10 Things Receptionists Won’t Tell You

Working a front desk for a living isn’t always as simple as it looks.   Receptionists are the gatekeepers to companies. Whether you’re a walk-in sales representative or a prominent bigwig with an appointment, it’s best to treat us with dignity.

In no particular order, here are ten things receptionists won’t tell you (but would probably like to):

#10 – Jerky sales tactics won’t work.

If we tell you your target doesn’t see people without an appointment, believe us.  Don’t try to argue, because we’ll just tell the person you were a jerk, if we give him your card at all.   Don’t try to trick a name out of us either.  “Your purchasing manager…what was his name again?” won’t work on a savvy receptionist.   We’re onto your tricks.

Also, if we tell you nicely that our bosses don’t allow you to set up your scammy vending machines in our break room, don’t yell and stomp out in a huff.   We didn’t make the rules.

#9 – We have other things to do besides chat.

As social creatures, most humans enjoy small talk.  But not everyone does, or has time.  Most receptionists are also the company’s switchboard operators, not to mention saddled with a plethora of clerical tasks.  We can’t always talk to visitors  while they wait for their appointments.

We know how much waiting sucks.  Carry a magazine in your briefcase, or use the time to go over your presentation / sales literature / notes before your meeting.  If the receptionist seems open to chatting, keep it away from personal topics.

#8 – We already have a job; we’re not YOUR assistants.

The receptionist’s job is to welcome you and notify your appointment that you’re here.  If asked by our bosses, we will gladly make a copy, fetch a file or even a coffee for you.  Please don’t ask us to phone your dentist, your wife, or anything else you’d ask your secretary to do.  You may be our customer, but we don’t work for you.  Use your cell phone and make your own personal calls.  In fact, you shouldn’t be asking your own secretary to do personal crap either!

#7 – We can’t always answer your questions, but we’ll try our best to find someone who can.

We’re not usually trained on product information or tech issues.  We’re happy to get you to someone who can help you.  That’s what we do.  We may have to ask you a few questions to do that, so bear with us.  If we transfer you to the wrong person, either it was a simple mistake or you didn’t give us clear information.  Please don’t call us back and bitch us out.

#6 – Our execs and salespeople don’t always tell us their schedules.

A big receptionist pet peeve is when people leave without telling anyone.  Some offices have sign-out boards or policies set up to notify the switchboard when someone is gone.  Others, especially large companies, don’t.  We transfer your call automatically and if the person isn’t there, we may not even know it.  Companies have voice mail so people can get back to you if they miss your call.  Leave a clear message with your contact info.  If someone is out indefinitely or has left us, we’ll probably have an alternative for you already.

#5 – We can’t make anyone do anything.

In most companies, the receptionist is the underground part of the totem pole.  We can’t make someone pick up the phone, be in the office, or call you back, etc.  Please don’t launch into a tirade at us if we transfer you and you get voice mail.  We’re sorry you aren’t getting through, but once we transfer a call it’s beyond our control.

We’ll be happy to transfer you to a manager if necessary.  We don’t like it when our co-workers don’t answer their calls either, but often we aren’t allowed to say anything.

#4 – Our lobby is not a public rest area.

This is a business.  Our facilities are for our employees.  Don’t come in and ask us if you can use the bathroom.  Chances are we aren’t allowed to let you past the desk.  Find an alternative.  Emergencies happen, but we may be risking a reprimand or even termination if we let you in.  Don’t put us in that position.

We’ll call 911 for you if you need us to.  Make sure it’s not because you lost your cell phone and your fast food burger didn’t have ketchup on it like you wanted.

#3 – If you’re applying for a job at the company, treat the receptionist with respect.

HR will sometimes ask us what we thought of an applicant because they know people often treat the servants badly.  If you’re rude to us, the hiring manager will know it.  We’ll either paste a note to your resume or tell on you after your interview.  Sucking up is much better.  Practice until you can do it without sounding fake, and we’ll tell our boss we really liked you.

#2 – We love it when you acknowledge us at holiday time.

Vendors and customers often send or bring goodies for a little Christmas suck-up.  If we deal with you on a regular basis, it’s nice when you remember us with a candy box, a cookie tin or card just for us.  It’s torture to watch packages loaded with chocolate march by, knowing the recipient won’t share.  And when something yummy gets put in the break room for everyone, by the time we can get away from the phone, it’s usually gone.

