Receptionist/Information Clerk  What They Do

Just the Facts

Receptionists and Information Clerks Career Video

Insider Info

dotThe telephone receptionist who handles your pizza order is just one type of receptionist. Receptionists work in several different areas, with different duties based on the needs of the employer. But in general, they do have a few things in common.

The receptionist is usually the first person you see when you walk into an office. They are also often the ones who pick up the phone when you call. Receptionists must make a good first impression before transferring calls to others in the office.

Receptionists are generally equipped with a large desk, a busy phone system, a computer and a smile.

Companies make their first contact with customers through the receptionist. As a result, this position is very important.

dotThe receptionist sits in the reception area to greet those who are entering the office. Ruth Tapley is a receptionist at the head office of a ski resort. Her desk is located in the main office building, just inside the lobby door.

"I sit at the front desk," says Tapley. "You can't miss me when you come in."

You have been to many offices like hers. She is surrounded by high ceilings, large windows, a comfortable seating area and plants. But every office is different. Tapley's customers often walk in covered in snow and ski gear.

Some companies have phone receptionists and front desk receptionists who perform different functions. Kevin Glover is in charge of phone receptionists for a major coffee shop chain that divides receptionists' duties in this way.

"There are over 1,400 people working in our office," Glover says. "We employ five receptionists [two men and three women] just to cover the phones." His telephone staff work with a complicated switchboard system to make sure all calls are answered quickly.

dotReceptionists work hard to ensure the customer's contact with them is a pleasant one. "You don't want to keep people on hold," says Tapley. And sometimes callers don't want to leave a message if the person they need to speak to is not in. A receptionist must find someone else who can help the caller. Or find another solution.

Receptionists handle problems like this every day. Whether greeting people in person or on the phone, a receptionist must have a great personality and awesome people skills. That's what companies are looking for.

dotIncoming mail can also be the responsibility of the receptionist. "When the mail is not addressed to a specific staff member," says Tapley, "we open it to make sure it gets to the right person."

dotIn a large office, the receptionist may also be in charge of receiving company faxes and e-mail. They then make sure these are quickly sent to the correct staff member. Incoming courier packages are usually signed for and distributed by the receptionist as well.

dotSeeing to office supplies could also fall to the receptionist. This could involve placing orders through a catalog to make sure that the office doesn't run out of paper, pens and other items.

dotMany receptionists are also responsible for the booking and maintenance of office meeting rooms and boardrooms. With this goes the coordination of equipment such as TVs and DVD players. Sometimes, the receptionist is asked to arrange for a catered lunch.

Yes, this job can require being a jack-of-all-trades. Gloria Savage works for a small real estate company with a total of five employees. "It's just me," she says. "But one person can cover everything that needs to be done. I handle the phone calls, greet customers and spend many hours filing and typing as well."

dotBasic computer knowledge is necessary, at the least. When not on the phone or greeting clients, a receptionist is often asked to help with other office projects that may involve computer functions, such as data entry or word processing.

"Our receptionists use computers while they answer calls," says Glover. "They work on e-mail and database systems."

dotAs you can see, a receptionist's workload and duties depend on the size and type of company they work for.

For example, a receptionist working at a hospital or clinic may also be in charge of booking doctors' appointments. A veterinarian's receptionists can be responsible for selling animal products, filling prescriptions and collecting payment for the visits.

dotIn all cases, a receptionist must be able to handle more than one task at once. This skill is called multi-tasking.

Diane Clement works as a volunteer receptionist for a medical facility. "You have to be able to prioritize," she says.

"Sometimes you have someone on the phone, someone waiting at your desk, the other line is ringing and you need to send an important e-mail. You can only do one thing at a time and you have to choose which is most important -- which comes first."

dotWork hours also vary from company to company. In some cases, where the office is very busy, two receptionists are scheduled together in order to complete their daily tasks and to greet visitors and callers. The general rule is that if the office is open for business, a receptionist must be there.

"I work Monday to Friday," says Tapley. "We have two shifts. Sometimes I work 7:30 to 4 and other times I work 9 to 5:30. Because we are seasonal and the winters are much busier than the summers, we have four year-round receptionists on staff and two receptionists who work only during the winter."

dotIn general, the task of the receptionist does not demand physical strength. If the office you work in is wheelchair accessible, you should be able to work in this field in spite of special physical mobility needs.

dotReceptionists work in a safe environment and often wear telephone headsets in order to prevent neck problems. However, these workers may experience carpal tunnel syndrome. This is a wrist condition that occurs when someone uses repetitive hand motion or a keyboard for too long. But this condition is easy to prevent with the right equipment.

"The hardest part of the job is the repetition -- sitting in one position and not be able to move around and stretch your legs," says Glover.

Just the Facts

Want a quick overview of what this career is about?Check out Just the Facts for simple lists of characteristics.

At a Glance

Handle a range of customer relations and office duties

  • Your duties will depend on the size and type of company you work for
  • You should have a friendly voice and exceptional people skills
  • You'll need a high school diploma and some specialized courses