It was 2008 when I got my first job as a receptionist in a private school. Lucky for me, the school director at that time said, “I don’t need a person with experience as our teaching method and tools are unique.”
And she was right. They had programs for accountability, teaching, and booking lessons made only for them.
My job wasn’t merely to answer the phone but also welcome students and possible clients, interact with the teachers, make sure the students kept coming to school and sometimes help them with the exercises.
I’ve worked as a receptionist for four years. But due to the economic crisis, things weren’t going well. The school closed for good after a few years.
When speaking with others about the receptionist job, I often have the feeling people see the role as an entry-level position. An easy job for newbies paid less than other clerical positions that will preclude you opportunities to grow.
Being a receptionist for four years taught me a lot. How to handle clients, deal with co-workers, and improve some skills valuable for higher retributed positions.
But there are a few things I wish I knew before taking the job.
Know Where Your Duty Ends
As a receptionist, you will be the first person everybody sees: clients, colleagues, possible new customers. Everyone will come to you to ask whatever pops into their minds and share their thoughts.
Being a good listener is a great skill, but don’t forget that listening to others’ problems isn’t your job. It isn’t professional to hear someone complaining at the front desk.
Politely find a way to close the conversation as soon as possible and eventually point your interlocutor to the person who might solve his situation.
Never take an initiative beyond your duties. It might create a precedent. The person you helped might not understand it was a one-time thing. You might also disappoint your colleagues as you step into someone else’s area of expertise.
Say you take note of the problem and report it to your supervisor.
You Can’t Leave the Front Desk Unattended
There must always be someone ready to answer the phone, welcome people, and supervise important documents or money held at the reception.
Large companies usually have a couple of people working at the front desk together, but it’s not always the case.
I used to work with another receptionist from about 12 to 5 p.m., after that time, I was on my own.
Sometimes, other co-workers came to use the second computer on my desk to fulfill their tasks, but it also happened I was the only employee working at the school during the summer season when most of the staff was on holiday.
Being the only receptionist left at the front desk might not be fun. If I had to go on break or use the loo, I had to ask someone from another office to come and take my place.
Keep all the important documents and money in a safe place. Organize your breaks according to a colleague’s schedule.
“Multitasking” Will Be Your New Nickname
As I said, being alone at the front desk isn’t always peaches and cream. I remember the long queue of people who wanted to book a lesson right after a group meeting with the teacher. Everybody waiting in line patiently, trying not to get in the automatic door area, while the phone kept ringing, and I had to answer that first.
Your ability to manage several tasks simultaneously will make the difference in a crowded environment where everybody who has to go through you is in a rush. Stay calm and polite, if someone can’t wait his turn, tell him to call whenever they can or ask for assistance from a co-worker.
Learn to prioritize your tasks and stay focus in a fast-paced environment. It might take some time, so don’t give up after the few first months.
You Will Be the First One to Arrive at Work and the Last One to Leave
As a receptionist, I was in charge of opening and closing the school, depending on my shift. I had the building keys and a great responsibility. Well, I must admit I made the alarm go off a couple of times.
To make sure the school was open and ready to welcome the students, I had to arrive at work at least ten minutes before in the morning and couldn’t leave before everyone was out.
Over the years, I had a few people who knocked at the door to get in before the opening time, not understanding I couldn’t let them inside for safety reasons.
I mostly had the afternoon shift, so my duty was to check that the windows were closed correctly, computers were off, and everybody was out before closing. All that time I spent waiting for everybody to finish their job before locking the door wasn’t paid.
Ask a colleague you trust to help you with the closing/opening tasks and remember to return the favor.
Night Shift Might Be Part of the Working Schedule
Lucky for me, my shift ended at 9 p.m., but there are companies, like hotels, that need a receptionist 24/7.
Some people like to work at night because it’s quiet, and if they manage to sleep right after and wake up in the early afternoon, they still have a lot of time to spend outside.
Once, I met a girl who worked the night shift at a Disneyland Paris Hotel; she got used to the schedule and actually enjoyed it.
Working at night while everybody sleeps and having a schedule opposite to friends and family isn’t for everyone.
If you’re considering working the night shift, you should think about it carefully.
Years ago, I worked for a transport company, and I saw at least three men taking over and leaving in less than a few months the night position after the person who previously had it for years moved abroad.
Working the night shift usually comes with a higher pay rate; give it a try for a few months before throwing the towel.
You Are the Image of the Company
As a receptionist, you will be the first person someone sees coming in the front door. You will be part of the things a stranger will consider to build a positive or negative first impression of the company.
Your outfit should be in line with the idea the company wants to represent. If the company doesn’t have a uniform for you to wear, make sure your dressing style aligns with company etiquette.
Don’t get yourself caught while sipping a coffee or eating at the front desk. Nobody wants to see you having a sandwich during your shift.
Also, chatting or playing with your phone at work isn’t the best practice a client or an employer wants to see as the first thing when walking inside the company building.
Observe how your co-workers are dressed and copy their style, adjusting it to your body’s shape and personal taste.
You Might Have to Handle Money
As a school, we were also selling books and DVDs related to the lessons. Sometimes, the students paid the initial fee in cash, and I had to handle it.
Only years later, I’ve found out that cashiers have a cash allowance, some extra bucks in their salary eventually used to cover a lack of money due to a mistake in payments.
Handling money is no joke; you can get fired if you keep making errors with invoices and payments.
If cash allowance isn’t provided as part of your work contract, consider concluding private insurance.
You Will Meet a Lot of People
One of the best things about working at the front desk of a large company is the opportunity to meet many people.
Of course, it depends on the company. Students coming to the school I was working for were of any age; business owners or freelancers; employees who needed to learn English to deal with foreign customers or people who wanted to learn it for fun or use on holiday.
I also established friendships with some of the students who had the same interest I had and were around my age.
Never underestimate the connections you can make while working at the front desk; they might help you later on to get a better job.
Be always gentle and friendly; share something about your life outside the job only with those who inspired you trust and might be happy to grab a drink together.
The front desk job isn’t for everyone. You need to have a lot of patience, be polite, and direct people and mail to the right office.
Sometimes you will find it boring when no one calls or walks in; other times, your table will be crowded with papers and there will be people waiting to speak with you. You’ll learn to prioritize tasks and do them faster.
My receptionist role also involved making follow-up calls to book students and work under pressure to reach goals or send forward résumé of possible new teachers. These might be tasks you will never have to do.
A receptionist’s role can vary depending on the company’s purposes and structure. Don’t be shy at the job interview; ask all the questions you need to understand your firm’s actual role.