what non-obvious things should I know about being a receptionist?

A reader writes:

Hi — long time reader of your blog, and I’m very grateful for your advice, which has helped keep me afloat during a grueling job search. Happily, in a week I’ll be starting a receptionist position with an awesome small office that deals with pensions and retirement plans. The position answers phones, greets visitors, and does some data entry, management of office supplies, proofreading, accounts receivable, and client follow-up. 

Although I have a lot of adaptability and solid customer service skills, I haven’t had much administrative support experience. Are there any handy resources for becoming the best receptionist I can be? General, non-obvious advice? I’ve been combing your archives for insight in the comments section. I’d be grateful for any pointers.

Great question. I want to throw this out to readers to answer, but I’ll start us off with three things:

* Be insanely, neurotically organized. Frankly, everyone should do this, but it’s particularly crucial in your position.

* Be uptight about the details of your job — take them seriously, care about getting the small things right, and don’t take a laid back attitude toward details.

* But don’t be uptight about how other people do their jobs. As an admin, your job will be process-oriented in many ways, which can make it easy to start thinking that other people should be just as process-oriented. And sometimes they should be. But often, doing well in their jobs will be less about process and more about relationships or entrepreneurialism or just plain old results. If you lose sight of that and fall in love with process for process’s sake, you will become less effective. The trick is to get the balance right — being obsessive about details yourself while understanding that other people’s success can rest on other things. If you’ve ever seen an admin or office manager who delays getting someone some much-needed supply because they need to learn to fill out the requisition form correctly (or creates similar bureaucratic obstacles), you’ll know how out of touch with business priorities this makes them. (That doesn’t mean that you can’t assert yourself about what’s needed to make the office run smoothly — it just means that you need to balance it with an understanding of the big picture.)

That’s just three things of many. What other advice do people have — either from working as an admin yourself or from seeing other people do it really well (or not so well)?

{ 231 comments… read them below }

  1. Jeanne

    Don’t make people feel like they’re annoying you when they need to ask you to do something that is obviously part of your job. I’ve had so many tell me they don’t have time for that when I came (politely) with a request only they could fulfill.

    1. Anon

      AGREED! Also don’t have a diva attitude. My admin asst at my previous job was a a major resource but she was always extremely busy and always seemed put off when people asked her to do things that only she could handle.

    2. Lisa

      EXACTLY

      Being support for the dept means just that. If your job is primarily to create and setup say reports, and someone wants to change format moving forward, don’t tell them ‘can’t you do it? you know what you want and I don’t have time’

      dealing with this now with someone that doesn’t even bother listening to my request before shooting it down by saying ‘i’m not a secretary’ and then be on facebook all day

      1. Gjest

        A new admin at my old job once told someone “it’s so annoying because people keep asking me to do things they could do themselves.” Um, yes, but that is your job! I have the utmost respect for good admin/support staff. When they are good, it is amazing! But the nature of the job is such that you will be asked to do something that the person could do themselves, but their time is better spent doing something else.

        1. Lauren

          Yes! Yes I can order supplies, do the couriers, open the mail, etc but that’s not what I’m hired to do! And frankly I resent having to do it and it takes away from what I have to do. This is a huge issue in my office and it drives me nuts.

          The other thing is don’t be judgmental about people’s hours. Nix the “must be nice” if someone leaves early or comes in late. You don’t know what is going on. Maybe they are working early or working late or taking work home. Or whatever. Just say goodbye and leave it at that.

          1. coconutwater

            Ugg.”Must be nice” said in a snarky whine caused me to change the door I came and went from. A Receptionist who whines like that and then starts demanding to know where you are going and when you will be back – is stepping way out of bounds. So I suggest to the OP to respect their co- workers boundaries and not offer commentary on their commings and goings. Gossipping about co-workers while working as a Receptionist is highly unprofessional also.

            1. Lauren

              I’m ok with saying I’ll be gone for the day or I’ll be back at whatever – IMO the receptionist should know where staff is etc. but dial back on the attitude.

              1. tcookson

                People should be able to tell the receptionist their whereabouts for her information. However, I’ve seen so many receptionists make people not want to inform them of anything (to the point of switching the door they come in, even) because the receptionist appears to be monitoring and judging their comings and goings.

                A good receptionist should avoid any appearance of monitoring or judging the comings or goings of anyone else.

        2. AdAgencyChick

          OMG. I’d want to respond back, “If we all did those things ourselves, you wouldn’t have a job.”

          1. Gjest

            Yes, that person should be glad they were talking to someone with a better filter than me. She was one of the worst in a string of bad admins.

          2. Lauren

            I’ve been tempted. She’s a nightmare. Really. Every good piece of advice in this column? She does the exact opposite.

            Another thing – don’t complain to other staff about your job. No one cares that you have to book the travel. It’s your job! No one cares that you have to stay until 5 pm. It’s your job! No one care that you have to start at 8:30 am. It’s your job! Complain and vent about particulars but not about the parts that can’t change. No one cares. And that kind of negative complaining is bad.

  2. majigail

    Don’t look at the clock when the exempt employees come and go. It will make you crazy if they’re not sticking to a strict schedule and it will make them crazy if they think someone other than the boss cares.
    don’t get sucked into being the unofficial anything- unofficial water bottle changer, unofficial coffee maker, unofficial copy maker unless those jobs are expressly yours. That doesn’t mean never do them, but your position is an easy one to dump thousands of little tasks on.

    1. BausLady

      + 1 million on the ‘unofficial’ tasks thought. If you say yes once to one little unofficial thing that isn’t your job, you’ll soon be doing them all the time, for everyone.

    2. Elizabeth West

      LOL, I always looked because I was usually so busy I didn’t even know what time it was until someone walked by my desk on the way out. Then I would look, thinking, “Is it five already?”

  3. The Plaid Cow

    If you want to be great, you don’t have to know everything, but you should know who can get you the answe to anything anyone wants to know. A great admin runs the world.

    1. JessB

      Absolutely! When I started jobs as a temp, I would ask if it was okay to poke around on their website, or on their shared computer drive a little – most said yes, and I was able to learn a lot about the company, which answered a lot of questions before I even knew they would be asked.

      Doing your own research, using whatever method you like to learn people’s titles, and asking colleagues more about what they do are also great ways to gather knowledge about who does what.

    2. Emily K

      Great advice here! I got backed into an admin position once when the admin was laid off and my boss simply added his duties to mine instead of rehiring. The thing I found most difficult about the job is how much of it doesn’t follow routine, how often something was just dumped on me not only to solve, but to first *figure out how* to solve. I found it all very stressful and challenging and I have immense respect for admins who are good at their jobs!

  4. Verde

    *The art of anticipating needs, which is tied to the art of being incredibly observant and Googling everything.
    *Knowing how to at least start to go about solving a problem is half the battle.
    *Resilient, creative, efficient solutions.
    *Rational, calm, steady nerves.

    Admin rules!

    1. HR lady

      Anticipating needs — yes! I totally agree! Pay attention to how people do things, and then anticipate they’ll want them that way again (but don’t get upset if the next time they want it differently – this can happen for various, valid reasons). Also, when you can, try to anticipate needs even if something has never happened before. Example – boss’s first time taking the subway to meet someone for lunch? She might want a subway map (better yet, directions), or you could look up the subway schedules and let her know how frequently they run and how much it will cost (be sure to look at the right time of day, since prices can change), etc. You could think of these things even before she asks you — or, offer them to her even if she doesn’t ask (because she might not realize what she needs).

        1. Chinook

          If you have never seen M*A * S * H episodes with Radar, check it out and use him as a work guide (minus the teddy bear). He was absolutely the epitome of an excellent assistant.

  5. AshRad

    Be what I call “The Gate Keeper” for the office – it annoys me to no end when people wander back into our cubicle area without being announced first. We’re a law firm so much of our dealings are private and confidential, and people should not just be allowed to wander right past the receptionist.

    1. Anon Accountant

      +1

      I love our receptionist and the admin assistant that fills in on our regular receptionist’s breaks, lunches, post office trips, etc.

      They’re excellent gate keepers and you don’t get past the front desk without being announced first.

      1. Jessica

        Oh, I wish our receptionist was a gatekeeper! She gets super flustered when she doesn’t know what to do with someone (in person or on a phone call), so she just randomly sends them somewhere. I’ve gotten people in my office when they are looking for other specific people who are on holiday for a week or more longer, because the receptionist hates to have to face people when she has to tell them that they can’t speak to whomever they are seeking. So I get random phone calls or people in my office who want things that I can’t help them with, and they specifically say, “Oh? The receptionist said you specifically were the go-to person for and could help with [something that I completely have no knowledge of or power to answer]!” And no, they aren’t just saying that, even though she denies telling them those things. It’s super frustrating, but she’s been there for almost 25 years, so I doubt it’s ever going to change.

        She used to call me and say, “So-and-so is on the phone and they want to talk to [someone else in a different department that I don’t do anything with or know anything about], but that person is out today. Can I send the call to you instead?” I’d flat out tell her that I couldn’t help the person, so don’t send them to me. I’d tell her to just tell them that they’d have to leave a voicemail message, but she’d just send them to me anyway. She eventually quit asking and just started sending me random phone calls. *sigh* People act like I’m the idiot when they’re told that I can definitely help them, but I definitely can’t. We’ve discussed it many times, and I used to follow-up with a call or email to her like “Just a heads up that I don’t take care of any bill-pay, so you’ll need to send those to [person who does that],” because I thought (at first) that she just didn’t know who took care of whatever duty I was randomly getting calls for. She’d insist that she never told the person that I could help them (even if she sent the call directly to me, as we can see where it originates from). I finally quit doing that, too. It’s not worth the time.

    2. Nichole

      THIS. We recently had a receptionist move on, and her amazing gatekeeper skills are sorely missed. As far as anyone knew, I was super busy, all the time, unless she determined they actually needed to see me right now. Because I generally AM super busy, this was much appreciated. Even my husband had trouble getting by her the first few times (I work in a setting where it’s not a big deal for him to stop by and see if I’m available for a minute). Our other receptionists are very capable, but much too nice.

    3. Jessa

      But also make sure you have a backup plan. KNOW what your bosses want to do if someone goes beyond reasonable. If someone tries to push past you, acts skeevy, etc. Find out what the procedure is, who to call, etc. Make sure in advance you have a policy for dealing with rude/crazy/nasty people.

      1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.

        Efficient and pleasant gate keeping is the mark of a professional. A great receptionist is able to keep visitors in their place with a pleasant smile on her face the whole time.

        Our previous receptionist could be both sour and harsh and *still* couldn’t control visitors running all over the building. I’d look up and some eager sales person was right at my elbow.

        Our current receptionist is gifted. Pleasant all the time, pleasantly firm when she needs to be, and nobody steps out of line on her watch.

      1. Anon

        My personal favourite “Oh, Kristen and I are old friends, she’ll want to hear from me”

        Hmmm, if you’re such great old friends, you would know her name is actually pronounced “Kirsten”.

        This happens frequently in my office where we have multiple staff whose names are pronounced differently than how they are spelled.

  6. Verde

    One more – don’t take it all on yourself! The proverb about teach a man to fish… You don’t want to be the only one who knows how to work the copier or mail something. Share your expertise, and have a “in case I die” document (sorry, it’s our in-house bad sense of humor, but it is a neccessity), so that if ever you have an emergency and can’t be there, there’s something for everyone else to easily reference.

    1. JulieInOhio

      I’ve started using the “in case I win the lottery and quit on the spot” analogy instead. Much more positive than “in case I get hit by a bus.” ;)

      1. AdAgencyChick

        Nice.

        OT, but I think this is how you tell a great manager from a merely decent one. With my old boss, if I’d won Powerball, I’d have told him I’d stay until he could find a replacement. With just about anybody else…sayonara, y’all!

      2. JessB

        I have one of these too! A colleague and I have planned to buy neighbouring islands… ah, the serenity…

    2. Carpe Librarium

      Find out if one of these guides already exists in your new workplace due to the foresight of a previous admin.

  7. Anon

    Thank you for your third point. I’m an admin, and sometimes it’s very hard to remember that not everyone is going to follow your process, and sometimes you have to suck it up and let it go.

    I do encourage a balance though – if you have an admin person, try to follow their process as often as you can. This buys a lot of good will for you if you ever need to break out and not use the process for whatever reason.

  8. Samantha

    Remember that, for many office visitors, you are their first interaction with the company (same goes for phone calls)! Being polite and friendly is so important for a receptionist. Until recently my organization had a very surly and moody receptionist and I was always so embarrassed when visitors came in and had to interact with her.

    You are also the gatekeeper for the company. Most companies have policies about allowing visitors back into the offices – for example, screening for solicitors and not letting them through, notifying the employee that he/she has a visitor before letting the visitor go back, etc. Your coworkers will appreciate it if you (politely) enforce these policies and help protect them from unnecessary interruptions.

    1. Mary

      So true! People do not remember you for the 99% of the time you were nice to them….they remember that 1% where you were rude, abrupt, loud, etc.! Always remember that when you are tempted to snap at someone.

