Becoming a Receptionist: Careers, Salary Info & Job Description

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What are the pros and cons of becoming a receptionist? Get real job duties, career prospects and salary information to see if becoming a receptionist is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Being a Receptionist

Receptionists typically work in offices and perform duties such as answering phones, routing calls, greeting visitors, handling customer inquiries and relaying information to their employers. Check out these pros and cons to decide if becoming a receptionist is right for you.

PROS of Being a Receptionist
No degree required for employment*
Solid growth in the field (14% growth predicted between 2012 and 2022)*
Many opportunities to advance with companies*
Opportunities for part-time employment usually available (about 33% worked part-time in 2012)*

CONS of Being a Receptionist
Pay is low (median hourly wage was about $13.00 in 2014)*
Job may be stressful and repetitive in nature*
Position may require dealing with irate customers*
Voice mail may reduce the need for reception duties*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Essential Career Info

Job Duties

As a receptionist, your main duties will probably be to greet visitors and answer incoming calls. You'll route callers to the correct departments or contact persons to handle their questions. If you can answer questions for callers, you may provide information to them yourself as well. Some receptionists also handle mail, e-mail and fax communications.

Your duties can vary depending on the business you work for. For instance, if you work at a doctor's office, you may collect patient insurance cards and medical histories to file, as well as show patients to the correct rooms to wait for the doctor. In a large office, you may be required to distribute visitor passes and direct prospective clients to waiting areas.

Salary and Career Info

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in May 2012, there were about 1,006,000 receptionists employed in the nation. The average annual salary for receptions as of 2014 was roughly $28,000 (www.bls.gov). The two industries with the highest levels of employment in the field at that time were physicians' and dental offices.

What Are the Requirements?

You can obtain employment as a receptionist without any formal training. You'd typically need only a high school diploma or its equivalent. However, most employers prefer that you have an office background. You'll typically receive on-the-job training on specific phone, fax and computer systems, as well as any other office equipment related to your job. Other helpful skills for receptionists include:

  • Customer service skills
  • English, communication, listening and reading skills
  • Social perceptiveness
  • Telecommunication, computer and electronics knowledge
  • Time management and organizational skills

Job Postings from Real Employers

Many employers require specific software and computer program knowledge before they will consider you for open positions. Here are some examples of job openings posted on Monster.com in March 2012:

  • An insurance brokerage in Roseville, CA, is hiring a receptionist to handle inbound calls and route to the correct representative for handling. The receptionist will keep a log of all calls and check for voicemail messages daily. Mail duties are also a part of this role, as is ordering supplies, filling printers with paper, preparing FedEx shipments and filing. Applicants must have a high school diploma and 1-2 years of experience answering phones, and the employer prefers experience in Microsoft Word, Excel and Lotus Notes.
  • An outsourcing company in New York City, NY, is seeking a receptionist to handle incoming calls on a multi-line phone system, as well as handle all deliveries of mail to the company. This receptionist must maintain the phone lists and handle sensitive documents. Applicants must have a high school diploma and one year of experience in a corporate environment.
  • An outsourcing company in Greenwich, CT, is hiring an executive receptionist to meet and greet guests, as well as answer and transfer calls. Hospitality is a part of this position, as is reserving conference rooms for meetings. Applicants must pass a drug test and background check.

How to Stand Out

According to the BLS, experienced receptionists with strong computer skills and some postsecondary education usually have the best opportunities to advance into higher positions as secretaries or administrative assistants. Any combination of education and experience in office work can help you advance your career. You could take individual classes to brush up on your office skills, or you could complete a formal certificate or associate's degree program.

Certificate Programs

Many colleges offer certificate programs that can prepare you to become a receptionist, data entry clerk or office assistant. Some are available entirely online. You'll complete coursework related to receptionist duties, such as office and records management, customer service skills and professional development.

Associate's Degree Programs

A degree can give you an edge over other applicants, and you can find administrative assistant associate's degree programs at many colleges. While not specifically geared toward students pursuing receptionist jobs, these programs teach skills relevant to any type of office job. You could complete an associate's degree program in around two years. You may take courses in spreadsheets, word processing, keyboarding, data entry and office procedures in addition to general education courses.

Other Career Paths

Switchboard Operator

If you like the idea of answering phones but don't want to deal with people in person, another option is to become a switchboard operator. In this role, you'll operate switchboards and equipment to route outgoing and incoming calls. You may also give information to callers and transfer interoffice calls. While a pro of choosing this career is that you won't interact with customers or clients face-to-face, a con is that employment was projected to decline 23% from 2010-2020, according to the BLS. Only a high school diploma or the equivalent is required to get started in this career. The BLS reported that the mean annual salary for switchboard operators was about $27,000 in May 2011.

Office Clerk

If becoming a receptionist appeals to you but you'd prefer more variety in your job duties, consider becoming an office clerk. As an office clerk, your duties include a wide variety of administrative tasks, such as answering phones, typing, operating office machines, filing, managing schedules and bookkeeping. As with a receptionist job, you'll only need a high school diploma or the equivalent to obtain employment. In May 2011, the BLS reported a mean annual wage of about $29,000 for general office clerks. While your work as an office clerk may not be as repetitive as that of a receptionist, you may not enjoy as much job growth. The BLS predicted that employment of office clerks would increase 17% over the 2010-2020 decade.

Executive Secretary or Executive Administrative Assistant

Perhaps you're set on an office job, but you'd like to take on more responsibility and enjoy a higher income potential. You might consider becoming an executive secretary or executive administrative assistant. In this position, you'd provide administrative support to top executives. Your duties may include reviewing documents, supervising clerical staff, preparing reports, arranging meetings and conducting research. A downside to these occupations is that you may need years of experience working as an administrative assistant to become familiar with your company's operations and strengthen your skills. However, you're likely to earn significantly more that you would as a receptionist. The BLS reported that the mean annual wage for executive secretaries and executive administrative assistants was approximately $48,000 in May 2011.

Popular Schools

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Featured Schools

George Mason University

  • Master of Business Administration

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Saint John's University

  • Master of Business Administration: Interdisciplinary Business

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Herzing University

  • Associate of Science - Business Studies
  • Diploma: Bookkeeping and Payroll Accounting

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The University of Scranton

  • Master of Business Administration
  • Dual MBA-MHA

What is your highest level of education?

Keiser University

  • Master of Business Administration - Management (Spanish)
  • Business Administration, BA - Management
  • Associate of Arts - Accounting

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University of Delaware

  • Master of Business Administration
  • Master of Business Administration - Custom/General
  • Master of Business Administration - Multiple Concentrations

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Grand Canyon University

  • MBA
  • Bachelor of Science in Business for Secondary Education
  • BS in Applied Management

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Full Sail University

  • B.S. - Music Business

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