#1 – Keep your crazy to yourself.

It’s scary working the front desk, especially where the general public passes through.  Some of the people we see are certifiable.  We don’t care about your Martian neighbors.  We don’t want to hear your whole life story while you fill out your job application.  And for God’s sake, DON’T PULL UP YOUR SHIRT AND SHOW US YOUR SURGERY SCAR.

See?  It’s not so hard.  All you have to do is remember your manners.  We want to like you when you walk through our door.   And thanks for the cookies. *wink*

18 thoughts on “10 Things Receptionists Won’t Tell You

  1. Oh me, oh my. I spent many years working as a Receptionist. The Holiday gift thing got me as it reminded me of many a year being ignored during Secretary’s Week, because, as you know, a Receptionist isn’t a Secretary so why give her anything? She only answers the phone after all.

    Yeah, now I’m all crabby with the remembering.

  2. Ohh, so much of this I’ve seen. #8- I had to do work for a boss’ historical society presidential duty. Mainly because he didn’t know how to use a spreadsheet. I had no good way out of it, believe me. #4- One time an ‘important’ person and his wife came in and asked to use the office bathroom. Me, doing my job, and not having been told who this person was (even by the person himself!), asked them to use another bathroom on the other side of the building. I then got chewed out by the big boss later for that. I would add a #11, ‘Theft of things you don’t think we’ll miss’ item. I’m talking when you need to take a note (say, with an especially brusque patron on a wired phone) and hey, there’s no writing utensil. ANYWHERE. Need to staple or tape something? Good luck! It’s probably in the breakroom/up front/under a chair/Narnia. And another warning- your older co-workers will very likely NOT understand when you start giggling like a maniac after you ask where your stapler is.

  3. This post came up in your best of 2013 report and as a former secretary had to read and man I can relate to 90% of these. The one thing my mom learned in college, “always be nice to the secretary.”

    #8 YES..I worked for the lady and her daughter was getting married I spent a good 2 months doing nothing but wedding stuff! Creating spreadsheets for invitations, mailing out invitations for the shower, etc….I was glad when that wedding was over!!

  4. I’ve only been a receptionist for a year and all of these I can relate to. One of my biggest pet peeves is being ignored. They like me when I’m useful and can do things for them, but they don’t say thank you. They don’t acknowledge me at all sometimes.Sometimes, I think the managers wouldn’t know the difference between me an automated system. This job really is below the totum pole. At my job, I am not allowed up from the desk unless on my break. And God forbid I have to use the bathroom at a time when it’s not my break!

    • Oh I hear you, especially about the bathroom! I just used to get up and go. What were they gonna do, tell me I can’t pee? I’ll pee in the chair then!
      Soooo glad I’m not doing that anymore (well, one hour a week to cover, but that’s it).

      • Another BIG pet peeve is when someone from one of our locations calls in saying they need something immediately. You can hear it in their voice that if this isn’t done they will be calling back to harass you in order to get it done. Like the article stated, I don’t have control to make anyone answer their phone or call you back or do anything, so being mean to be will not help you!

        • Even WORSE!

          What I hated most was when my coworkers would leave without telling me. Then I transferred calls to their phones and the callers got voice mail. Then they got mad at ME, even though I was not sitting where I could see the person, and I had no clue they weren’t even in the building!

          On Thu, Feb 6, 2014 at 12:16 PM, Graphomaniac – Elizabeth West wrote:


          • Oh I can totally relate to that! The phones in the first office I worked in were set up really weird and we would get other people’s phone calls…the people worked under our business name but didn’t work with us at all…we would just transfer them but sometimes they’d get mad b/c they never call back (these ppl used to travel ALL THE TIME). It was so frustrating. I’m so glad I’m no longer working a job answering phone calls.

  5. Greetings. I really enjoyed reading this—and a few other—entries. Your flash-fiction piece, quite simply, rocked. If your novel is as well-written, I feel strongly it’ll get picked up. Frankly, I got so absorbed reading here I can’t recall how I found your blog! I think I started on Twitter…but no matter. Call it a happy accident. All best to you.

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