    2. Reix

      2nd this! I have had a client hang up the phone on our admin assistant and call me at my cellphone to complain about her rudeness…. and I know she is the one with the problem!

      also, she sighs as if in big despair and sorrow when she performs any of her duties… don’t do that!

      but this is all obvious advice!

      on the other hand i am still grateful to the wonderful admin assistant/receptionist at my first job, who supported me and taught me many things when i was fresh out of engineering school! (thank you Lydia!)

      1. Reix

        Oh… I have this from a chinese cookie:
        “Good humor is goodness and wisdom combined”

        AND… don’t be super nice to the bosses and a pain to the rest of people… our current admin assistan does it and not even the bosses like it!

        1. tcookson

          One of our past receptionists did this. She was rude to most faculty and staff, but really played up to the dean and department heads. My boss had jut become a department head, and one day he called me from his cell phone, and with much evident confusion, asked, “Why’s Receptionist being so nice to me all of a sudden?” He recognized it as fake, and he did not like it at all.

      2. Adam V

        Honest question – why is she still there? Isn’t this the sort of thing you’d tell your boss (“client X just called me complaining about her interaction with Jane”) and your boss would lay down the law with Jane (“Jane, this is the third phone call in two weeks from clients complaining about your rudeness; you’re officially on probation, any further complaints will result in termination; sign here stating you understand”)?

        1. Reix

          You are right to ask, my husband asks the same.

          She was very seriously warned not to do it ever again and she has been well-manered on the phone so far as far as I know. I have made an effort to provide her with the name of customers I am dealing with, so that she has an easier time screening calls.

    3. Jen S. 2.0

      So much this. Three major things are vital for every receptionist, because you are the first contact: you must be unfailingly punctual, you must be polite but firm, and you must look and act professional at all times.

      Also, a personal note: I was an admin for about 6 months once upon a time, and I sucked at it because I had a terrible time doing one of the most important things for an admin: you must be very good at getting things to others’ specifications, as opposed to your own. You very often must be able to do things how others want them done, even if it flies in the face of how you would do it.

      Agree with others that a good admin can rule the place.

  9. AMG

    1. Have a sense of humor. Be smart, helpful and happy, and be sincere in your attempts to help out.
    2. Become good at letting people know information they would want but didn’t think to ask. May require being subtle or finesse depending on the situation.
    3. Sometimes people will be vague or not communicate how they want things handled because they don’t want to be fussy, but if you ask them for feedback or suggestions, or ‘would it help if I’, then they have a lot to say and are really grateful that you asked.
    4. Identify needs or ways to make things better and help out. May need to check with someone to make sure that what you are doing is ok. This will be later when you get more familiar with the office.
    5. Keep confidential information quiet and don’t gossip.
    6. Take the extra step for figuring things out. If someone would love to have a way to do XYZ but doesn’t have the time to research it, do that work.
    7. Sharpen your software skills, whether it’s mail merge, vertical lookups, or SAP. Who knows what you would help out with or where it could take you?

    1. HR lady

      This is a good list. I totally agree about your software skills – this is really key to any admin position. You’ll need to know how to do things on the computer, and (eventually) do them quickly. There will end up being things that you are the only one in the whole office who knows how to do (such as a complicated Mail Merge, for example).

      Get lots of practice with Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and whatever email system your company uses. Also your company’s copier, fax machine, etc. Learn from other people, use the Help files, Google when you can’t figure stuff out. Don’t be the one who says “I can’t figure out that new-fangled software!” or “I’m too scared to do it any differently than I learned it 10 years ago.”

      1. Mints

        +1
        If/when you have downtime, try the Microsoft training videos. They’ll go through lots of features and there’s self guided practice files.

    2. DEC

      I can’t emphasize #5 enough: Keep confidential information quiet and don’t gossip. It really is amazing how much the receptionist learns about what is going on in the company and in people’s lives. Don’t share any of what you learn with anyone else. At all.

      1. TeaBQ

        Word. I would also add be aware that confidential stuff isn’t always obvious. You should treat things like how often so-and-so’s spouse calls them with as much confidentiality as you would information about how much everyone in the office makes.

        (I speak from experience as an admin to a C-level exec. It amazed me the kinds of things people thought they could get me to gossip about. None of your business, geez!)

    3. Jessa

      And sometimes this means keeping a list of numbers that are NOT your company. Don’t be the receptionist who instead of saying “the number for that Chinese place is actually one number off of us it’s 1235 not 1234,” is all about “you called the wrong number, bye.” A sticky note with the numbers when you get more than one person calling by mistake, makes you nice and also makes it easier for the next person they call.

      The extra step is vital to making yourself that indispensable person that everyone adores. Also please don’t act like the reception job is something that’s just a stepping stone. While you’re doing it, it needs to be THE job.

      1. tcookson

        Yes. Our current receptionist is resentful that she is overqualified for the job, so she does a worse job than anyone we’ve had in a long time. She resents having to do the things that are intrinsic to the job, and she lets everyone know it with her sullen facial expression and hefty sighs every time she has to do practically anything. She puts all her effort into making sure that everyone understands that she is, in fact, too good for the job.

        Meanwhile, we just want someone who will do the job helpfully and with at least moderate good cheer. If you’re overqualified for your job, nobody else cares about that as much as you do. Don’t make every interaction about letting everyone know that you are Overqualified and Too Good for This. Just do the job.

        1. Jennifer

          This. I actually got a great job because of this. About 10 years ago, I was laid off from a procurement job so I was temping while looking for a full time position and told the service I would take anything.
          So, I filled in for a company as the receptionist for two weeks. I went in each day and just did my job. I did not ever say, well I’m just doing this as a temp, I’m really far more qualified. I just did as I was asked and was pleasant to everyone. At the end of the first week I had the opportunity to bail someone out of an Excel crisis. A clerk came to me looking for another clerk and told me he needed the other guy asap because he needed a spreadsheet repaired. I said maybe I could help and it turned out I could. When he asked, I explained that I had a more senior job in the past and was temping while I searched for a new job. I never mentioned it again. Two months later they called and offered me a job as their office manager. The clerk I helped out told his manager that I had done a good job as a receptionist and saved him in the crisis. When the office manager quit they called the temp agency and asked for my resume since they liked my attitude. The company then called me with an offer. They actually paid the fee to hire me outright from the agency.

          Having a good attitude helped me get better temp work too. There was a group of 5 of us that got all the premium assignments. It wasn’t just that we were highly qualified, it was also that we would take the small stuff in between too.

          1. any mouse

            I’ve seen the flip side of that, one case was a temp who would only do things she’d been specifically hired to do. If anything fell outside of the original agreement/work assignment she’d refuse.

            They didn’t renew her contract.

            Then there was another long term temp who rubbed everyone the wrong way and managed to insult the whole maintenace department. Her position was made permanent. Only they made changes to the qualifications and she wasn’t able to apply for it (at least from my understanding).

    4. Chinook

      Keeping confidential stuff quiet but still filing it in the back of your head to act on is essential skill. For example: the Office Manager and HR lady would book a meeting room on short notice and ask for a taxi chit. This usually meant someone was being fired. I wouldn’t breathe a word to anyone but I would ask HR if I should be taking messages for anyone in particular (rather than sending them to a phone where someone no longer worked).

  10. Jamie

    A couple of things I learned doing my share of front desk when I first started temping and common issues with receptionists I’ve worked with since.

    1. A good admin is such an asset to an organization, a great admin is priceless. Some people don’t get this and may be dismissive of your job, but you’re just as much a professional as anyone else.

    2. I totally second what majigail said above – all positions are different and I’ve know so many receptionists who resent so much that others have more flexible schedules and that they need to let people know when they are away from their desk. It goes with the territory the way emergency calls go with IT and customer emergencies of with sales. It’s easy to think the grass is greener, but every position has it’s issues and clock watching can make you bitter.

    3. People have a tendency to get myopic and focus on their role only – this is a position where you have the huge opportunity to learn so much about the organization globally. The flow, who does what, what the official – and more importantly, the unofficial but very real, power structure is.

    4. Don’t fall into the “not my job” trap. People will want to dump tasks on you that aren’t yours to do. Learn to diplomatically verify what your boss wants you to spend time on, clarify priorities. It’s a delicate balance to maintain boundaries per your boss and not alienate other people.

    5. Attitude matters more in this job than almost any other. I’ve heard so many receptionists complain they aren’t allowed to have a bad day or the need to be sunny all the time…but it’s part of the deal. You’re not always dealing with people with whom you have a longstanding relationship – the customers and calls need sunny every time. You can have a grumpy IT (not that I know any) who can still kick ass at the lions share of her job, but a receptionist is the face of the company and you need to be friendly and welcoming. I got very good at faking perky and if I can anyone can.

    6. I can’t reiterate strongly enough what Alison said about organization. It will be the biggest arrow in your quiver and the fastest way to be as indispensable as one can be (with the caveat that no employee is indispensable ever.)

    1. Elizabeth West

      #4 yes yes yes. I learned to tell people “I’ll need to ask Boss about that; (s)he has put a lot on my plate already.” If someone was trying to fudge their work over on me, they usually said, “Never mind,” and let it go. If they really needed me to do it and begged and pleaded, we’d just go ask my boss.

    2. Ellie H.

      I honestly have a lot more problems with knowing when you actually do need to say ‘That’s not my job’ (but more diplomatically, like ‘I’m sorry I’m not able to help you with that because I’m really not the best person to provide that information’). I think that people with the aptitude for administrative work tend to run the risk of wanting to do everything themselves to be sure it’s done right, being a little control freak-y, and wanting to involve themselves in more things than may be practical or necessary to try to be helpful or just out of a desire to be involved (these are all things I struggle with in my administrative position). There is definitely a line, especially if the stuff is more interesting than what you usually do. If I could, I would do data analysis way more but instead I have to process reimbursement paperwork and let someone else do the data analysis.

    3. Anonymous

      Agreed…except for the grumpy IT part. I think EVERYONE should try to be friendly in their job. I have worked with lots of folks who bring their bad day to work and I find it unprofessional. I don’t think you can do a good job when people feel uncomfortable interacting with you because of your bad mood. Sorry for the tangent. Its just a big pet peeve of mine for people to bring their bad attitude to work. It really rubs me the wrong way.

      1. Jamie

        I was kidding.

        But it stands that if you have a job where you can hole up in your office and work alone if you’re having a bad day you don’t need the skills to maintain the kind of overt friendliness that a receptionist needs all day.

  11. The Other Dawn

    Since you’re working for a small office, be mindful of the bottom line when ordering supplies. That’s important for any office, but especially important for a small office where, often, pennies count. I’m not saying be cheap. I’m saying do your homework. If you use 20 boxes of paper a month, are you getting the best deal you can get?

  12. Jaimie

    You’re putting thought into this, so I am sure you will do great! Congrats on the new job!

    My hints:

    1. Don’t ever give out anyone’s name to sales people (or anyone else) who calls. Don’t even transfer those people to voice mail– take a message.

    2. If anything legal-y arrives via delivery, mail, or phone, don’t handle it yourself– get your manager or someone from Legal (if that’s an option) involved right away.

    3. Represent the company in a nice way. Be pleasant to people who come in to make deliveries, and offer coffee/water to people who are waiting for meetings/interviews. Same for handling phone calls– I know it gets tiring, but people really appreciate politeness.

    4. Don’t over-use the office-wide email. I am so tired of getting emails every time someone neglects to erase the whiteboard in a meeting room or loses their phone!

    1. Apollo Warbucks

      + 1 for the office wide email advice In my office of about 200 people we get several emails a day about all sorts of rubbish at least three to advise of sandwich vans being in the car park, or the fruit delivery having arrived and being in the kitchen, once a week a message about cupcakes being on sale comes round Two of the stupidest I have seen recently have been one asking if anyone has seen a coffee cup that was missing from the kitchen, with accompanying photo and another that had the subject URGENT – has anyone got any nail varnish (apparently someone had laddered their tights, and nail varnish helps)

      1. Jessa

        Having the desk drawer of holding also helps. If your coworkers ladder their hose, the clear nail polish etc. Bandaids, a little sewing kit.

        1. Kelly L.

          Desk drawer of holding! Yes, I had this. Bandaids, tampons, every kind of OTC painkiller you’ve ever heard of…

  13. evilintraining

    I was an admin for 33 years before I landed my current job. Couple of things:
    1) Even if you have to fake it, put a smile on your face when you answer the phone. Trust me, it works toward making you sound pleasant even when you’re in a bad mood.
    2) Pay attention to what’s going on around you, even if it’s only with one ear. You’d be surprised what you can learn about a business just by listening.
    3) Most important, Alison’s #1. It cannot be stressed enough! Find a system of organization that works for you and stick with it.

    1. tcookson

      For 2), I’d go so far as to say especially if it’s only with one ear . . . You’ll be surprised how much people will talk and what they’ll reveal if you appear to be engrossed in your own work but actually have one ear tuned in to the conversation. #theperksofbeingawallflower

    2. ChrissiOD

      I can’t emphasize #1 enough. Smiling when you answer the phone really does work and makes you sound happy and enthusiastic.

    3. Another Ellie

      #1: I have a pretty good phone voice now, but I tend to get out of breath when I talk into the handset (can’t usually do speakerphone in the current set up). Any advice on breathing on the phone?

