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The Wall Street Journal's blog "The Receptionist Is Watching You" very provocatively opens with the following tip: "Want that job? Better be nice to the receptionist."
As a former admin, I can tell you the rumors are true: hierarchy doesn't dictate closeness within a company, and the CEO is as likely to ask his front desk person to weigh in on a potential new hire as another associate.
But that doesn't mean that kissing up to reception will get you good reviews. Today's receptionist is not a sweet old lady that doesn't really know much about her company's culture or your interview--it's often a young, savvy go-getter with designs on moving up, and clear ideas about company culture.
And since admins often have lots of visibility into their company's comings and goings (thanks, Microsoft Outlook calendar sharing!), they'll also know where you will--and won't--fit in. And if asked, you can bet they'll be vocal about it.
Thus, you'll need to do a little better than making small talk to impress support staff.
Here's what you'll need to know to earn front desk endorsement:
1. "Kind" doesn't cut it
It's great to be friendly, but remember that the front desk person isn't just a "hi and bye" character in your prospective working world. Very likely, you'll need to interact with them every day—with them in the working for you role.
Therefore, if you give the impression that you just love to hang around eating the candy on their desk and discussing Dancing With the Stars, you're signally that, if hired, you'll be A. a distracting nuisance with no respect for their time, and B. a person the receptionist will need to bail out all the time because they're the sloppy, one-hour-lunch-turns-into-two type that forgets their own meetings.
Friendly is great—better than curt--but be sure to showcase your professionalism too.
2. They're not on your side
I can't tell you how many times an interviewee politely greeted me, then, moments later, leaned in and whispered a question about what the boss is really like to work for.
Granted, my boss was very tough. But in that moment, I instantly became more loyal to him than the presumptuous, tactless idiot hoping to use me for information.
Treat the receptionist just like you would your interviewer. Which brings us to the next point…
3. They can see you
Grooming belongs in the bathroom. As does that errant burp, crotch adjustment, or weird stuff you do to psych yourself up, like hopping up and down while clearing your throat (yep, I've seen this).
We get it—you're human. And that's fine. But pretending office staff is invisible to the point where you're openly picking your nose isn't just insulting to the poor person stuck watching you; it's damaging to your reputation as a professional who knows what's appropriate. Not a great first impression to make.
4. Flirting isn't cute
Sure, you'll very likely make a fun, light hearted impression in the moment by complimenting a receptionist. They might even give you their number. But they won't refer you for the job.
Flirting: fun. Sexual harassment or tension in the workplace: not fun.
Don't cutesy your way out of a job opportunity by forgetting where you are--a place of business—and where you aren't: a bar.
5. If you're working "with them," don't let them do all the work
Getting directions? Need help dialing in to a conference call? Let the admin be your guide, but try to be as courteous and competent as possible. No freaking out, even if your cab just missed the exit because of confusing directions, and listen. There's nothing more annoying than fielding the same question you already answered several times, because the person was too frantic to pay attention. Admins deal with false urgency all the time, and they won't appreciate it from a stranger.
And while you're at it, do make a little chit chat. It shows that you're a considerate enough person to step out of your own interview stress and share a moment with someone else.
I'm not a receptionist anymore, but I can guarantee that'd win me over.
Any other admins (present or former) with tips for job seekers? Any horror stories? Share them in the comments below!
--Cathy Vandewater, Vault.com
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