Become a Receptionist: Education and Career Roadmap

Learn the steps for becoming a receptionist. Research the various job duties and education requirements, and find out how to become employed in office work.

Do I Want to Be a Receptionist?

Receptionists work as administrative clerks in a variety of office settings, from architectural firms to doctors' offices to large corporations. Specific duties depend largely upon the workplace, but receptionists generally answer and route incoming calls and provide general assistance to clients or customers. They also assist employers with incoming and outgoing mail, faxes, email and other communications. This work can be stressful, and receptionists sometimes must deal with difficult callers or customers.

Job Requirements

A high school diploma is the minimum education for this job, and some employers prefer a postsecondary degree. The following table outlines the main qualifications and requirements needed to become a receptionist:

Common Requirements
Degree High school diploma is the minimum requirement*; education up to and including a bachelor's degree may be preferred by some employers***
Degree Field Certificate in administrative/clerical studies**** or bachelor's degree in communications or business*** may be helpful
Experience some employers request 1-3 years of experience with specific tasks, such as customer support, data entry or managing multi-line phone systems***; many employers provide training*
Key SkillsCustomer service, oral and written communication, listening, managing files**
Computer SkillsMicrosoft Office Suite, Corel WordPerfect, billing, bookkeeping and database software**
Technical Skills Fax machines, calculators, photocopiers, postage machines, multi-line phone systems**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), **ONet Online, ***Variety of job listings from August 2012, ****Various community college programs.

Step 1: Obtain the Necessary Skills

Although the minimum education needed to become a receptionist is a high school diploma, many employers prefer to hire applicants with some experience and administrative skills. Certificate programs in clerical studies or office assistance are available at many community, technical and vocational colleges. These programs can usually be completed in about a year and consist of training in data entry, switchboard operation, word processing, payroll accounting, business math, customer service, office management and specific software programs like Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint.

It's worth noting that some companies prefer to hire individuals with bachelor's degrees. Communication, business and education are all applicable majors. However, it is relatively easy to find jobs without this requirement.

Success Tips:

  • Focus on obtaining proficiency in word processing programs and other common office software. Students who do not wish to enroll in a formal education program can find training online for some of the more commonly used office software. For example, tutorials and webinars in the Microsoft Office software programs are available through the Microsoft website free of charge.
  • Develop office and communication skills by volunteering. The opportunity to operate basic office equipment, such as multi-line phone systems, and communicate with the public can be gained through volunteering for the Red Cross or a number of other organizations.

Step 2: Choose an Industry

Many different industries employ receptionists. While the BLS points out that many of the jobs are in healthcare, the list of potential employers is long and includes religious organizations, design firms, publishing companies, insurance companies, market research firms, scientific organizations, charities, real estate companies and educational services.

Success Tips

  • Direct your search according to your skills. Different employers need people with various skills. Individuals who are bilingual, for example, have an advantage in organizations where knowledge of another language is needed, whereas people who are familiar with a wide variety of computer programs or who are fast typists can market their skills in those areas.
  • Consider your long-term career goals when looking for a job. Working for a business or organization, even as a receptionist, can provide insight into the daily ins and outs of other positions in that industry. For example, an individual with an interest in becoming a veterinarian can see what that career is like by working at a veterinary clinic; a prospective architect or draftsperson can gain a perspective on those careers by working at an architecture firm, and so on.

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