  14. CollegeAdmin

    When I was temping as an admin assistant last year, the sentence I most often said was, “I’m not sure, but I’ll find out.” It’s a fact of being new to a job that you will run into things that you don’t know how to do, but make it your mission to learn. It’s a win-win: your coworkers will see you as a go-getter and dedicated, and you learn new skills to use in this job and future ones.

    1. Laura

      This is great advice! The vast majority of people won’t think any less of you when you tell them you don’t know something, as long as you tell them you’ll find out.

      1. tcookson

        Our new admin passed this test with flying colors. One of the other admins she hadn’t met yet decided to kid with her on her very first morning on the job. She rushed into the office and straight up to New Admin, gasping, “Ohmigod, you’ve got to help me — I’ve got a terrible problem.” New admin didn’t skip a beat or flinch at all; she just calmly said, “Okay, what’s wrong, and I’ll see what I can do.”

    2. Frieda

      And then pro-actively follow up with the person to let them know what you found out, don’t wait for them to come back and ask.

    3. LW

      Letter Writer here — that’s a bit of relief to hear! My previous line of work meant saying “let me find out” an awful lot, too . . .

      1. TeaBQ

        I find that in any work situation, be it admin or not, the key is not throwing up a wall when your co-workers ask for something. There is a huge difference between “I don’t know.” or “That’s not my job.” vs. “I don’t know, but let’s check the SOP to see what it says.” or “Actually, Jane handles the budget reports so she may be able to help you with that. Let’s call her to find out.”

        In other words, your willingness to help in whatever way that you can says as much if not more than you having the knowledge/skills to take care of the issue personally.

  15. Laura

    Everyone here has great advice. One thing I’ll add – I’m not strictly a receptionist, I’m a law clerk but I cover reception on lunches and when the regular lady is away – is know where everyone is to the best of your ability. People will come by your desk all day asking you where so-and-so is, and its great to be able to say where they are instead of telling them you don’t know. It makes you look and feel efficient!

    Also, read this post if you haven’t already, and the comments: https://www.askamanager.org/2013/11/how-to-deal-with-cold-calling-salespeople-who-wont-take-no-for-an-answer.html. SO helpful.

    1. Cassie

      I do this a lot – I don’t have reception duties but because my cubicle is right smack in the center of the suite, I can hear pretty much everything, including when people are talking about where they’re going (e.g. for a meeting) and such. I think it freaks people out a little, though, because it may seem like I’m keeping tabs on people. I’m not – I just am good at remembering things even when I’m not really listening.

  16. Gjest

    It will help you and everyone else if the admin policies are spelled out and you are consistent with them. At my last job, there were no written policies for things like filling out travel forms, getting purchase orders filled out, etc. Every darn time I needed to get a travel authorization or reimbursement, it was a different story. And I was there for 6 years. I am not a stupid person- give me instructions and I will follow them. At one point I asked around my department and we were all doing it differently. We asked the admins who was doing it “correctly” and they said none of us. We asked for written instructions- nothing. Incredibly frustrating for all of us, including the admins! They couldn’t understand why we couldn’t do things right, and we didn’t know what was right! I could never understand how they didn’t see that written policies would have made everyone’s life easier.

    So, if there are policies, consistently stick to them! And if there aren’t, see what you can do to make policies- in writing.

  17. Mary Sue

    Ten years as office support /front line customer service, most as a temp:

    Discretion, discretion, discretion. You’re going to overhear and witness a lot of things. Some of them will be confidential business matters, and a whole lot more will be interpersonal drama. Do not gossip.

    Also, if processing Accounts Payable is part of your duties, check and make sure there is a requisition for every invoice. The biggest scam is vendors sending invoices stamped “Immediate!” or such and in their terms and conditions (either fine print or seven links deep on a web page) paying the invoice signs your company up for a massive contract for toner/office supplies/et cetera.

    1. Mary Sue

      Forgot one, a script for cold calls (check with your manager they may already have a process in place):
      Caller: Is the person who makes decisions about ____ available?
      You: Do you currently do business with us?
      Caller: *tap dances around ‘No’*.
      You: We require all bids and price lists to be presented in writing to be reviewed by our fiscal savings team, which can take 6-8 weeks. Would you like our email address or our postal address to submit?
      Caller: Oh, well, I’d like a phone number and name to follow up with.
      You: If we find you can provide us with the best value, we will contact you.

      Give them your email and then set up a rule to delete all their stuff when it hits your inbox. When they call back let them know the fiscal savings team will contact them *IF* they can provide the best value for your business.

    2. Natalie

      I’d say even if you’re not responsible for AP, read up on common office scams. It’s easier for everyone if you can shut them down before boxes of un-ordered goods are shipped to your office.

      And remember, if you didn’t order it the FTC says you can consider it a gift. You don’t have to return it, and you don’t have to pay for it!

    3. Kacie

      Yes, please don’t gossip or feel superior because you know some of the things that are going on that others don’t. I used to work with an admin who was very smug and would drop little hints and comments wanting you to draw her out and make her feel important for being in the know. This alienated her from many employees, although her supervisor thought she was great.

      1. tcookson

        This. If you know something that you can’t tell, don’t hint around to everybody that you know something that you can’t tell. The best way to keep a secret is if nobody even knows you have a secret. One of our current admins does the “I’ve got a secret” routine; if she knows something, she really, really wants people to know that she has something that she can’t tell them.

  18. Kat

    *Keep copies of important emails. You never know when someone is going to come back to you to say you didn’t do XYZ or send XYZ.

    *Be flexible and open to new responsibilities

    *Once you become more familiar with your work, start keeping track of people that you speak to on a regular basis. I keep a list of ~10 people’s extensions next to my phone. This really helps when people need quick answers.

    *Some things will annoy you about the job, but be careful about talking about it at work.

    *Calendar reminders are the best thing ever!

    1. happycat

      Well said!
      1. keep orgainzed, and email files, not just to know what is going on, but to cover your butt.
      2. Give EVERYone you can the highest level of customer care, including your fellow employees. Think of them all as your ‘clients’.
      3. Own your job, make procedures for your role, manuals, systems. Ensure your back up answers the phone well.
      3. Always say your name, if you can, when you answer the phone.
      4. Become adept at getting people off the phone fast, but NEVER let them feel that way! Know what to ask, use key words, and be helpful.
      5. Never chat at reception and ignore your clients.
      6. Learn to LOVE questions! When you don’t know something, express your interest in finding the answer.
      7. Remember that you are there to make THEIR day easier. Keep asking yourself what else you can do to help out.
      8. Fake it till you make. Act confidant. Follow up, take pride in your job.
      9. When all else fails and someone tries to put you down, just picture THEM trying to do your job, and realize you rock it up there.
      10. Enjoy working in one of the most interesting and varied roles in the company!

      Best of luck, it can be hard to find information on being a great receptionist, yet there have been a lot of great responses.

    2. JustMe

      The e-mails thing was going to be one of my recommendations, too.

      I actually try to keep most of my e-mails; I just archive the ones from past years. It may sound silly, but it will pay off later on, because when Boss asks, “Do you still have….?” Even if you don’t have it on your computer, knowing you can search your e-mail archives and probably find it is very comforting.

      Also, if you’re on a server system, put as much of your work on there as possible so that others can access it if needed.

      My final tip would be to start a document of everything you learn. Keep it in a noticeable place on your computer. The longer you work there, the more that knowledge stacks up. The document will help you in the short term because you won’t have to be asking management the same questions over and over. It will also help other people trying to learn how to do something you do; that way, if you’re sick, on vacation, or leaving the position, others at the office can pick up the slack if needed.

  19. some1

    As a former receptionist, the most important thing you need to realize how separate your role is to every other role in the office. Other people will get away with things that you won’t. And if you do your job well, most people will have no idea how hard your work.

    – Be punctual and don’t leave early. If your office “opens” at 8:00, be in your chair ready to answer the phone at that time. If someone needs to cover your breaks and lunch, return on time.

    – Realize you are basically in the store window. Everyone will notice if your desk is trashed, and you need to keep it clean and have nothing on display that you wouldn’t want a customer to see. You also have to realize that everyone can hear and will listen to any personal conversations.

    – Speaking of the desk, you may have to give up your autonomy to it. Get used to your co-workers setting their coffee cups, bags, etc down on it without asking you.

    – Not everyone will treat you with the courtesy you deserve. You will be referred to as a “boy” or a “girl”. You will have people try to make you their personal assistant, even when it’s not in your job description. Some people will look down on you or see your role as unimportant. None of this okay, but you have to pick your battles.

    – Set up a system right away about who to call when you are sick or running late. Leaving a voice mail for one person doesn’t always cut it when coverage needs to be arranged right away.

    – Look for work during slow times. If you can’t find it, ask for it. Playing on your phone or checking Facebook should be an absolute last resort because it just looks bad, even if you have been working your behind off all day and don’t have a thing to do.

    – If you have a busy incoming switchboard, learn how to interrupt without being rude. ( I waited for a pause and politely asked them screening questions. It takes practice, but I never had anyone complain about this tactic)

    – Someone will mistake your professionalism and welcoming nature as interest in them. By no means should you stand for sexual harassment of any kind from any co-workers, vendors or customers, but don’t be surprised if someone flirts with you and learn how to deflect it politely.

    – People will confide in you and give you a lot of gossip. You are going to open mail and answer calls that will tell you stuff about your co-workers you never wanted to know, and you need to pretend you don’t know any of it.

    – If you can help it, don’t eat lunch at your desk, even if you don’t like to eat alone. It looks bad to visitors and people will expect you to jump to help them if you are at your desk.

    – Don’t put off your main tasks to do anything else unless it’s an emergency. Don’t put callers on hold or put letters full of checks for your company aside to text your friends.

    – People will be rude and try to bully you. You need to always be polite but push back when needed. Keep your boss in the loop about this and ask her how she wants you to handle it.

    – If you are a receptionist, you will lose some of the battles if one for the professionals tries to complain about you, even when you are in the right. It’s unfair, but it has happened to me in every admin role I’ve had except my present one. The other person will be seen as such a brilliant & valuable salesperson, attorney or whatever that that management won’t care.

    1. some1

      ETA: Keep lists of everything you need to do.

      &

      Your co-workers will ask you to do stuff like change the toner or order them a new nameplate when they see you in the restroom or when you are clearly swamped. Practice being as patient as possible and politely ask them to shoot you an email so you can add it to your list (unless it’s an emergency). Just like you will get trained, you need to train your co-workers how to communicate with you so nothing goes undone.

      Have a standing contact list for every catastrophe. Know who to call if the toilet overflows, the pop machine is empty, or the server crashes while all the IT folks are at lunch together.

    2. Lauren

      I’m ok with people having some downtime. We all need a chance to veg out a bit. What bothers me is when stuff is obviously not getting done (as in it took 3 weeks to order something after being asked instead of it being done that day or the next day) and every time I walk by I see personal phone calls or someone on the internet. That annoys me.

  20. Anon

    I’ve worked with my fair share of admins, and the thing that irritates me the most is when they try to dig into things they really don’t have a reason to know (like trying to figure out if somebody’s on a performance improvement plan, who we’re interviewing for an open position, wanting me to give them access to my work calendar when they’re not MY assistant, etc).

    Admins that reject gossip and office politics are worth their weight in gold!

    1. tcookson

      At our office, we used to let the receptionist have access to the department heads’ calendars (just for their information when screening calls), but we’ve been burned a couple of times by receptionists who use it as part of their office power politics. When the current receptionist sent requests to view everyone’s calendars, not one single person would share with her. I sent a decline on behalf of my boss, then immediately called him to let him know a) why I’d done it and b) why I didn’t think he should accept a sharing request if she sent another one. (He completely agreed once he heard my reasoning).

    2. Anon

      I would argue this to an extent – no, in my job, I don’t need to know that Director Jane is meeting with Manager Bob about problems with Project Cobra, but I do need to know what meeting room they’re in so that when VP Kate is frantically looking for them I can tell her where to find them.

      This is totally dependent on office set-up though – my office is spread across 3 floors with multiple meeting rooms. I am the only admin for the entire office, so I am, by default, everyones assistant to a certain extent.

      We combat this “overshare” problem by having my position have access to all the meeting calendars in a way that allows you to see who is in the room, but not any other details about the meeting. This means I can look up our list of meeting rooms, see who has the room booked, and who is supposed to be attending that meeting so that I can track people down if they are urgently needed.

    1. Mary Sue

      The process that worked for me was the Getting Things Done (GTD) system. Most of the concepts are online. It’s intensely flexible if you’re a paper-mostly person, an online-always person (like me), or somewhere in between.

      1. JG

        Write everything down, even if you think you’ll get to it “in a minute.” In a job like this there are constant interruptions and even someone with an excellent memory will drop the ball without recording tasks somewhere. I usually jot stuff down on paper and then at the end of the day put it in and Outlook task list with calendar reminders. Also, I’m a firm believer in a clean email inbox. File everything that isn’t still pending, that way it’s easy to glance at your inbox and know what still needs your attention. Along the same lines, find a paper filing system that works for you. I don’t have enough time to be OCD about filing everything, so I have very organized files for the important stuff and other folders where I dump the not-so-important stuff to deal with later. The point is that everything has a place so that it’s off of my desk by the end of the day.

