Your Most Important First Impression: The Receptionist

Whether you are walking through a company’s doors for a sales pitch, an interview, or a scheduled meeting, it can be easy to overlook a VERY important person you will encounter who can impact the entire perception and success of your meeting.  No, it’s not the person you are meeting/interviewing with, or their boss, or their boss’s boss.  It’s the very first person you will likely meet- the receptionist.  They may seem unassuming behind their desk, and you may casually dismiss your interaction with them- but that would be a severe mistake that could land you back out the door as fast as you came in, and condemned to the black list of “never put through to my line” individuals that, not coincidentally, is also controlled by none other than the receptionist.

They are the gate keeper to the organization, and are paid to weed you out.  They are given much more responsibility and hold much more influence than some people assume.  Your interview/meeting does not begin when you sit down with the person you are meeting with; it begins as soon as you enter the building!  Make a positive and lasting impression on the receptionist and it just might help your chances of success with the company; create a negative impression and there’s a good chance your future with them has reached its end.

Here are some helpful tips for winning over the receptionist as soon as your foot is in the door.

Know who you’re meeting with.
A common erroneous assumption is if you don’t know who you’re meeting with, it’s no big deal.  You can just ask the receptionist when you get there and she’ll fill you in so you don’t look incompetent to your interviewer.  However, most times, a receptionist will note when someone has not taken enough care to know who they are there to see.  It shows a lack of preparedness, and can also convey a lack of concern or seriousness about the meeting.  That information doesn’t often times stay “safe” with the receptionist, and will likely get back to the very decision makers you are trying to impress.  It also can be aggravating for a receptionist with many internal contacts at the company to try and track down and decipher who precisely it is you are there for, and aggravating the receptionist is not a good start to the first impression.

Be on time, but not too early.
This is a meeting/ interview given; you should always make being on time your first priority.  From a receptionist’s perspective, as the gate keeper, they play a role in managing the schedules of the big wigs in the company by keeping them on track as their meetings roll in and out.  By coming in late, you may be not only interrupting the person you are meeting’s schedule, you are interrupting the receptionist’s as well.  On the other hand, it also is advisable to not show up too early for interviews and meetings.  Sometimes you will get lucky and can start the meeting early, but for the most part, the person you are meeting with will likely have other obligations until your appointment time, and now you have just become a liability for the receptionist, someone they feel they need to entertain or occupy your time while you crowd up their waiting room.  Not cool.

Be polite and friendly.
A polite and cordial demeanor is recommended for ANY situation, regardless if you are entering a meeting/interview or not, but it is extremely important in these instances to be courteous to the receptionist.  If they looks like they are swamped, don’t hover over their desk pummeling them with small talk; however, it is advisable to greet them warmly, smile, and respond to small talk they direct at you.  Not only will it appease your first critic, it can also help ease your nerves before the meeting as well.  Win, win!

Posture and gestures are important now too.
It’s important to not just worry about the way you carry yourself when you are in the interview/meeting room.  Sauntering up to the front desk and slouching onto the sign in book comes off as extremely unprofessional, even though the meeting has yet to start.

Save your cell phone calls for later.
So you’ve arrived at your meeting with a little time to spare… time to call your friend back quick?  Nope.  Again, as soon as you enter the building you should be acting as if your interview or meeting has already started.  Personal conversations can wait until later.  Not to mention it is rude to broadcast your conversation to a waiting room of people or a receptionist who has no interest in how the movie Saturday night was.

Be sure to thank them and say good bye on the way out.
If you exit past the receptionist after your meeting, make sure you thank them/wish them a nice rest of the day/ say goodbye/ etc.; the key is to end your interaction with them on a positive note, as it is very likely that the person you met with will ask the receptionist for her opinions on you, and you want your last impression to be a good one.

The essence of it all is this: any meeting or interview should be taken seriously, and you should execute extreme professionalism and courtesy in your interactions with ANY member of the organization.  Overlook this in dealing with the receptionist, and you just might never get back inside that gate!

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