Interview Tips: How to Impress Me, the Receptionist

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Congratulations! You’re walking into a new building, standing in the elevator with people who may become your coworkers, and hoping you get off on the right floor. You check your teeth, brush your hair, and start walking to the wrong door before someone says “Are you looking for [insert company name]?” with a smile. “Yes, I have an interview,” you say. “Right this way,” and you’re lead in the right direction.

This is your first encounter with me, the receptionist of the company you’re hoping to work for. What happens next can make or break you as a potential candidate. I’ve been on both sides of this encounter and frankly, both can be weird. As the candidate, you don’t know whether to tell us your name, be overly friendly, or just wait for us to ask more questions. On our side, we want to verify you’re the interviewee, pronounce your name correctly, and lead you to the correct conference room. After that, we will most likely offer to get you water or coffee. Do you save us the trip and say no, or say yes to the coffee and let it sit there during your interview getting cold because you’re not going to risk spilling it on your shirt in front of your future employer? So many questions, but I have the answers!

Here are my tips for candidates from a former receptionist’s point of view:

For goodness sakes, state your name and any other info you have.

I’m not saying you need to present your resume and elevator pitch to the receptionist — but it goes a long way to state your name, with whom you’re meeting, and the time of your interview. Ideally, we will already have these details, but letting us know helps us avoid mistakes if there are several appointments around the same time. When we call the interviewer to tell them you’re here, we want to say your name correctly, so please let us know what it is!

Take the water if you don’t mind.

This one is a selfish tip, I’ll admit. I don’t blame you if you don’t want water or are kindly saving me a trip. You’ll just be asked again by the interviewer if you’d like any water and if you say yes at that point, I might hold a little grudge. No one wants the interviewer coming out saying “Can you please get them water?” after we just asked and you declined. Now I still have to make the trip anyway. If you accept the offer for water or coffee, we get to feel like we are providing excellent customer service. You like us. We like you. We say good things to the interviewer — it’s a win-win-win. If you really, really don’t want water and the interviewer asks, at least let them know the receptionist offered it to you. It sets their mind, and mine, at ease.

Be friendly, but not awkward.

It’s important to be friendly to the receptionist. The saying “Treat the janitor with the same respect as the CEO,” is a great rule to live by. But before you meet the janitor you’ll probably interact with the lowly receptionist. Oh, are we a powerful bunch. If you’re rude or snobby, trust that your interviewer is going to hear about it afterward. They want to know if you work well with others, and if you don’t have the decency to be kind to someone helping you get in the interview room, you’ll probably be a headache to everyone else. I once had an interviewee come up to me and say “So what do you do all day, just sit here drinking chia water?” Not only was this rude, but awkward as all get-out. I responded “I’m sorry, what is chia water?” and they were not hired.

On the other hand, if you’re friendly, we will give a glowing review and honestly root for you to get the job. Remember that sticking out among multiple candidates means sticking out to the receptionist, too. That being said, don’t hurt yourself trying to impress. Small talk, as soul sucking as it can be, is appropriate and welcomed. Asking if we like working at the company is great, but getting into details about our most and least favorite things is overkill. We don’t know you yet, and we are certainly not disclosing our complaints to you. Keep it simple, and bonus points if you say thank you and goodbye to us before you leave.

As they say, “A job interview is not a test of your knowledge but your ability to use it at the right time.” Use these tips on your next interview and you’ll be sure to get a good word from the receptionist. Hang in there, job-hunters — your next opportunity is right around the corner!

Juliet Peay writes about her growing hometown on her blog,

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