    2. AMG

      Color code.
      EverNote.
      Use Flags and Categories in Outlook.
      Keep lists to track everything in Excel.
      Label.
      Document all processes
      Keep contacts in Outlook with notes on their internal process
      write everything down/document it.
      Carry a notepad or device with EverNote with you everywhere.
      Bookmark websites
      tape flags for large printed docs
      highlighters
      Keep a drawer of stuff people would go rummaging through your desk for (tissues, process docs, forms, shipping materials, spray air, hand sanitizer, extra plastic ware, take-out menus, contact phone numbers, etc)
      Keep a tracker for supplies and when they need to be ordered to keep from running out.
      Make appointments for yourself to do X activity periodically (ie check for supplies, make sure the printer toner isn’t running low, remind boss about annual reviews because he always forgets, etc).
      Prioritize well. You can manage things brilliantly in chaos if you prioritize them correctly.

    3. Frieda

      I am sure Alison does in the archive, but as someone who has been described that way, this is how I do it. It may seem morbid, but basically assume that at any moment you could be gone and someone will have to figure out EVERYTHING you are currently working on without you being able to explain it. What projects are you working on and what is their current status? Where are your files for X, Y, and Z kept? Who is waiting for what from you, and when do they expect it?

      I was always a pretty organized person, but 5 years ago I had a major unexpected family emergency over a weekend that kept me out of the office and without a computer for 2 weeks. All I was able to do was send a quick email to my boss Sunday night explaining why I needed to be out. My boss was very understanding and I will always appreciate how he sorted through all of the junk on my desk and tracked down everyone I work with to find out what needed to be done while I was out, but now I try to organize everything so that if something like that ever happened again, someone could sit down at my desk and be able to find anything.

      The added benefit of this is that for the 99.9% of the time that you are not dealing with a personal emergency, YOU will know where everything is and be able to keep track of anything that is happening.

    4. periwinkle

      I am insanely disorganized when it comes to administrative stuff. This was a problem when I was an admin assistant. If your company uses MS Outlook, it will become your best friend ever.

      If there’s something you need to get done by a certain time, schedule it into Outlook and set reminders. If you have a recurring admin task, schedule it into Outlook and set reminders. If you want/need to send a follow-up email or call, schedule it into Outlook. Make sure the reminders give you enough time to prepare the form/get the information/etc before it’s due.

      If your employer doesn’t have Outlook or a similar email package, set those reminders on your own phone or in Google Calendar.

      Label everything! Make sure your files and folders – both real and electronic – are named and stored so that you know what you have and where you have it.

    5. Mints

      I use outlook tasks for everything. From really mundane (order more coke) to huge projects. I use the outlook categories and flag features as well. And I keep an ever evolving reference document / email with master info, plus a reference folder for more detailed info.
      The main trick is to test systems until you find the easiest thing that works for you.

    6. Meg

      I’m an admin for a (sometimes hilariously) extremely disorganized doctor, and one of the things I taught myself was to be excessively organized with my emails in particular. I have separate folders for all the requests that come my way: calendar management, travel plans, patient appointments, medical records requests, etc. I also color-code EVERYTHING. Color-coding is particularly useful for people who are highly visual (like me), and you can get to the point where you can look at your email and immediately figure out what your priorities are and what needs to be done.

      1. Elizabeth West

        Me too–I love Outlook’s little color categories. I have red for Urgent, orange for Needs Attention, blue for Information, yellow for My Office (things that pertain to our location), purple for IT, and green for Meetings. :)

    7. Rex-a-ford

      This is what I try to do when I organize spaces,

      1) Define everything. Define categories for your work. Place everything into their proper categories. Then test it for a few days. If one category is too big to handle, sub-divide it into different sub-categories. If a category is actually unnecessary, get rid of it. For Example, I keep resumes in a Resume folder, then sub-type by Need-to-Review, Need-to-Contact, and On Hold. Because those are the type of situations my resumes end up in. My categories match my work-flow. Revisit your categories periodically to see if your work-flow changes your needs.
      2) Your space should be labeled well enough that all space is clearly defined. If someone else looks at your desk/filing cabinet, they should know, “I’m obviously looking at chocolate-teapot blueprints because this is clearly the spot for chocolate-teapot blueprints”.
      3) Physically clean your space. I wipe my desk down with Clorox wipes every morning. If you let dust and clutter accumulate, disorganization will come with it.
      4) Kindly instruct others –
      if someone other than you must use your space, walk them through it. Make sure they know what goes where and why. It only takes a couple minutes, but saves you lots of work.
      5) Make sure you abide by the system set-up. A pile of papers should have a short-shelf life, before they are put in their proper place to process. Don’t let things grow out of hand. if you need to have a – need to process – space, you can have it, but clean it up by the end of the day.

      None of that touches organizing your time, but that’s a different monster.

    8. Aisling

      When I was admin/receptionist, I had a paper calendar that I wrote EVERYTHING in. I’d probably use the calendar reminder function or Evernote for this now. I would note all the big things I had to do for the entire year. Example: first day of each month, I had written in the calendar to check supplies and see what was low. The week before reconciliation of accounts, I had a note letting me know it was coming up so I could start getting ready. Every two weeks, I had written in to send a reminder to everyone about getting timesheets ready, etc. I wrote everyday things in it as well, and moved them to the next day if I couldn’t finish it that day. I checked the calendar every morning, even if I thought I didn’t have any tasks to take care of – you never know what you’re forgetting. I was the most organized person my boss had ever worked with, but I always said it was because of my paper calendar.

      1. Stryker

        I was responsible for watering the plants, so I added a reminder on my calendar to do this, as well as alarms for when I needed to turn the main phone on and off. The latter was a big deal, so doing the notes or calendar thing this way is a really big advantage and you should get into the habit of doing it.

    9. Chinook

      Learn what you can do with Outlook (or your email program) to track emails, tasks and contacts. Let it be your memory to track daily tasks so you can be interrupted and be able to pick up an hourblater. Let it be your brain.

  21. Lynn

    1. Don’t reinvent the wheel–identify and utilize systems set up by your predecessor that worked for everyone. It’ll make the transition much easier. (This might not be possible, but it’s helped me tremendously.)
    2. Depending on your location/role, you might be a gossip magnet. When I started, I was told all sort of things I didn’t want/need to know about my co-workers, and I was tempted to form snap-judgments. Form your own opinions and give yourself time to understand the culture for yourself.

    1. Not So NewReader

      Part #2. THIS. Put yourself in a place where you can walk up to anyone in the company and have a conversation. Get to that place and stay there. I have seen so many places where Sue avoids Bob, Pete ignores Rose, Tom walks away from Joe. I end up needing a chart to follow the relationships. Don’t let yourself fall into that pit. Make it a goal to have a working relationship with everyone.
      I have found it helpful to mentally form at least one positive statement about everyone I work with. Sometimes the best I can come up with is “Well, he dresses professionally.” But that is a positive thought at any rate.

  22. Frieda

    If you are managing the accounts/deliveries with vendors (office supplies, copier repair, catering, even UPS/FEDEX, etc.) go out of your way to maintain a great relationship both with the sales people and the delivery people. Take a few minutes to chit chat if they are chit chat type people (comment on the weather, ask how the kids are, that sort of thing), offer a cup of water on a hot day or a cup of coffee on a cold day, let them know they can use your bathroom and where it is. It may seem trivial, but at some point the boss will need something in a hurry–the copier jammed halfway through printing 100 copies of the budget, it’s 4pm, and they need to present it to the board tomorrow morning; an early meeting with investors is running long and it’s coming up on 1pm and now you need to order lunch for 30 with no notice–and having put in the effort to build that relationship before the problem arose can make the difference between “Sorry, we don’t have anyone available to send on such short notice,” and “Jane is always so friendly and helpful when I make deliveries, I bet I can change my delivery route today to make sure she gets these supplies in time.”

    1. Frieda

      And as part of this, if you are handling accounts payable, make sure people get paid as soon as you possibly can. If a vendor ever calls with a question about an unpaid/late invoice, take it VERY seriously, look into the issue right away, and get back to them with the problem (even if it was a problem on their part) and how you plan to solve it. I manage freelance editors at my job and have definitely been complimented by how quickly our AP group cuts checks, and it definitely makes a difference when you are trying to hire someone again–if the vendor is popular, they have options with regard to who to work for, and being the company that pays the fastest can trump even being the company that pays the most.

    2. LW

      This is good to know! I think I’ll have to work on being more engaging and outgoing . . . I don’t suppose there’s any way to do that without practice.

      1. fposte

        For me it was an acting role rather than genuine personality change, and that worked just fine. Frieda’s given you some great scripts to follow (I’ll add to her excellent ideas that it’s good to learn the names of delivery people and building maintenance/repair)–just follow those with a smile and you’re there.

        1. Frieda

          I’ll also note that I’m TERRIBLE at remembering names but it is something that you can learn, and it makes a difference. When you meet someone, repeat their name (“Hi, I’m Jane.” ::shakes hands:: “Nice to meet you, Jane.”). Then when you are looking at them while you talk, repeat their name to yourself in your head. If you realize soon upon meeting them that you don’t remember their name, say, “I’m sorry, you just told me your name but it slipped my mind.” This is much easier right after you meet the person than after the 3rd or 4th time you meet them. Don’t be afraid to make yourself a (discreet) note “FedEx guy = Wakeen”

      2. Not So NewReader

        This is not hard- it does not take a lot. My husband made service calls. He was very impressed with people who thought to offer a cold bottled water on a hot day. Or a warm cup of coffee on a cold day.
        Probably 75% of the people out there do not do this. So any attempt will be recognized for sure.
        Other things- say “thanks so much” and look the vendor/tech in the eye while saying it. Techs remember that you were the person who seemed so pleased the last time s/he was there.

        When a tech/vendor asks you about your kid/spouse/dog that you mentioned on the last visit, try to remember they are not stalkers. They are building a relationship with the same method you are using. If you suddenly don’t feel comfy talking about your kid, shift to the cute thing the dog did the other day. You only offend if you cut the conversation off entirely.

        Start by making a note of one unique thing about each person. It will be just a few weeks and you will find yourself just doing it automatically.
        “The last time you were here you said your dog was going to have pups. Did she have her pups?”
        “You gave me advice X for situation Y. I checked into it. And yeah it was right on the money. Thanks for the help!”
        “Can you show me how to fix that to save you from running out here? We have this problem frequently.”
        “How did your son make out with his big game?”

        Don’t over think this- if you over think then you are working too hard at this.

        1. Anonymous

          How do you do all this and avoid getting hit on or asked out at the same time?

          Even just being normal friendly…a sincere thank you with a smile and eye contact…and not being overly effusive leads to awkward unwanted attention. Every time. So now I’m just pretty much unfriendly (not rude, just no more smiles and eye contact).

          1. Another anon

            You’re right about the smiles and eye contact. (Maybe there’s a way to do briefer smiles and gazes, so that the recipient will not mistake your all-purpose politeness for extra-special, only-for-this-particular-individual, attention? Worth a try, but probably not sufficiently discouraging if the other person has poor social skills or is determined to be flirtatious.) I’ve found that it also helps to NOT share any personal information. Even a seemingly innocent comment about not liking hot weather can trigger intrusive replies such as “oh, you’re a snow bunnie!” or “I like skiing too!” Keep your chit-chat cordial but bland. It’s possible to be polite without prolonging the conversation.

            1. Frieda

              How is “I like skiing too” intrusive? I understand that some people definitely take polite professional chit chat as flirtation and try to take it too far, but I wouldn’t automatically lump “i like skiiing too” in that category.

              It’s a tough line, because the point of this is to get the vendor to think of you as a specific, friendly person, not just a random customer. That is how you get above-and-beyond service.

  23. Hooptie

    Hmm off the top of my head…

    Make sure that your manager has arranged a back up plan for your breaks, lunch, and out of office time or work with them to create one.

    Become an absolute expert on Outlook (or whatever email system you will be using) calendars and schedules. Microsoft Office has some great free tutorials on their website.

    Find out the protocol when transferring inbound calls. Is it a ‘cold’ transfer, or do you announce the caller? Personally I prefer cold transfers so the caller isn’t waiting on hold for the receptionist to relay the information, but there are other preferences.

    If there isn’t a list of preferred local vendors for things such as meeting spaces, restaurants, rental companies, etc. start creating one. This can be a life-saver. Also create contact cards for your own vendors such as office supply companies, etc.

    Prepare yourself for cold-calling salespeople who won’t take no for an answer.

    Under-promise and over-deliver. You’ll have a bunch of people coming at you most of the time, and you’ll want to manage your time to exceed expectations whenever possible.

    Receptionist/Admin positions are a great way to learn a lot about your company since you interact with so many individuals. Take the time to clarify requests, ask questions, and educate yourself as much as you can.

    1. Michael

      +1 for getting to know Outlook at the other digital tools. A class would be worth the money if you’re intimidated or need a refresher. They can help you do your job so much faster and better, and some people in the office will assume you already know these things.

