What's it really like?
Amy Charleworth is a part time receptionist at the Henry Moore Institute, an art gallery situated in the centre of Leeds. She gives us the inside story:
''I am 25 years old and have been working at the Henry Moore Institute for the last year and a half. I started off working as an Information Assistant, speaking to visitors about the exhibitions on show on the gallery floor. After covering the reception desk a few times during our receptionist’s lunch break I was recently promoted to the position of weekend receptionist at the Insitute.
As a receptionist no two days are the same, as my tasks largely depend upon who comes into the gallery. At the start of my shift it is my responsibility to bring the cash down from the safe, to set the till up and to ensure our catalogue shelves are well stocked (we sell catalogues of all our exhibitions in the entrance to the gallery so I use the till to make transactions). I check the staff schedules so I know who will be in when people telephone the institute and I also make sure we have enough staff to cover the gallery floor (if not it is up to me to ring round and find people to work at short notice). During the day, typical tasks include answering the phone and referring phone calls to other members of staff or taking messages if the relevant staff is away from the Institute. I am also responsible for meeting and greeting visitors who come to see other members of staff. I am the first person people see when they come into the Institute so I usually answer a lot of face-to-face enquiries from members of the public.
I enjoy working at the Institute because it allows me to meet a wide range of people, from members of the public to academics and people who come to speak at gallery events. I also like the challenge of solving problems that arise from day-to-day, although on the downside this can be quite stressful especially when I have several problems to sort out at once.
Before working at the Henry Moore Institute I went to art school where, as well as studying a degree in sculpture, I also ran a temporary art gallery. This involved a lot of contact with members of the public which stood me in good stead for getting the job at the Institute. Anyone looking for a job as a receptionist needs to have good people skills, be willing to learn and, most importantly, to have a friendly and polite outlook at all times. Working as a receptionist is a good role in which to gain many transferable skills. I don’t expect to be a receptionist all my life, as I would eventually like to work as a curator in an art gallery, but the job has given me good experience of problem solving and of dealing with the public, which I am sure will be useful in whatever job I chose to move onto.''
Acting as the first point of contact for a company, a receptionist offers administrative support for an organisation, with a particular focus on visitor enquiries.
As the person who makes initial contact with the client or visitor, receptionists act as the ambassador for a company or organisation. Their main role is to welcome visitors or clients, take details and assist them with initial problems or enquiries. Receptionists work behind a reception desk in the foyer or waiting area of a company, managing the telephone, taking messages and referring visitors or clients to the appropriate member of staff. They may also act as a security officer in smaller businesses or organisations.
Whilst receptionists give administrative or secretarial support to the company, they are distinct from administrators because they focus on dealing with the specific needs of visitors, clients or patients rather than company employees. Working as a receptionist is an excellent way to develop administration or clerical skills, to build up contacts and to gain a knowledge of a particular industry.
A receptionist is usually one of the lowest paid employees in an organisation. Typical starting salaries are between £12 – 15,000 per year but with experience there is the potential for salaries to increase up to £24,000 depending on the nature of industry and the specifications of the job.
Typically, receptionists are responsible for:
- Answering the telephone
- Dealing with telephone enquiries or referring them to the relevant member of staff
- Greeting visitors and directing them to the appropriate person or staff member
- Answering face-to-face enquiries and providing information when required
- Issuing security passes and maintaining visitor records
- Keeping the waiting area (in a doctors or dentists surgery) tidy and providing reading material for waiting visitors
- Taking payments
- Receiving and sorting post
- Providing refreshments for visitors, patients or clients
- Sending emails and making telephone calls
- Booking rooms
- Maintaining patient records
- Organising travel arrangements
- Managing the switch board
- Organising meeting times/ meeting rooms
- Acting as the initial contact for interviewees
- Undertaking basic bookkeeping
Receptionists are not usually required to have academic qualifications, although GCSE in Maths and English is preferable. In certain industries (the media or the arts for example), receptionists may be required to have more qualifications (A Levels or a degree) because jobs in those industries are in high demand. A secretarial qualification will always be a huge advantage for getting a receptionist job as will a qualification in IT or computing. Companies who receive a lot of international visitors may also require receptionists to have a qualification in a foreign language.
Receptionists are required to have many different skills to allow them to meet the varying demands of visitors and colleagues. These include:
- A polite and courteous manner regardless of the situation
- The ability to deal calmly with difficult customers or visitors
- Excellent verbal and written communication skills
- The ability to keep calm under pressure
- Efficiency and excellent organisational skills
- The ability to balance conflicting demands
- A commitment to and knowledge of the organisation and its work
- Basic IT skills
- Word processing abilities
- The ability to work telecommunication systems (telephones, fax machines, switchboards etc)
- The ability to make people feel at ease
- The willingness to go the extra mile even at busy times
- The ability to work under own initiative
- Excellent interpersonal skills
- A smart, neat appearance
Receptionists usually work normal office hours, typically 9 to 5.30 from Monday to Friday. Depending on the nature of the company, this could increase during busy periods and receptionists may be required to undertake some weekend work. Working conditions for receptionists may not be physically demanding but they can be very stressful, requiring the receptionist to juggle varying demands at once. On occasions when there are no visitors or telephone calls, however, the work can be dull and may involve sitting still for long periods of time. The job can also be quite lonely as receptionists usually work alone or with just one other person, in a separate space to their colleagues.
Experience in a relevant role is much more useful for getting a receptionist job than formal qualifications. Most employees value experience of dealing with the public in any capacity, as well as experience of working with computers or on the telephone. Working for a temping agency is an excellent way of getting the experience necessary for a full time receptionist job. Alternatively school leavers can undertake apprenticeship schemes in business administration which is a good way for young people with few qualifications to gain the experience needed to be a receptionist.
Receptionists are required in most large offices, schools, medical surgeries, factories, solicitors, hospitals, hotels and hairdressers so there are plenty of places to find jobs although competition can be tough.
Depending on the nature of the organisation worked for, there are usually good opportunities for receptionists to progress. With experience, receptionists often progress to the role of administrator or secretary, supervisor, customer services manager or, in a medical surgery, the role of practice manager.
Most employers offer on-the-job training which may require receptionists to attend training days in general reception work or in more specific skills according to the organisation. Some employers may be willing to release receptionists for a day a week to work towards an NVQ in business and administration, customer services or other related area.