Career Guide for Receptionists

Receptionists answer phones, greet visitors, and provide a good first impression for the firm. In some firms, they take on other duties including security and mail.

In this free career guide, you will learn how to become a successful receptionist.

Receptionist Summary

  • Good interpersonal skills are critical.
  • A high school diploma or its equivalent is the most common educational requirement.
  • A large number of job openings are expected.
  • Opportunities should be best for persons with a wide range of clerical and technical skills, particularly those with related work experience.

Working as a Receptionist

Receptionists and information clerks are charged with a responsibility that may affect the success of an organization: making a good first impression. Receptionists and information clerks answer telephones, route and screen calls, greet visitors, respond to inquiries from the public, and provide information about the organization. Some are responsible for the coordination of all mail into and out of the office. In addition, they contribute to the security of an organization by helping to monitor the access of visitors—a function that has become increasingly important.

Whereas some tasks are common to most receptionists and information clerks, their specific responsibilities vary with the type of establishment in which they work. For example, receptionists and information clerks in hospitals and in doctors’ offices may gather patients’ personal and insurance information and direct them to the proper waiting rooms. In corporate headquarters, they may greet visitors and manage the scheduling of the board room or common conference area. In beauty or hair salons, they arrange appointments, direct customers to the hairstylist, and may serve as cashiers. In factories, large corporations, and government offices, receptionists and information clerks may provide identification cards and arrange for escorts to take visitors to the proper office. Those working for bus and train companies respond to inquiries about departures, arrivals, stops, and other related matters.

Receptionists and information clerks use the telephone, personal computers, and other electronic devices to send e-mail and fax documents, for example. Despite the widespread use of automated answering systems or voice mail, many receptionists and clerks still take messages and inform other employees of visitors’ arrivals or cancellation of an appointment. When they are not busy with callers, most workers are expected to assist other administrative employees by performing a variety of office duties, including opening and sorting mail, collecting and distributing parcels, transmitting and delivering facsimiles, and performing Internet search tasks. Other duties include updating appointment calendars, preparing travel vouchers, and performing basic bookkeeping, word processing, and filing.

Companies sometimes hire off-site receptionists and information clerks called, virtual receptionists, to perform, or supplement, many of the duties done by the traditional receptionist. Virtual receptionists use software integrated into their phone system to instantly track their employer’s location, inform them of every call, and relay vital information to their callers. Using fax mailbox services, employers can retrieve faxes from any location at any time. The service receives them for the employer in special mailboxes and then transfers them when the line is free.

Work environment. Receptionists and information clerks who greet customers and visitors usually work in areas that are highly visible and designed and furnished to make a good impression. Most work stations are clean, well lighted, and relatively quiet. Virtual receptionists work from home or at an off-site office building. The work performed by some receptionists and information clerks may be tiring, repetitious, and stressful as they may spend all day answering continuously ringing telephones and sometimes encounter difficult or irate callers. The work environment, however, may be very friendly and motivating for individuals who enjoy greeting customers face to face and making them feel comfortable. About 30 percent of receptionists and information clerks worked part time.

Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement

A high school diploma or its equivalent is the most common educational requirement, although hiring requirements for receptionists and information clerks vary by industry and employer. Good interpersonal skills and being technologically proficient also are important to employers.

Education and training. Receptionists and information clerks generally need a high school diploma or equivalent as most of their training is received on the job. However, employers often look for applicants who already possess certain skills, such as knowledge of spreadsheet and word processing software or answering telephones. Some employers also may prefer some formal office education or training. On the job, they learn how to operate the telephone system and computers. They also learn the proper procedures for greeting visitors and for distributing mail, fax messages, and parcels. While many of these skills can be learned quickly, those who are charged with relaying information to visitors or customers may need several months to learn details about the organization.

Other qualifications. Good interpersonal and customer service skills—being courteous, professional, and helpful—are critical for this job. Being an active listener often is a key quality needed by receptionists and information clerks that requires the ability to listen patiently to the points being made, to wait to speak until others have finished, and to ask appropriate questions when necessary. In addition, the ability to relay information accurately to others is important.

The ability to operate a wide range of office technology also is helpful, as receptionists and information clerks are often asked to work on other assignments during the day.

Advancement. Advancement for receptionists generally comes about either by transferring to an occupation with more responsibility or by being promoted to a supervisory position. Receptionists with especially strong computer skills, a bachelor’s degree, and several years of experience may advance to a better paying job as a secretary or an administrative assistant.

Employment for Receptionists

Receptionists and information clerks held about 1.1 million jobs in 2008. The healthcare and social assistance industries—including offices of physicians, hospitals, nursing homes, and outpatient care facilities—employed about 36 percent of all receptionists and information clerks. Wholesale and retail trade, personal services, educational services, finance and insurance, employment services, religious organizations, and real estate industries also employed large numbers of receptionists and information clerks.

Job Outlook

Employment is projected to grow faster than the average for all occupations. Job growth, coupled with the need to replace workers who transfer to other occupations or leave the labor force, will generate a large number of job openings for receptionists and information clerks.

Employment change. Employment of receptionists and information clerks is expected to increase by 15 percent from 2008 to 2018, which is faster than the average for all occupations. Employment growth will result from growth in industries such as offices of physicians and in other health practitioners, legal services, personal care services, construction, and management and technical consulting.

Technology will have conflicting effects on employment growth for receptionists and information clerks. The increasing use of voice mail and other telephone automation reduces the need for receptionists by allowing one receptionist to perform work that formerly required several. At the same time, however, the increasing use of other technology has caused a consolidation of clerical responsibilities and growing demand for workers with diverse clerical and technical skills, such as virtual receptionists. Because receptionists and information clerks may perform a wide variety of clerical tasks, they should continue to be in demand. Further, they perform many tasks that are interpersonal in nature and are not easily automated, ensuring continued demand for their services in a variety of establishments.

Job prospects. In addition to job growth, numerous job opportunities will be created as receptionists and information clerks transfer to other occupations or leave the labor force altogether. Opportunities should be best for persons with a wide range of clerical and technical skills, particularly those with related work experience.

Projections Data

Projections data from the National Employment Matrix
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2008 Projected
Employment, 2018
Number Percent
Receptionists and information clerks 43-4171 1,139,200 1,312,100 172,900 15
NOTE: Data in this table are rounded.

Earnings for Receptionists

Median hourly wages of receptionists and information clerks in May 2008 were $11.80. The middle 50 percent earned between $9.69 and $14.44. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $8.09, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $17.07. Median hourly wages in the industries employing the largest number of receptionists and information clerks in May 2008 were:

Offices of dentists $13.78
Offices of physicians 12.20
Employment services 11.63
Offices of other health practitioners 11.45
Personal care services 9.35

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