      And speaking of Outlook, talk to your joss about sharing calendars and knowing who you can make appointments for. You’ll be extremely helpful to everyone if you can give advice about the best times to catch busy people and how to schedule with them.

  24. Gail L

    I don’t think I’ve seen this yet. I create forms and I use them a lot. So:

    *Know everything about the forms you have to make others fill out. You should understand the purpose of each box and blank space that you make a person fill out, and every box should have a purpose. This allows you to know when you can be flexible and allow information gaps, and the implications if important pieces are left blank.

    I’ve come across so many place where someone designed a form but is now gone. Years later, it’s still being used, but the person managing the process doesn’t know what half the boxes are for or why people are being asked to fill them out. Yet they don’t take charge of improving the process, figuring out what’s old, redesigning the form, and getting it approved. Someone who is good at this will think about these things and make the process more efficient, instead of wasting people’s time filling out unnecessary info. Or appearing arbitrary by allowing blanks sometimes, but not always.

    1. Gjest

      This is great advice! One of my pet peeves are forms that require me to fill in lots of useless information. Also locked electronic forms that do not function properly. If the form is electronic, try to fill it in and see if the person filling it out can actually do it (without cursing at it).

  25. Lily in NYC

    There is a lot of great advice here. I would like to stress how important it is not to gossip and not to get caught up in office drama.

    One thing I haven’t seen here yet – you will have to deal with a few people (every office has them) that will want to stand at your desk and chat. Be prepared for it, and find a way to nip it in the bud early or it will just get more difficult. I used to say “I’d love to chat but I have to get to this” or “I wish I could talk but Boss doesn’t like me to chat at my desk, sorry”. I sit in a very central location and get constant visitors – 5 minute chats from a bunch of people really add up.

      1. Jean

        +1,000. If this is hard for you, listen to the lines that other people use to tactfully end a conversation with _you_. (Yes, I’ve learned this the hard way! Blush.)

    1. Michael

      Or redirect the conversation to a lunch break, which would double as an opportunity to build bonds with people and get to know how people work.

  26. sMiles

    Be prepared that a reception job can be a lonely job.

    Sometimes your desk is separate from the rest of the office and often your breaks might be timed around when it is convenient for others to cover your desk – which may lead to not taking breaks when others are and being along on your breaks. It can often feel like you are on the outside looking in.

    It can be tough to be the only person doing your job because other colleagues cannot always relate to the challenges you face.

    There are ways to combat this – you may have to work harder in some aspects to build relationships at work, but its worth the extra effort.

    1. some1

      The breaks thing reminded me: if others have to cover your breaks and lunch, be prepared to have to go at scheduled times.

        1. some1

          True, I was more referring to be ready to have to eat lunch when you are told, which may be earlier or later than you wish it would be.

          1. Elizabeth West

            Yes, that can happen if people have staggered appointments or whatever.

            FWIW, I would always volunteer to go later rather than earlier. I HATE eating lunch at 11 am because it makes the rest of the day interminably long, and I end up starving and crabby by 3 pm.

    2. tcookson

      It can be lonely sometimes to watch everyone else in the office walk out the door to have lunch or attend some event together, while you, as the receptionist, must remain behind. Some days it can be tougher than others when that happens. I’d say to make sure that, every day, you do something that you look forward to and that fills your need for something pleasant in your workday. I used my commute to fill my need for something to look forward to (listening to books on CD from the library or my favorite music from my iPod). At work, if there was nobody keeping the same lunch schedule as me, I’d make sure to bring a book with me, or sometimes I’d go sit in my car and listen to music or the book on CD while eating my lunch. Remember not to take it personally or feel like the office pariah if the lunch schedule at your work makes you the only one not going at the same time as everyone else!

  27. some1

    One more:

    If you are an assistant to the boss or a high-level exec, some people will be very slow to get to know you and you may get left out of group lunches or Happy Hours at least for awhile. This is because your co-workers are afraid what they say will get back to your boss.

    I am dealing with this for the first time, and if getting recruited by work clique is important to you, this might be a tough fit.

  28. Sydney Bristow

    One thing I’d add is to take notes (to the extent you can). Absorb as much info as possible in your first few months and keep notes on the way your company does specific things that you will do repeatedly.

    The other kind of notes to keep is about what you have done each day. This will likely be for things that are more important or one-off events. For example, if someone asks you mail a package make yourself a note with the date you shipped it and the tracking number. If you are responsible for contacting vendors for any reason make a note of the date, time, who you spoke to, and a brief summary of the conversation. If you’re asked to work on a project that you wouldn’t normally do then keep notes on the steps you took to accomplish it. Notes about where you filed important things can be helpful too if there isn’t a super specific filing system at your company. Hopefully you won’t ever need these notes but they may be incredibly helpful when something goes wrong. I kept all of these notes in a notebook with a page for each day. Related to this, keep your emails in some sort of folder system that works for you and won’t get deleted by your IT setup.

    1. LucyVP

      I would add to this : WRITE DOWN EVERYTHING.
      When I was a receptionist I had a notepad where I wrote down visitors to the office, phone calls that I dealt with (not straight transfers, but things I actually had to figure out), shopping lists, outgoing packages, special instructions, tasks I had been given etc.
      Being able to back track and figure out when someone called or what day you were asked to do something is really helpful.

      My current receptionist is brilliant at documenting everything that happens and it really allows her to anticipate the staffs needs. For example she just sent me an email asking if I need the same office supplies that I ordered at this time last year. (I did – they were to set up my 2014 files).

      She even makes note of what drinks our visitors like. When she already has the water boiling because that client had tea the last two times he was here – it makes us all look awesome.

  29. LW

    I can’t believe all the amazing advice I’m getting, or how much of it overlaps while still being so focused on little details! Thanks for the input, guys — I’m taking furious notes on what I should be boning up on and practicing.

    1. Sara M

      I can tell by your interest level and the amount of effort you’re putting into this that you’ll be a great admin. It’s going to take some time, and you’ll make some mistakes at first, but you will get better and better. And every office loves a skillful and hardworking admin–you’ll have job prospects in the future too. Good luck!

  30. Mints

    This might not apply to everyone, and is probably symptomatic of bad management, but my boss is a micromanager, and I’ve learned to give him less info unless he asks for it.

    So for example he’ll ask me to ask Jane in a different branch to schedule something with us. I used to respond, Okay I’ll email her, or update after a few minutes, I’m waiting for an email response. But he prefers calls over emails, and he would say, Please call instead. (even if sometimes I KNOW the other person prefers emai too). So I stopped telling him unless he asked specifically, and I’ll just tell him after is done.

    I’m getting ranty, so I’ll stop now

  31. Mike C.

    I’ve never worked in this role, but I was always chatty with those who did. There’s one thing that always stuck in my mind.

    Never, ever let yourself fall into the mental trap of “being just the receptionist”.

    What I mean by this is that a receptionist is an integral part of the office that helps ensure that everyone else can do their job effectively and efficiently. In your down times you find ways to make things run faster, increase reliability and directly save your company money. Document these things when it comes time to discuss raises.

    You’re doing skilled, important work and never let anyone convince you otherwise. You are a force multiplier. You are often the first impression the next big account has of your company.

    Act professionally, dress professionally and don’t put up with others who would belittle your contribution to the office.

    Congrats on your new job, and best of luck!

    1. QualityControlFreak

      Mike C, you rock. I’ve been the receptionist, and I’ll never forget the day Big Boss introduced me to Important Visitor as “the face of the organization.” When I took on other duties, we moved another person into the primary reception role, but I still cover that desk as backup on a daily basis. I like it; it gives me direct contact with customers, vendors, management, other employees and contractors and allows me to keep my finger on the pulse of the organization.

    2. Jamie

      Mike makes a really good point. I didn’t really get the whole “just a receptionist” was a stigma until I was out of the role.

      Arrogance, naïveté, whatever…but it works. I’ve seen people who do feel that way and it comes off them I. Waves…it’s very defeatist.

      1. Mike C.

        I just hate it so much that people in certain jobs – receptionists, retail, hospitality, janitorial to name a few – are almost always treated as dumb, unskilled slobs that do nothing to contribute to the business they work for or society at large. I hate that attitude, especially in a country that puts so much of one’s personal identity into the job one does.

        Those folks work long, hard hours, shouldn’t their contribution be valued just like the folks in sales or HR or legal?

        1. Jamie

          I’ve seen it to and it angers me, I also don’t understand it.

          I’m in manufacturing and anyone who isn’t physically producing product or actively selling product is support staff. With out them I don’t have a job.

  32. mollie

    Here’s one I just ran into not 5 minutes ago…

    Know where the water & power meters are.

    I’ve worked in my office for 6 years and we’ve had the same power meter reader in all that time. He retired last week and a new guy came in just now and I couldn’t tell him where the power meter was and there wasn’t anyone available to show him. That was fun walking around lost in a manufacturing plant.

    1. Kimberlee, Esq.

      Same with if you have an alarm system. I had no idea where that thing was plugged in at, took me, two other employees, and the ADT woman about a half hour of searching!

    2. LucyVP

      and the fuse box in case the power goes out.

      and the fire extinguishers for when they get serviced.

      True story: I once spent 60 minutes scouring the building with the new fire extinguisher guy trying to find the elusive 14th fire extinguisher. It wasn’t on our emergency map but for years we had paid to re-charge 14 extinguishers. Eventually we decided it didn’t exist and I sent him away and asked them to adjust our billing.
      2 years later – fire inspection and we are dinged for having an out-of-date fire extinguisher. It was on the roof!

  33. Jake

    There is a lot of great advice here in the comments and the post itself.

    The one thing I wish our receptionists were better at is reading the atmosphere of the office and adjusting accordingly.

    For example, my office works hard. 60+ hours a week for 8 months a year and we eat through lunch every day type hard. Our emails are short, to the point, easily readable and lack any unnecessary flair. During this time of year, nobody is overly cheery because they are so over-worked and we are so understaffed that there isn’t a single person getting done everything they “should” get done.

    We have a receptionist who during this time sends emails about non-work related events in multi-color, multi-font, multi-emoticon fashion. During the off season it comes off as perky and fun. During the on season however, it makes her look completely out of touch and unprofessional. People develop the attitude of, “I just got chewed out for letting a project deadline slip even though I worked 80 hours (with mostly unpaid OT) last week, and she has time for this!”

    I guess what I’m getting at is, read the office and figure out what their style is. Try your best to fit into that style without changing what makes you, you.

    1. Jamie

      This reminds me of a receptionist who would send very long and detailed emails about cleaning out the fridge. Not that it’s not important to do and inform people, it is, but when the gravity of the email rivals letting people know the building is burning down, were all being laid off, and our goldfish all died…it’s a little much.

      1. some1

        There’s no reason that email should be more detailed than:

        “Hello everyone,

        Don’s Team is cleaning out the fridge at 3:00 today. Label your stuff with your name & the date or it’s getting tossed.”

        In other words, clear and concise communication is really, really important.

  34. Interviewer

    Be unfailingly polite and kind. Know how to make simple chit-chat to put people at ease or get them smiling. And it can’t ever come across as fake – you have to feel genuinely happy to see people. At the same time, you have to keep it professional. No joking or complaining about the heavy workload or crazy co-workers.

    Everyone can have a bad day, but receptionists really can’t spread that gloom to anyone else. Always positive, always “on.” This is SO hard to do.

    The admin tasks can be teachable – but the personality stuff is typically very hard to teach anyone to do instinctively. But every single one of the best receptionists I’ve ever met/hired/worked with are exactly this way. If this doesn’t describe your personality at all, think of ways you can demonstrate pieces of it daily.

    Good luck in your new position!

  35. TL

    Our admin orders lunch for the group once a month or so – and she keeps a mental list of all the people with dietary restrictions and before she orders food – every. single.time. – she walks around and does a quick check to make sure what she orders is okay. She also keeps a list of what our needs/preferences are, so she’ll walk by with a specific item in mind, as well as having other options in mind if it’s not okay. When the food arrives, she’ll hide the one-of-a-kind orders and put the special orders, like vegetarian options, to the side.

    That is awesome – that kind of detail-oriented, let-me-do-this-properly-for-everyone attitude.

  36. some1

    Get ready to indulge the “Look for Things to Complain About Folks” in many admin roles because the company stopped ordering their color post-its, they don’t like the theme of the upcoming (employer paid) holiday party, someone used the jar of creamer they brought in, etc. It was a struggle for me to get used to dealing with these complaints.

    1. fposte

      I tried to reconceptualize this a little–it wasn’t about the substance of people’s individual complaints, it was that people are always going to have complaint spills and my job was to soak them up before they stained the organization. It can be kind of interesting to see just how good you can get at mollifying the irked.

      That also relates a little to another one that’s true for just about any admin-type position: embrace the cat-herding. People are slippery and disorganized devils, and that’s not a problem but the reason for your being there. Without you heaven knows if they’d ever manage to find their way to an appointment or synchronize for a meeting.

      1. tcookson

        Yes — “embrace the cat herding”!

        I see admins who become very frustrated because they think that, once they have successfully herded the cats a number of times, the cats will begin to herd themselves. They start to get resentful that the cats continue to need herding and they start to take it out on the cats.

