How to be a Good Receptionist

by Michelle Lasley

Michelle Lasley is a mother, wife in Pacific Northwest learning to balance green dreams with budget realities.

February 14, 2013


Categories: Blogging Before SEO


Being a good receptionist requires a cheery disposition, calm demeanor, and a general willingness to help anyone.

Someone close to me just got a new job. The job title is below her skill level, but it’s a necessary one for the office in which she will be working. This person generally likes to focus on one thing at a time, so this job, while she can do it, will provide her with some specific challenges. So, I asked her if she wanted two to three tips… and I realized I had a lot to say on the subject.

One: Always Greet People with a Smile on Your Face

It’s true. People can hear the smile in your voice when you answer the phone with a smile on your face. This oft low paid position, is one of the most important an organization can have. This person who is hired as the receptionist is the face of your organization. Sure, you can argue that the CEO, or the Director, or the top Doc really is the face of the organization. However, everyday clients are not interacting with the top dog. Everyday clients are interacting with your staff. So, it is crucially important that this staff have the right attitude, and it is crucial that this attitude is reflected in every interaction.

I told the person close to me that “Grace Under Pressure” should become her motto. She should live it. She should breathe it. She should love it. If it’s a busy office, people will be coming at her from all directions. She will be interrupted frequently. She will be asked to do things immediately, without regard to the tasks that are already on her plate. So, through it all, she must smile, be graceful, and be as helpful as possible.

This attitude will make sure that all clients hold the organization in high esteem.

Two: Stay Organized

So, amid the crazy, how do you keep track of it all? Recent studies have shown that multitasking doesn’t exist. I recall it was argued that even computers can’t multitask, truly doing two things simultaneously  So, if that’s true, and if a computer can’t even multitask, how can we as inferior humans? Other brain studies have shown that multitasking is even harmful to our health. And, if you’re an introvert, being interrupted all the time (amidst this multitasking) puts you at even greater risk for doing a poor job instead of a good job.

The only solution I have found to keep everything organized, and out of your head so it’s searchable, is to write it down. The question then begs: What is the best organizational system for you?

I’ve used two systems that work well in this role that I will detail.

The Notebook System

In one role, the entire organization used 8.5″ x 5.5″, college ruled, 3 subject notebooks to organize their jobs. It didn’t matter if it was the Executive Vice President, a foreman on a job site far away, or a project manager  The founder of the company dictated that was the process, and it continued long after he let go of the company.

As the receptionist, my job was to number all the pages. So, you start with a numbered, 8.5″ x 5.5″, college ruled, 3 subject notebook. It’d be a great task to do during one of your favorite evening television shows. Then, you use it to write everything down.

Start your day, open up your notebook, write the date in at the top. Now, write everything down. Your job is greeting people and answering the phone. So, write down all conversations, as they happen. This will allow you to have a record of everything that’s happened. So, when someone asks you about Jane Doe and her appointment, you can go back to that day that the appointment was made and make notes about it. If you’re slow at a computer, this will allow you to have a written back up before you get all the details in the computer. If you need to take a message, this will allow you to take all the notes before transposing them on the message pad.

You might wonder if this sounds like a lot of duplication. It might be. But, you’ll be glad for that duplication when you’ve forgotten something and it’s in this journal.

The Planner System

A spin on the notebook system is the more sophisticated planner system. You might wonder, “Who uses planners in this day of smartphones?” People who need to write things down, that’s who. There is something very significant about using a pen and writing something down on paper that makes the brain remember it more.

The planner system often comes with predated pages, monthly tabs, and many more fun organizing tools. My favorite system is the Franklin Covey Planner and its subsequent system. With the planner system, you won’t need to write page numbers or dates. You can buy notepads to go inside to supplement when your day runs out of paper. You do the same thing as above, write everything down. I will sometimes bring out the colored pens and highlighters to make things even more organized (and pretty too).

Three: Know Your Needs

Because there are a lot of demands on a receptionist, it is important for someone in that role to really understand their own needs.

  • How often do you get hungry? Are you making sure you’re well nourished? Do you have enough water?
  • How often do you have to take bio-breaks, you know, go potty? Are you expected to take the phone with you, or can someone cover for you so you can take care of your own needs?
  • Are you an introvert or an extrovert? Do you get your energy refreshed around people or alone? Know this, and make sure your federally required breaks work around your schedule. If you’re an hourly employee, the law says you get two paid 15 minute breaks and one unpaid 30 minute lunch for every 6 hours you work. Take them. You deserve them.

As long as you are clear about your understanding of the role, others understand your role, and you are clear about your own needs, there isn’t any reason you should not thrive in this role. That is, control the controllables and you will be set for success! It is your responsibility to understand yourself. It is your responsibility to request needs that are important to you. If you don’t stand up for yourself, who will? So, put your big girl pants on, and go answer some phones! Then, ask someone to cover you so you can go potty and get your water refilled.


  1. Linda

    Great advice except for one thing, putting numbers on the notebook pages. Taking work home is NOT an option in my standards. It can lead to misunderstandings and erroneous expectations.

    • Michelle Lasley

      Thanks for reading and responding Linda!

      I’m not sure what point you were trying to make regarding page numbering. I’d love a clarification. I stand firm to that tenant, not because work might be taken home, but as a way to track. So, if you end up with volumes (as I have in the past) of spiral notebooks, you can cross reference to the right date, and page.

      Regarding taking work home – It absolutely does lead to misunderstandings and erroneous expectations. We budget for “forty hour” week jobs that really take 45, or 50, or 60, or 80 to complete. Imagine replacing that when the person eventually gets burnt out! But, that’s another topic, entirely.

  2. Virginia

    Good points Michelle, I will be going to the grocery store this weekend and getting a notebook of some sort. I’m getting excited to working again. I know that there is negatives in every thing, but there are so much more positives. This will be a stepping stone for me because I saw some jobs on the internet for a couple of the hospitals that I want to try for. Being employed again will give me confindence to apply so until then Yay me!!!

    Love ya

Read more on this topic…

Journey Home: Reflections from 10,000 Feet

Journey Home: Reflections from 10,000 Feet

As I sit on the plane, surrounded by the hum of the engine and the chill of the window, I can’t help but notice the person in front of me repeatedly adjusting their seat, each movement a grating assault on my laptop screen. The journey back to Portland, high above the clouds, prompts reflections on the comforts of home and the complexities of travel.

The Wheel of the Year

The Wheel of the Year

The Wheel of the Year is a cyclical and seasonal calendar. It marks the changing of seasons and incorporates festivals, or Sabbats, celebrating various aspects of nature, life, and spirituality.