The 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.
The 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
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.
Receptionists 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.
Incoming 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."
In 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.
Seeing 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.
Many 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."
Basic 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."
As 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.
In 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."
Work 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."
In 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.
Receptionists 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.