        Bulletin: the cats are never going to herd themselves. Some may come nearer the ideal than others, but as an admin, you will never have a troupe of 100%-trained cats.

  37. Jennifer

    I’ve seen these in the other comments, but I will add my vote to two or three I think are particularly important. If it helps, I worked my way up the admin ranks, have managed admins as an office manager, and now have one of my own.

    Be proficient in software like MSOffice and whatever email system your office uses (if it’s not Outlook). There is an admin in my office who cannot use PowerPoint or Excel at all, and makes no effort to learn. I never would have hired her and I won’t let her help out in my department. Two reasons, I don’t have time to train her and because she makes no effort on her own, I’m not feeling particularly charitable towards someone who isn’t trying to grow. If she would say to me, I know I don’t know how to do this, but I want to learn, I would be more than willing to teach or provide learning opportunities.

    If you don’t know how to do something, say so. Follow that with “but I would love to learn and I’m a quick study. Would you show me?”

    This goes for any job, but if you make a mistake or are given criticism, own it, apologize, offer to fix it, and move on (don’t dwell). I have no issues with this. I do have a problem with trying to cover, blaming others, and then never letting it go. No one is perfect. Learning how to recover from a mistake or accept criticism is a huge professional advantage.

    This is my OCD and image-conscious nature showing, but keep your desk/work areas and yourself tidy and professional looking. Think high quality and professional in everything you do. When you are the new person and there hasn’t been enough time for people to get to know you and your work, this helps get you on the right foot sooner.

    Photos and some personal items are fine, but a desk that looks like a scrapbook exploded is not. In addition to not looking professional, it looks visually messy and scattered. For example, when I was starting as an admin, a co-worker in the next cube had photos taped everywhere and under her clear desk blotter. In addition, housekeeping wasn’t great, so there was dust everywhere. Even when her desk was cleared off, it looked messy and it bothered our boss. Mine was similar but not quite as cluttered as hers. When I realized what was happening, I cleaned off my desk. I put a few nice desk accessories on the desk and a few photos (3 tops) in nice frames. I also dusted my own desk discretely once or twice a month. I noticed a change in my attitude and the attitude of my boss, my coworkers, and other superiors towards me right away.

    Dress yourself and your environment in the way that you want to be treated. It’s not that image is the only thing that will get you there, but it does help, and it certainly won’t hold you back. For those of us old enough to remember “Working Girl”, as Katherine pointed out, Coco Channel said, “Dress shabbily and they notice the dress. Dress impeccably and they notice the woman.” It goes for your desk and work area too. I’m sure you could fill a library with the books and blogs written about this.

    1. Aisling

      One thing I actually did was take down my personal photos. I’d brought some in to liven up my space, but since everyone who walks in the door sees your space, they’ll notice everything in it, too. I had one client who was a little too interested in the photo of my niece and nephew, so after that I left up some of my own decorations, but made sure personal photos were left at home.

  38. some1

    Know how to get to your location from every direction major highway in your area. Know where visitors can park. Know which public transportation lines will get you to the location, if applicable. Know where certain closest places are:

    – where to get gas
    – fast food
    – sit-down restaurant
    – coffee shop

    all off the top of your head.

    1. Kerr

      Excellent advice! I remember when I was temping for a company, and was unexpectedly asked what the closest, best sit-down restaurant was. (At the time, I almost never ate out, and certainly not in that area.)

      Better yet, keep a handy list, either on your computer or as a printout, with all of that information.

      Also, keep a folder of local restaurant menus and their catering information (sometimes restaurants will have fliers specifically for businesses). I’ve often been a temp and found that the permanent receptionist had a folder full of menus and business cards for local restaurants. I imagine they’re incredibly handy if, say, you suddenly need to order lunch to be delivered for a meeting.

  39. Merry

    Never be rude to anybody. No matter how much they may legitimately deserve it. No matter if they were rude to you first. No matter how insane their request. You want a reputation for putting out fires, not for starting them or fanning the flames.

    Consider that a large part of your job is to make things easier for everyone else in the company. You answer phones for them, take deliveries for them, order supplies for them, greet visitors for them, etc. But something many admins and receptionists forget is that you may also set the tone for them. Be friendly, warm, and upbeat with everyone you deal with at work. This was always the hardest part of my job for me, but it was *part of my job*, so I learned to do it. And it pays off – not only in raises and promotions, but also in creating a workplace that’s pleasant for everyone to come to, including yourself.

    Never pass along information that someone gives you unless it is part of your job to pass it along. Don’t assume it’s fine to share unless someone expressly tells you it’s confidential. Do the opposite; assume everything is confidential unless someone tells you explicitly that it’s fine to share.

    Keep a clean desk. It reflects well on the organization to outsiders and reflects well on you to your bosses. (I would recommend that to everyone who works in an office, actually; there’s a small but noticeable respect deficit that comes with having an office or desk that looks cluttered and disorganized.)

    Don’t try to chat with the people who come to your desk unless it is completely obvious that they want to chat. If your office is at all fast-paced, people will come to you only when they have to and they won’t have a lot of time. Or they’ll be passing your desk on the way to somewhere else. Even if someone is nice to you and likes you, they may just not have time for this, and will feel uncomfortable if you engage them when they need to move on. Let them do the engaging when you’re at your desk. (This goes double for mornings, lunchtime, and afternoons, when people are often racing to their desks, ducking out for a quick bite, or running for their trains.)

    Sometimes being an admin is boring. Sometimes there’s just no work. Don’t get sucked into thinking you can just goof off when you run out of work. Find something to do, or ask someone if there’s something you could/should be doing with your downtime. If people notice you’re not working, they will assume there’s not enough work to justify your position. Or that you’re a slacker. Both bad.

    Dress like your supervisor does. If your supervisor dresses down regularly, dress like his/her supervisor does.

    Never do just what you’re asked. Always ask yourself: What’s the context of this request? What’s the endgame? How can I move this closer to the endgame for the person who asked for it? For instance, if someone asks you to make a list of possible vendors for an office party, make a list – and see if you can get catering menus for each, and maybe pricing for an appropriate number of people. Any work you can save other people this way will make you look fantastic and pro-active. Pro-active is the one thing everybody wants their admin help to be.

    To keep organized, I practice the art of Inbox Zero. I keep my inbox clean, and work to get it as empty as possible. But I don’t move anything out of my inbox until I have taken care of it completely. If someone emails me wanting a special kind of pen, I order the pen. And then I leave that email in my inbox until the pen arrives and is delivered to the person who requested it. Only then would I file that email away. If someone asks me to do something in person, I put the request in an email to myself and send it, so it’s part of my inbox t0-do list.

    Good luck!

  40. Stryker

    You can’t pee when you want to. Now, I know it’s illegal to not let you go to the bathroom and everything, but typically they need someone covering the desk ALL THE TIME and that’s you. Trying to get someone to cover the front outside of prescheduled times can be a hassle, so try to limit caffeine and beverage intake until your body is reprogrammed to go when you’re on break.

    (I know it’s a silly thing, but that was a warning I wish someone had told me before I started my soon-to-be-exjob)

    1. some1

      To add to this: if your desk has to be covered for bathroom breaks (or breaks or lunch) and your back-ups give you attitude or never comes to your desk on time, let your/their supervisor handle it.

      Don’t put yourself in the position of asking your back-up to be allowed to go the bathroom or take a break.

    2. Jamie

      This wouldn’t work in an office where you have a steady stream of customers coming in the door because then you need constant desk coverage, but what works for us is just to have her switch to night ring when she leaves the desk so if it rings at our desks we know she’s away from her desk and we take turns answering it.

      I prefer this to being told when any other grown adult has to use the bathroom.

      1. Another Ellie

        That was the worst part of receptionisting for me. It’s not holding the pee, it’s that you essentially have to ask permission to go. And then your office manager or whoever now knows exactly when you go throughout the day. :-/

  41. Merry

    Just wanted to emphasize one thing I mentioned above. It’s easy to look at your job description and think, “This is my job, I’ll do these things and people will be happy with me.” But your job description is just a list of ways your boss thinks you can *make things easier* for her/him or for the office in general.

    That’s your real job – making things easier. If you keep that in mind, it will go a long way toward making you a great admin!

  42. SarahBot

    There’s a *ton* of great advice here, so I won’t repeat the tips you’ve already been given, but one thing that’s been important for me as an admin has been tracking accomplishments – because so much of what an admin does is hard to quantify, I find that writing my year-end self-evaluation (or, you know, updating your resume when it’s time to find a new job) is a lot easier if I make notes of the major projects I’ve headed up throughout the year (even if it’s as simple as “Organized storage of office supplies” or “arranged for Jim’s office to be painted”), because it’s often easy for me and for my bosses to forget all of the things I take care of around the office.

    I also keep a file of all of the compliments that people e-mail me, so that, at the end of year, I can go back and use those to jog my memory as to some of the high points of my work for the year. (It also helps get me out of bad-day slumps!)

  43. ITwannabe

    As a former receptionist, I can tell you that Merry really nailed it, and said everything I was planning to. I would only add to do everything you can to make whoever you are dealing with feel as though they are receiving five-star treatment. Your position as a receptionist will teach you a great deal about how to read people and act with tact and diplomacy. It also places you in a great position to observe what does and does not work in terms of management and administration. Try to take the time to observe and learn as much as you can, because you will see a lot. You’ll be surprised at times how much people let down their guard around you. Watch and learn, and make this the starting point of a successful career. Good luck.

  44. any mouse

    I was a receptionist for a professional org and we didn’t get much walk in traffic so it was mostly phone calls but this is what I learned:

    1. If there’s not a handbook or manual create one. If there is one and hasn’t been updated in years, updated it. (although get your supervisor’s permission and worded it as this being one of your first projects that you work on).
    Things you can put in this are – a list of extensions and names (both listed by extension first then name and also by name and then extension – if you are unsure of certain people’s extensions) with any notes about forwarding the calls. Is the policy to blind transfer all calls to everyone but certain people? Do certain people want all calls to go to voicemail except if it’s a spouse?
    Copies of flyers or mailers that have gone out . So when someone calls with “I got this thing in the mail.” You can say, ” Did it look like a large postcard with a sailboat? Yes? We sent that to let you know pre registration for our Summer conference is opening Jan 15. You can go to our website and click on the sailboat for more info.”
    List of outside numbers that you need to call or that you have to refer callers to.
    Maybe even a FAQ list if there are questions you get a lot and have to stop an do research to find out the answer, have it handed.

    2. If you have to look something up or are unsure you can always say, “Can you please hold?” put them on hold and find the answer.

    3. My line with in person solicitors was always “There is no solicitation allowed.” and if anyone balked, I’d refer to the sign on the door. Over the phone “My company doesn’t do business with organizations who can’t provide contact information/callback number.”

    4. Always ask for extra work. Especially if you see departments that have deadlines but also have things like info packets to put together or envelopes to stuff or whatever. Find out if you can do that at your desk and volunteer yourself for it. Makes you look good and it spreads goodwill.

    5. If you have to get information from anyone by a deadline (office supply order, forms, etc) know your deadline and then give them a dealdine of 2-3 days before that. I always would send an email with something “I need to have the expense forms by COB December 10th, 2013. Thank you” (and depending on how important underline the date). But my deadline for turning those forms in was really December 13th or whatever. That way it’s not the 13th and the person you need to get the form from is out of the office or in conference calls all day.

    6. This is good for multiple situations, know what kind of options you can offer people in different situations and give them two (no more than three). For example – if there is a department head that works with an outside vendor or person and should you direct them to the department head’s assistant. What if it’s an emergency? Maybe the answer is no except. So like – someone comes in (or calls) I need to talk to Tom right away! It’s an emergency.

    Tom’s out of the office and you let the person know that, and they say they are Peter with TAS and working on the big project, he has to talk to Tom. You know, in this case, Peter can talk to Tom’s Assistant Sarah Jane.

    So you give Peter this option, “Unfortunately Tom is out of the office today; however, you can speak with Sarah Jane or leave a message.” If Peter is insistent, you just repeat it “Tom is out of the office, however, you can speak with Sarah Jane or you can leave a message.” until he decides to do one of those things. You could probably throw in call back tomorrow but it’s better to stick to two.

    Because maybe Sarah Jane can offer more options or contact Tom. Or maybe Tom is at the doctor’s office and is out and unavailable.

    Also you never tell someone why an employee is out of the office when it’s personal and maybe not even for business. Like if everyone is going to a meeting or a convention that’s one thing. But not, oh, Mary had to leave because her kid was sick.

          1. any mouse

            Don’t have BBCA and it wasn’t at a local theater so I wasn’t. But I am.

            I’m actually doing a rewatch of the whole series, that is currently stalled at the end of the Hartnell years.

  45. PPK

    When I was an intern, I had to cover the front desk for a city office sometimes. Much of the job was answering the phone and directing people to another office. The current admin had been doing this job forever and obviously just memorized crazy amounts of data, but she still had lists with current numbers of the most frequently used numbers/departments. When I sat with her to train, she could point out who she was directing calls to so it wasn’t a mystery. I could visually and verbally learn the most common questions/answers.

