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What is a Receptionist?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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A receptionist is a type of secretary who specializes in handling the flow of people through a business. He or she answers phones and deals with people who walk into a business for appointments or because they need various services. The tasks that he or she performs can vary, depending on his or her job description, but people handling is generally viewed as the most important part of the job. As you might imagine, good people skills are a job requirement for people in this position.

Receptionists control access to executives and other staff, answers questions, schedules appointments, and handles other interpersonal interactions. They is literally the face of the business.

Many spas, doctors offices, salons, and other businesses that provide services to the public typically have a receptionist. In these positions, he or she makes appointments, keeps track of the schedule, keeps staff members updated about their bookings for the day, and handles client records. He or she will also answer questions for people about the services that the business offers, and he or she typically checks people in for appointments and deals with any paperwork which clients may have to fill out. Receptionists are also expected to handle client payments in many cases.

In an office, a receptionist keeps track of the schedules of various staff members, sets up meetings within the company and with outsiders, and answers questions from the public. In many cases, an office is open to the public, allowing people to simply walk in, in which case the receptionist needs to be skilled at being a watchdog of the office, preventing people without appointments from disrupting the flow of the office schedule. He or she also typically spends a lot of time on the phone.

In offices which only network with other businesses, as might be the case with a wholesaler, a receptionist is still a vital member of the team. He or she is expected to be a friendly face for companies which might want to do business, place orders, or cooperate on projects. He or she will manage schedules for the staff, make appointments, schedule meetings, and answer queries from other businesses in the course of a day's work.

Receptionists must be skilled at multitasking and remaining cheerful and courteous at all times, even when extremely frustrated. They must also be good at quickly reading people and their needs, determining, for example, whether someone should really be allowed to meet with a company executive. In addition to being good at managing the public, a receptionist has to be on top of the staff of the business that he or she works for, ensuring that people have the most current information about their schedules.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Practical Adult Insights researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon990092 — On Apr 06, 2015

So a receptionist is a way to get cheap help instead of hiring a secretary?

By anon329939 — On Apr 12, 2013

A receptionist is a job that is often underrated. Companies should never allow anyone to demean a receptionist.

By Perdido — On Dec 13, 2012

A receptionist is often expected to adhere to the same dress code as everyone else in the building. At corporate offices, she will have to dress formally.

My dental receptionist wears scrubs, along with everyone else in the office. She probably never has to deal with blood and saliva, but I suppose that the dentist wants to keep a certain theme going with everyone's clothing.

By lighth0se33 — On Dec 12, 2012

@kylee07drg – Yes, and that is something that goes unmentioned in the receptionist job description. The receptionist often bears the brunt of a customer's anger, even though she had nothing to do with the reason why they are so upset.

I was a receptionist at a vet's office for a few months, and whenever people were unsatisfied with something that the vet did or didn't do, they would yell at me. The funny thing is that if they were complaining to me in person and the vet suddenly walked into the room, their demeanor would shift and they would suddenly become polite.

So, a receptionist often has to be a verbal punching bag. It gets really hard to take at times, because you did nothing to deserve those harsh words.

By kylee07drg — On Dec 12, 2012

There certainly are a lot of receptionist positions under the help wanted section of the classifieds in my local newspaper. This makes me think that it's a tough job and some people just don't last long at it. You would have to have nerves of steel and a lot of willpower to handle irate customers.

By feasting — On Dec 11, 2012

I always talk to the medical receptionist when I call to make an appointment with my doctor. She is friendly, but she always sounds like she's in a hurry. I imagine that there are several lines ringing at once, and she is responsible for handling them all.

There have been times when I have called there to get a refill on my prescription, and she would have to transfer my call to a nurse. It's nice that she is able to do this and doesn't just make me call the number myself.

By anon161056 — On Mar 18, 2011

Receptionists should be treated with a lot of love and care. They are the best, and they should earn a good salary.

By calpat — On Mar 17, 2011

If receptionists have this much responsibility, and are this important to a company, I hope they are paid well. I never thought of a receptionist job as being a high paying one. But it sounds like it should be. Where would a company be without its receptionists?

By claire24 — On Mar 17, 2011

Wow, a receptionist really has a big job to perform! I always thought it was an easy job that pretty much anyone could do. But it would take someone with a lot of different skills to be able to handle all of of the duties of a receptionist!

I definitely never thought of a receptionist as being the face of a company. That really shows how important the receptionist's role it.

By anon37025 — On Jul 16, 2009

Well i thought receptionist skills were basically answering the phone and dealing with with rude customers sometimes but this has shown me a lot more than what I had thought.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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