I went on a job interview yesterday, and as I was instructed at a JVS Job Interview Workshop, I showed up 15 minutes earlier, to stake out the business first. I was greeted by the Receptionist who, quite frankly, was annoying. She kept asking me questions. Who am I here to meet? What was the job I was applying for? She was so nosy. It was none of her business as to my reasons for being at this company yesterday. What business did she have prying into my business?
I was wondering how to handle this situation with the Receptionist should I find myself in another interview with another busy-body Receptionist?
Annoyed Interviewee (AI)
That is great that you arrived early to become familiar with the company who was going to interview you. But you made a huge mistake by underestimating the power of the Receptionist in organizations. Receptionists’ opinions are highly valued at companies; often, they act as gatekeeper, and they deliberately assesses the candidate from the beginning. A company’s Receptionist can make or break the hiring decision, based on their experience with the candidate.
Kwoh and Weber (2012) from the Wall Street Journal write a fantastic piece (The Receptionist is Watching You) on this issue. Be nice to the Receptionist, they warn, because the interview begins the moment you walk through the doors of the company. So make sure your best behaviour should start immediately – don’t save it for the interviewers or managers! Do not assume that the receptionist or administrative assistants don’t matter. It’s just the opposite, add Kwoh and Weber; these frontline workers are “sharp observers who can instantly sense whether someone will fit in with the company culture.” Fitting into the company culture is often considered more important than technical skills.
Many bloggers write on this topic. Kwoh and Weber quote one Executive Assistant who explained how a bad first impression can ruin one’s chance of getting past even the front desk. When Hiring Managers are unsure about a candidate, they will ask the Receptionist who often can have the final say in the hiring. In another case, the Receptionist didn’t even pass on the resume to the appropriate managers because she was offended by the candidate who gave her the envelope with an attitude, treating her as if she was his slave. So, beware of your behaviour. Everyone you meet in your efforts to look for work or even after you have a job, deserves to be treated with respect and dignity. It could be the security guard, the office clearer and, in your case, the Receptionist.
Cathy Vandewater, a former Administrative Assistant, responded to Kwoh and Weber’s article in her post Impress the Receptionist: 5 Tips for Your Next Interview, with some useful guidelines for dealing with the receptionist at your next interview:
1. Don’t just be “kind”; be professional and respectful. It’s great to be friendly, but remember that the front desk person isn’t just a “hi and bye” character in your prospective working world. Very likely, you’ll need to interact with them every day, and you may need to rely on their support to get your work done. Be collegial and showcase your professionalism too.
2. Remember that the Receptionist is not on your side. Vandewater recalls the many times an interviewee politely greeted her, then, moments later, leaned in and whispered a question about what the boss is really like to work for. This was tactless. Treat the Receptionist just like you would your interviewer.
3. Keep in mind that the Receptionist is watching you. Make sure you dress and act professionally at all times in the office where you are having an interview or even if you are simply dropping off a resume. Pretending office staff is invisible to the point where you’re behaving inappropriately is insulting and damaging to your reputation as a professional.
4. Don’t flirt; it isn’t cute. Sure, you’ll very likely make a fun, light-hearted impression in the moment by complimenting the Receptionist. They might give you their number, but they won’t refer you for the job. While flirting might be fun, sexual harassment or tension in the workplace is not. Don’t cutesy your way out of a job opportunity by forgetting where you are.
5. Don’t let the Receptionist do more work than necessary. If you need help with directions, or dialing in to a conference call, consult with the administrative staff in a patient and respectful manner. Don’t assume they are there to serve you. Be thankful when you get help, and linger to have some light conversation, to show some genuine gratitude.
Remember that the Receptionist is in a powerful position, which — if you are respectful — can serve you well.
All the best with your job search,