    I guess my point is that if you’ll have people covering the admin desk, have some cheat sheets for the things they’re most likely to have to do. It’ll be easier for others to step in, if handling the desk isn’t a mystery.

    1. PPK

      I forgot my second point. Don’t be afraid to tell people “they’re doing it wrong” — you don’t want to say those words, of course, but most people won’t magically change their behavior — even if it seems obvious to you that they should.

      For example, a couple years ago, I was working with a lawyer and their assistant. I would call and ask for the assistant. A lot of times, I would be told the assistant was out. Finally, the admin told me she didn’t work afternoons. I stopped calling in the afternoons. It was easy for me to change my behavior — I just didn’t realize I was often calling at the wrong time.

  46. Kimberlee, Esq.

    One thing I haven’t seen here yet: Ask someone on your first day how to handle crazy people. Because there will be crazy people. It could be that it will be your job to diffuse the situation, or it could be that you need to transfer crazies to someone else, or it could be that you’re allowed to just hang up on them. But it’s one of those things it is better to know BEFORE you’re trapped on the phone with a crazy person.

  47. A Bug!

    Notepad. Keep one, or make one out of scrap paper. Have it and a pen handy whenever the phone rings or someone walks in the door. Get in the habit of writing down important information as it’s given to you – name, purpose of call, person they’re seeking. This way, you will never have to ask someone to give you information they’ve already provided.

    Be utterly helpful. I’m not talking about becoming a doormat, bending over backwards, and never saying “no”. But if you ever do have to say “no”, always offer a solution or an alternative: a solution by directing them to someone who can help them; or an alternative by telling them what you can do for them. It just means being thoughtful, and steering clear of “not my problem.”

    1. A Bug!

      To expand on “be helpful”, I’d like to offer an example of a profoundly unhelpful person who was still technically doing her job.

      I worked in an office whose number was one digit off another professional office in a different field. Think “867-5309” and “857-5309”. A number that’s pretty easy to mix up in your head, but also easy to write down wrong if your sixes look a bit like fives or vice versa.

      So of course, it was a regular occurrence to have someone calling us when they were after the other office. Sometimes several times a day, depending on the season. It didn’t help that one of the folks in the other office was handing out misprinted business cards for a while.

      If you were in that situation with that knowledge, you’d probably start responding to wrong numbers with “Are you looking for the accountant’s office? They’re 857, we’re 867.” It’s no skin off your nose, and it’ll prevent them from ending up back with you if they’ve got the number down wrong. Win/win, right? It’s not like you’re looking up numbers in the phone book for randos.

      Not for one receptionist. Even after the situation was explained to her, it was always, always “You have the wrong number” and hang-up. She’d even get frustrated when they’d sometimes call back.

      It would have taken a nanosecond of thought and maybe three seconds extra time on the phone to direct them properly rather than leaving them to figure it out on their own.

      Don’t be that receptionist. You don’t have to be a bubbly pot of rainbows and unicorn farts to come across as a pleasant receptionist; you just have to be considerate and helpful.

      1. Zelos

        I got that a lot. Somehow the calls (and even the walk-ins!) for the Nexus Pass office always came to us, even though we’re not government and don’t look anything like a government office.

        I ended up just keeping the Nexus Pass’s office number and address by my phone and giving them out.

      2. tcookson

        I work at a large university, so when wrong number calls reach my desk, the person has frequently already had the run-around from several different people. I make it my policy that nobody will get the phone run-around from me — ever. If it’s a wrong number, I ask the person who they were trying to reach, or what department they’re in. Then I tell them that I’m going to get that number for them. Then I either look it up on our online directory, or I dial the university operator and ask for the number. I give the person the number (in case they need it later), and then I transfer them to the correct person. This whole process takes very, very little of my time, but it makes such a better impression on people calling the university than getting the run-around does.

  48. Zelos

    If your office doesn’t have a procedure manual, make one. These are helpful for three reasons:

    1) People will teach you more things. I work in a small office, I’ve been here a year, and my responsibilities have far outstripped the previous people in my role. So when the bosses teach me new stuff (in a sit-down session, or even off-the-cuff “oh, by the way…”, it’s great to have notes to refer to so I don’t have to bug them on how to do XYZ again later.

    2) Adapting to changes. We’ve changed new software in the office and most of the buttons to push/procedures that my predecessor taught me have been thrown out the window. Having notes that “we could do ABC on the old software but not on the new one, we have to do DEF…” is great, because you won’t repeat your growing pains for longer than is necessary.

    3) Telling other people how to do things. Sometimes the bosses can’t remember how to do X because usually you take care of it and then suddenly they have to advise a client on X. Or senior coworker usually knows to do Y but they forgot because they were in a hurry and did Z instead. They might ask you, or you might end up fixing their error, but if there’s an office-wide manual on how to do X and Y and Z they can do it correctly the first time, which is great all around. (Especially if the software is stubborn and resistant to changes…)

    I also use sticky notes on my desk for common tasks, like extension numbers, cell phone numbers, the clients who need to have a separate cc on invoices because they outsource their accounting, etc. Mind you, I work in a small office so I can do that–if you’re in a large office the amount of sticky notes might overtake your desk. Use your best judgement.

    Good luck!

  49. Rebecca

    I have two suggestions: take good phone messages, and announce callers instead of just transferring them and then hanging up.

    Just today, I had our receptionist tell me “a lady called for you, but you weren’t here, so I told her that”. Since she didn’t think to transfer the person into my voice mail, and she didn’t get a name or phone#, I was unable to contact this person before I left for a long holiday weekend. Hopefully it wasn’t really important.

    Which brings me to my second point – if you transfer a call on our phone system, and it appears the call is coming from your extension, and it’s an inside call. I might answer “hi Jane”, when it’s someone completely different from outside the company. I’ve learned if our receptionist’s name appears on my caller ID, I answer it as I would an outside call, just in case.

    And yes, my boss knows this, and no, she won’t do anything about it. We just keep reminding this girl over and over again about basic phone skills.

  50. Lora

    Another vote for “never be rude to anyone.” I work in engineering. We have all kinds of people coming and going–everyone from high powered executives in $10,000 suits to construction workers who fully explore the various uses of the eff-word on an hourly basis. We’ve had (past tense) admins who looked down on the construction guys…who were arguably more valuable assets than the executives. I mean, the C_O quits, life goes on, but if the construction union guys walk off the job, we’re hosed.

    Be the one sane person who works there. Other people can act like children in need of a nap, you really can’t. It’s not fair, but there it is.

    Other things I have called the admin about in a panic, and was grateful that s/he was able to help:
    -There’s a stray cat in the parking lot, do we keep it in the office or do you know anyone who wants a kitten?
    -Can we order pre-popped popcorn in bags? The smoke alarm goes off every time someone makes microwave popcorn
    -When leasing an office, the landlord’s name and contact info
    -OMG my GPS stopped working, I’m in the middle of a business trip in a tiny econobox car that is 100 miles from anywhere, how do I get to (location)? And while I’m running from one end of the FW-Dallas airport to the other, can you call (couple dozen) people and let them know I’m probably not going to make my flight?
    -On a related issue, my luggage got lost and I’m in the middle of nowhere: there is the cheap hotel where I’m staying, a gas station with love-in-a-canoe beer and a roadside stand selling tacos that look to be 70% cockroach legs, can you please overnight FedEx me some clothes, a toothbrush and deodorant, and a box of Tastykakes?
    -I’m going to send a ziploc bag of dirt/$100,000 piece of equipment/irreplaceable handwritten notebook to the office, can you get S to take care of it as soon as it gets there?
    -Tactfully letting me know that I’ve tucked my blouse into my underpants (again).
    -Do we have any (over the counter medicine)?
    -I need this document signed by five people in the next 3 hours, can you run around getting signatures?
    -Remembering that B doesn’t eat meat, K is vegan, M keeps kosher, J doesn’t eat anything green, I is allergic to cheese, and T lives entirely off pizza and fries when figuring out the lunch orders. You would think this is a sort of stupid thing…until you’re entertaining clients from Israel and the admin orders pork BBQ for lunch.
    -How to do CPR and AED use. Seriously, we had an employee have a heart attack, and the admin saved his life.

    1. Hooptie

      These are fabulous, Lora.

      If you can be the receptionist admin who can handle all of these things with efficiency and aplomb, you are definitely worth your weight in gold. My current favorite saying is: Don’t tell yourself “I can’t do that”. Instead, think about what you CAN do. It makes a world of difference in your perspective and helps keep a person from panicking.

      On another note, here’s another tip – make yourself a grid of what kind of calls go to specific departments/people. For example, if you have three purchasing agents, get to know which type of vendors each of them work with. If someone wants to buy a certain type of product from your company, do you send them directly to the Sales Managers or do they have their own admin who further qualifies the prospect?

      A list of qualifier questions for inbound callers would be useful too. One of our receptionists just transferred a job candidate to our animal procurement team. Ouch. Even worse, this was MY candidate! Of course, we’re a pretty big company but this…this was not a good thing. I’ve even made a grid for our receptionists because they misdirect so many calls, but it doesn’t appear that they use it. :(

  51. Elizabeth West

    I thought of one–make a little cheat sheet for people who may cover you when you’re out sick or on vacation.

    At Exjob, we would have all-team meetings once every quarter. Everyone was required to attend, including me. Before the recession and a manager change, we usually hired temps to come into the office to cover the desk and help out for a few hours (they had to be there for a certain amount of time). They would come in a half-hour or so before the meeting so I could orient them.

    I would leave them the extension list, and the cheat sheet had notes on it for what to do if someone came in while we were in the meeting (Don’t tell them you’re alone in the building), what to do if truck drivers called asking for directions, and my cell number (or my boss’s) if they needed us. Without fail, they all appreciated having that document handy.

    You can refer them to your SOP manual also, in case they’re covering for more than an hour or two.

    1. Hooptie

      YES! They are basically ‘the babysitter’ who is managing ‘your household’ while you are out, so thinking of what they may need in your absence, like a babysitter, would be so helpful.

  52. Angie

    I’ve worked in admin roles from part-time Receptionist to C-level Executive Assistant, and I’ve found that one of the most important things is to keep in mind the purpose of your role. As the receptionist/admin, your job is, ultimately, to make it possible for everyone else in the office to do their job better and more efficiently. An excellent admin always keeps this in mind. If you’re doing that, you’re better able to anticipate needs, act quickly, and make good judgement calls (of which there will be many!). I’ve found that this mindset is often the difference between an ok admin and an excellent one.

  53. some1

    I keep thinking of more!

    Someone will misalign the coffeepot causing boiling hot coffee to spill all over the place. No one will admit to be the one who did and you will have to clean it up & smell like Juan Valdez for the rest of the day.

    Remember that someone has to cover for you when you are sick, and try to do their job + yours all day at your desk. The easiest way to make an enemy of your back-up(s) is calling in sick when you’re not (or because you’re hungover or wanted a vacation day).

    That being said, don’t let your back-ups make you feel guilty about taking the vacation time you are owed because they don’t want to cover for you. If a back-up resents always having to cover when you are out, don’t get in the middle of that mess — have her take it up with her supervisor.

  54. Jamie

    Oh, and one more thing…learn how the conference bridge works and don’t push setting up conference calls on IT. It makes us sad.

  55. Steve G

    Make spreadsheets to track everything even if no one explicitly asks you to. For example, keep a sheet of all running inbound and outbound money you process, the reason for the expense, who it went to, and the date. Then when you have downtime you can go back to the list and see, for example, “oh, I was supposed to get that check but it never came let me check in with them,” or “I was supposed to get a rebate for xyz but it never came, let me follow up on that.”

    Keep a sheet of office supply orders, with price x quantity and shipping costs. Once you’ve done this a few months, you may see room for improvements in the ordering process.

    Also keep a sheet of customers you need to follow up with unless the query was simple.

  56. Emily, admin extraordinaire

    Lots of good advice here, but I’d like to add this: You WILL be interrupted, and many if not most of your days will be chaotic and unpredictable. It is an inherent part of your job description. If you’re the type of person who needs long blocks of uninterrupted time to get anything done, you need to find another job.Because the minute you’re head-down in a spreadsheet or up to your eyeballs in proofreading the upcoming marketing mailing or on hold with a hotel to get reservations for your boss, you’ll get a phone call or an email or a package will arrive or something that will take you out of your groove. You need to be able to adapt quickly, change gears if necessary, and prioritize what really needs to be done, all without getting too flustered or stressed. Any and all plans you might have had for the day may have to be thrown out the window because of a looming crisis. So be prepared.

    That being said, you will eventually learn to differentiate between what is actually a crisis and what isn’t. One of the people I used to support would give me tasks for something that sounded like an emergency but very rarely was. Sometimes you need to push back, because the thing that David wants SOOOO desperately might not be due for another three weeks, while the project that John has you working on is due on Friday (other times it’s just easier to do David’s thing because it’ll take you 5 minutes and get David off your back).

    Receptionists are way underpaid. I know I always was. :P

      1. AngelaR

        Yes, Receptionist are very underpaid, but if you work for a good company and you remain loyal and hard working, you can make more. I started at a law firm and the starting salary was $33,000.00 a year, but with a 3% raise every year, after 5 years, I was making $46,000.00 which is a lot for a Receptionist. So if you’re patient, it pays well.

