge are needed

Before accepting the job. Ask your interviewer, supervisor, or contact if any specific expertise is needed for the position. For example, a doctor’s office might want you to have some medical knowledge, or a hotel could require hospitality industry experience.

This doesn’t mean that the job is off the table if you don’t already have these skills, but it will make everything smoother and more productive for both you and your potential employer to have these details clear before your first day on the job.

Never pretend to have skills you don’t actually have — it’s much better to be up-front, even if that means more training, than to start off a new job on the wrong foot with a lie. Your employer and your stress level will thank you.


Take initiative and a proactive approach

Most likely, your new post will be seated at a desk near the front of the building, by yourself. Don’t be fooled by the apparent quiet and lack of supervision, however — there’s plenty for you to do. Because you won’t be right under your boss’s eye, it falls to you to take initiative.

Keep track of what needs to be done and be proactive in managing your own time and helping clients and employees. Figure out how to read a situation and take action to assist others, even if no one is telling you exactly what to do every second. This type of intuition and assertiveness doesn’t necessarily come easily, but it will make you an incredibly valuable asset to both customers and your employer.


Prove you’re a reliable and trustworthy employee

This goes without saying for any job, of course. Since this particular role involves manning the front desk/entrance and much of the scheduling for the company, however, the point is especially paramount.

Make sure you’re consistently at your station to answer the phone, greet visitors, and answer questions — you want your employers to know they can always depend on you to be available and on the ball.

Likewise, integrity and trust are vital. Dealing with clients, scheduling, and other important information (not to mention keeping an eye on who enters the building) means that you have a good deal of responsibility on your plate.

Keep track of significant information and visitor logs, stay alert, use your good judgement, and when in doubt, ask your supervisor. Your responsibility is something to be honored, not alarmed, by and you should handle your duties with a sense of pride.


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