  57. some1

    If you’re a receptionist, you will get calls all the time because someone saw your main line on their Caller ID and they will call back and expect you to know who called them without first A) checking their voice mail or B) googling the number and realizing, “Oh, that’s Aunt Alice’s work”

      1. Zelos

        Even better when they call back, but won’t tell you who they are.
        “Hi, I got a call from your office. Who called me?”
        “Um…who are you?”

  58. Anonymous

    Don’t be a bully. No, really – I’ve worked so many places where the receptionist would try to bully people into taking calls. If someone says to please place the call into voice mail or to please take a message, then please, please just put the call into vm or take a message. Please don’t sit and argue with the person who can’t take the call right now, whether they’re the big boss or “just a secretary”. (And I’ve also been a receptionist, so I really do understand that this can be difficult, especially when the caller is rude or overly insistent, or consistently calls in a lunch time day after day, but that’s part of the job.)

  59. Chinook

    This may have already been covered, but here are some practical survival tips:
    1. Pace yur liquid consumption and don’t be flustered if someone asks if you need a bathroom break. It may feel childish but good coworkers know you can’t always leave the desk if you need to.

    2. Ask about the break schedule and coverage and don’t start a habit of taking every break. Even if it is getting up to stretch your legs, you need people to get used to the idea of you needing your breaks

    3. Constant noise, even a teklephone ringing, is a stressor. If you find yourself snapping at people, ask for a break and go for a walkj. I learned this the hard way covering phones during tax season for accountants and I appreciated having someone relieve me for even 5 minutes of calm.

    4. Make friends with the various delivery people and be extra nice to them (bike couriers especially like food). If you treat them well, they can pull miracles for you in a time of need.

  60. Rachel C

    Receptionist here! I’ve worked for legal firm for a few years and I’m currently the receptionist at a medium-sized architecture firm.

    Often as not, you’re going to be the point person. Urinal overflowing? Light out? Not sure where to find band-aids? People will come to you with the oddest of questions. It’ll probably be part of your training, but find out your point people for general office questions, who the HR contact is, accounting, legal, potential customers, all that kind of thing.

    Be pleasant, even if you have to fake it, usually no one will ever know. I’m a pretty chipper person myself so it’s not a stretch to be that way all the time, and I’ve had a lot of compliments on how nice it is to have a smiling face at the front desk. Every office is different, but unless it’s a very tight and low-key place, there are always people who are socially awkward enough who prefer to not speak to anyone they don’t have to. Just give them an acknowledging smile and don’t let it get to you at all. (At the law firm, one of the attorneys didn’t speak to me until one day after I had been there two years, he finally said “good morning”!)

    Callers and visitors can be a total crapshoot, some are very pushy, some are just snotty and rude, and some will walk all over you. I still struggle with this sometimes, but learn to be polite but firm when you can. As far as security, see if your location has any kind of mechanism in place for you to alert your coworkers if there’s someone who will not leave and you feel threatened. Every time I’ve had some crazy person wander in (and this does happen), just the aid of having several extra people around often gets them to leave.

    Find out exactly what your job entails, and be very open when more work comes in but also communicate anything you have going on. Often I’ve had an issue where coworkers would heap work on me (Can you proofread this? I need this mailed. Would you mind typing this up?) because they thought I wasn’t busy, when actually seven other people had made similar requests in addition to my normal work. Learn to ask when they expect the work done by, and try to tell them realistically before they leave whether it can be done by then or if you’re swamped, and would they mind asking Mary instead? Maybe your place of work will have an administration ticket system (mine does, it’s awesome!) so if that’s available to you and the job is one that’s relatively involved, it’s a good idea to encourage them to use that resource.

    Try to enable your coworkers, and teach them if they’re interested. I could hog the mail machine and insist on metering all postage that comes by the front desk, but I happily teach anyone who would like to learn about it and do my best to gently correct anything that’s done incorrectly so that they feel comfortable using it maybe if I’m out of the office or working on something.

    As far as mail goes, $0.46 is a regular stamp in the US, $0.66 is for an overstuffed envelope heavier than one ounce. Mail machines can be finicky, so give yourself time to learn it and don’t be afraid to ask questions!

    Get to know your IT guys. They will love you to pieces if you get in the habit of writing down any error messages that pop up on your screen, because the more information you give them, the more they have to work with and the easier your problem will be to solve.

    If it’s a higher stress environment (like a law firm), I highly suggest finding a spot that you can stick your head into and make faces when someone frustrates you. It sounds really unprofessional, but it seriously helps when you’re expected to be 100% smiles. A mailroom, supply cupboard, oversized drawer, anywhere you can make faces for a few moments. It depends on the person, but I definitely find it helps vent that little bit of frustration so I can go back to being professional and courteous.

    Sometimes, there will be nothing to do but wait for the phone to ring or have a guest visit. Learn to entertain yourself in a discrete manner. Another reason to befriend the IT staff is that you’ll learn what’s acceptable for computer use and what’s not very quickly, either by the employee manual or internet blocks. If you think they’d be amenable, ask them candidly about downtime, and see what they say or recommend. Just by being friendly, I got the law firm IT guy to unblock reddit for me (where I can spend hours while still looking busy) because we shared a love for the site and I was frank with him about having downtime.

    Your brain will hurt from trying to learn everyone’s name. That’s okay. When they first introduce themselves to you, repeat their name back and admit that you’re bad with names (even if you’re not) and that usually can help break the ice. Every time someone comes in for the morning, try to greet them by their name or stop them and ask for their name. It’s important to try at least to get it within probably the first week or two depending on the size of the workplace. Definitely treat it as part of your job, because it is your job to try and know everyone!

    Everyone has preferences. Favorite pens, restaurants they can’t stand the catering from, foods they’re allergic to, those kinds of things. If there’s no file for those, try and make your own.

    Try and make friends with the FedEx and UPS guys. You’ll probably be seeing a lot of them, and most of the ones I’ve met have been friendly if not downright hilarious.

    Make sure you know your backup and backup’s backup for the front desk. Bathroom breaks are important and you’ll want to know ahead of time before you really have to pee and start dialing everyone in the office desperately!

    If your company has a generic business card, put it by your phone for the first few weeks at least. You’ll probably get asked a lot about the address and phone number, and it’s handy to have around.

    You’ll be sitting a lot, so remember to get up and move every once in a while. You can always stretch your legs under the desk! Point your toes straight and hold it for as long as you can, then point your toes up and try to push your ankles away from you and hold that too.

  61. MrsG

    I’m sure people have said all these things, but I haven’t read all the comments:
    *keep a notepad and a writing utensil on you at all times so you can take good notes when your boss asks you to do something. you won’t have to go back and ask them a thousand questions (I fail hardcore at this)
    *be polite and professional on the phone, you’re the first impression someone has when they contact the business
    *wear layers, offices are generally either too cold or too hot depending on the amount of men in suits and/or menopausal women present
    *along with mail delivery people, befriend the IT department
    *learn everything you can about the office machines and software you will be using, I really impressed a boss once just by changing his calendar view (but I really suck at working different phones)
    *make a pot of coffee a few minutes before everyone comes in, you will be their goddess
    *if you’re not actively working on an assignment you should be learning. showing that you’ve mastered the job is the quickest way to get raises and promotions

    good luck!!

  62. Amanda

    I actually got a pit in my stomach because OP’s new job sounds exactly the same as one I interviewed at a few weeks ago in MA and hadn’t heard back from yet.

    Of course there are countless positions like OPs…but still.

  63. Anne

    Develop a good radar for sales calls. I’ve worked both in a cold call centre and as an admin, and I can tell you – people learn the tricks to sound like their call is expected even when it’s not. Recruitment agencies are particularly bad about this, they cold-call us all the time and none of the managers they call for will ever want to speak with them.

    If you think it might be a cold call…

    “Is Wakeen expecting your call?”

    “What is it regarding?”

    Ask straight-out: “Is this a sales/recruitment call?” At least here in the UK, people are legally obligated to answer honestly, although they may try to weasel.

    If they say yes: “I’m sorry, but we make a policy of not dealing with recruiters/we’re happy with our current supplier. Thanks for your time!” Hang up, even if they’re still talking.

    For the super-pushy that you just can’t bring yourself to hang up on: “Here’s my email address. If you send me some information, I’ll run it past Wakeen and we’ll get back to you if we’re interested.”

  64. Elkay

    I know it sounds crappy but if you’re good you’re going to get extra duties – while in general this is a good thing please don’t forget what the “bread and butter” work you were hired to do is. We had an admin who started off being really efficient so she was given more to do, unfortunately this morphed into her getting really stroppy whenever anyone asked her to do any admin tasks and progressively less and less efficient and useful.

    Other than that I second Alison’s advice of being super organised.

  65. MaryTerry

    Be careful on what you wear. When you are sitting down and others are standing, toe blouse you thought was perfect may be more low cut than you thought.

    1. MrsG

      OMG this happened to me. People kept coming to my desk and staring at me and when I looked down I realized my wrap top had loosened and most of my one boob and bra was visible. I was popular.

  66. Anon

    Similar work is part of my job. Intense attention to detail and organization is important.

    When you think about organization, you might think of having a perfectly clean desk, or organizing all of your stuff into folders and boxes from The Container Store. It doesn’t have to mean that. The important part of organization is being able to find information and things quickly whenever you or someone else needs them. Test out different ideas for this and stick with a system that works for you.

  67. Mephyle

    The anecdotes about poor telephone forwarding skills reminds me of the receptionist where I worked decades ago, who, upon getting a call from a “husband with an accent” asking for [some name she didn’t catch but it started with M] would randomly put him through to either the wife of the Sikh or the wife of the Mexican.
    Meanwhile my husband (the Mexican) in his workplace in turn would randomly get calls and mail for the German whose had a similar (but German) name. To their secretary, apparently, it was too confusing to tell the two foreign “Jo(ö)rg(e)” professors apart. At least she was colourblind!
    Also, I note that a book called “Be the Ultimate Assistant” is free today (Nov. 28) for Kindle. No endorsement implied, but it looks relevant and, hey, it’s free!

    1. V

      Very late here, but wow – if you can’t work with foreign names, a university might not be the best place to work :)

  68. DeNae

    I spent over 10 years as a reception and admin. You’ve gotten a lot of great advice. One thing I haven’t seen it is how to manage things once you’ve gotten settled and the work is piling up. Frequently the receptionist gets tasks from all over the office. I had to learn how to extract urgency or priority from the multiple people who gave me work.

    I used a script like this:
    Peter: “Can you please do this research project for me?
    Me: “Certainly! When do you need it by?” (note: many people will fail to give you a deadline. Always ask for one)
    Peter: “I need it by tomorrow at 3 pm!”
    Me: “Hmmm … I’ve already committed to get Project A to Paul and Project B to Mary, so I can’t make 3pm tomorrow. Is there any flexibility in that deadline?”
    Peter: “NO! This is for VERY IMPORTANT CLIENT!”
    Me: “Goodness! Let me check with Paul and see if there is any flexibility in his deadline.”

    Key pieces of this: Get the deadline. Communicate who you need to get the other work done for. Ask for flexibility. Clearly acknowledge the OBVIOUS importance of their work (even if it isn’t). If you get push back, send them to the other work-assigners to negotiate their own mess.

  69. JessB

    This one that I thought would have been obvious, but judging by the way our new temp is behaving, it isn’t, so I’ll add it to the list: don’t constantly compare how things are done at your new job to procedures elsewhere. If you have a suggestion for how something can work better, feel free to put it forward, but don’t constantly talk about how crap the program’s are here, and how ‘other place’ does things so much better.

    1. KB

      OMG, this! I am in the process of transitioning to a dept role from an EA role. I am training the new EA, and every other word out of her mouth is “at OldJob we did this” or “at OldJob we used this caterer”. While I realize that she is trying to leverage her knowledge gained at her previous position, she is starting to sound like a broken record. While there are similarities in EA roles across the board, every office (and every exec for that matter) does things differently. While there is some use in having a fresh pair of eyes look things over to make sure things are being done in the most efficient way, it is not a good idea to only hang on to the way you did everything before for the selfsame reason. If I’m telling you that we do something one way, there is usually a reason we do it that way.

      1. JessB

        I totally agree KB! To make matters worse, our University is completely changing the organisational structure at the start of next year, and our office will be closing forever on December 24.

        So we really just want to ride things out till the end of the year, and leave things as organised as possible for the people taking over our work – we aren’t interested in changing the whole way the office operates for the next month, and adding another process to explain to people!!

  70. Amy

    I would encourage you to become an office automation expert. Whatever software and hardware is used, know it like you invented it. Then, once that is done…go out and learn software or equipment that your company may find useful but are not currently using and become an expert on that. You will find that you will be highly regarded and valued if you know how to correctly and quickly use these tools. Maybe start with the phone system, learn it inside and out, read the manual, test how different functions operate. Your expertise will be appreciated and rewarded. (even if it isn’t you have just made yourself an expert and ready for the next job level)
    Good luck!

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