At many organizations, receptionists are the face of the company. Every new client, job applicant, employee, or third-party vendor will pass by or check in with a receptionist, so employers are eager to find someone who will be responsible, friendly, and calm.
Take the time to review the questions you will most likely be asked during the interview, examples of how to respond, and tips for making the best impression during your job interviews.
10 Typical Questions Asked in a Receptionist Interview
Here you will find frequently asked questions for receptionists, sample answers, and tips for what to say during your interview.
1. What do you do to keep up in a fast-paced work environment?
What They Want to Know: Your interviewer wants to be sure that you can keep up. How you do it is likely irrelevant, but you should have a clear and confident answer ready.
The number one thing I do is keep calm, since a frantic, stressed attitude isn't helpful and isn't a good look in front of any staff or clients. I try to triage tasks, so that I'm always working on the most important task first. Usually, that's anything that involves one of the company's clients. As well, I keep a running list of everything I need to do, so that I don't neglect any important responsibilities.
2. How do you keep your daily schedule organized?
What They Want to Know: How you organize your day is not really the point. The point is to demonstrate that you are well-organized and will complete all your duties in a competent and timely manner.
I begin every day by making a list of everything I need to accomplish. I check my calendar for any meetings or appointments, so I can be aware of them, and get coverage on the front desk if necessary. In my job, communication is key, so I'm constantly answering the phone and checking my email for new requests, then updating my to-do list with follow-up tasks accordingly.
3. What role does a receptionist play in a customer’s first impression of an organization?
What They Want to Know: Your interviewer needs to be sure that you understand the position you are applying for, but this question may also be cultural, touching on your philosophy of work.
A receptionist can make a big impression—positive or negative—on customers. Since I'm one of the first people customers see, a frustrating or poor interaction can really sour their opinion on the company or overall experience they had. To me, it's similar to when the host greets you at a restaurant. If they seem frantic or act rudely, then it can feel later like your food just doesn't taste as delicious. That's why I always make sure to greet people with a smile on my face and make sure all customers feel like they've got my full attention.
4. Tell me about a time you had to deal with an angry customer or guest, either on the phone or in person. How did you handle the situation?
What They Want to Know: This is one of several questions you may be asked involving how you handle stressful and difficult conditions. You could also be asked how you responded to criminal or unethical activity. Be honest. Don’t exaggerate, and also don't sell yourself short.
As a doctor's office receptionist, I often dealt with frustrated patients on the phone. One time, a woman was so furious the billing department hadn't called her back the same day, that she started screaming at me on the phone. It was unpleasant! What I try to do in these situations is think about how stressed the person must feel to behave this way. After a minute of her yelling, I said, "You must be really frustrated. Can you tell me more about what's going on?" That helped slow down the conversation and reduce her volume. She explained the whole situation, and I reassured her that our billing person was just out for the day and would be in touch. I also told her I'd place a note on the billing person's desk, asking her to call the woman back as her first task. By the end of the call, she was much calmer, and apologized for her earlier harsh words.
5. Are you willing to work overtime?
What They Want to Know: If you are not willing to work overtime, say so. If you are willing to work overtime but only within certain limits, say that as well. Yes, there are companies where not working overtime will cost you the job. But making a commitment that you cannot keep, or put yourself in a position where you have to sacrifice your welfare or that of your family for your job, is not an acceptable option. You need a job that matches your availability.
I'm comfortable working overtime a few times a month, so long as I have a day's notice beforehand. Having a heads-up makes it easier for me to rearrange my plans. In a pinch, I can very likely do same-day overtime, too, but I'd really prefer to have a day's notice.
6. How many employees worked in your last office?
What They Want to Know: The interviewer wants to know what type of environment you worked in, how it compares with the company you are interviewing with, and whether you are comfortable working in small and/or big workplaces.
In my last office, there were five employees. That's small enough that we started to feel a bit like a family. You know, everyone knew Martha in the billing department needed two cups of coffee before you could ask complicated questions. Before that, though, my office was fairly large—60 employees. I felt comfortable in both environments, although the first month in the large office was a bit challenging since I had to figure out who did what, and where to direct calls with a lot of options available.
7. Describe your previous duties as an administrative assistant, secretary, or receptionist.
What They Want to Know: The interviewer wants to go over the responsibilities that you listed on your resume, and confirm that they fit in with the position that is being offered. This is also a good opportunity to expand on the points highlighted in your work experience.
As the receptionist at ABC Financials, I was the first person for customers. I answered the general phone line, as well as answering the phones for the company's five VPs. I was also in charge of receiving packages and distributing mail, greeting and escorting customers and vendors to meeting rooms, and keeping up with the company's general information email address. I also had a lot of administrative responsibilities: I managed the calendars of those VPs, arranged their business travel, and helped create and refine PowerPoint presentations and other materials to distribute at events.
8. How do you prioritize calls, clients, deliveries, and other issues that must be addressed immediately?
What They Want to Know: The interviewer wants to know how good you are at multitasking, organizing time, and prioritizing tasks. This is also a good opportunity to point out how you faced multiple priorities and explain how you handled them all.
Multitasking is essential when the office is busy. Whenever it's not rude, I try to perform a few tasks at the same time. For instance, I can easily answer a phone call while signing for a package from the delivery person. When multitasking isn't possible, I put my focus on clients and customers as the number one priority. If necessary, I'll ask if they can give me a minute to do another task first—and, if things are really busy, I try to call in a fellow employee to provide me with coverage.
9. How strong are your computer skills?
What They Want to Know: The interviewer wants you to confirm which computer skills you have, whether your skill level is compatible with company expectations, and which programs you are most comfortable using. If possible, it is a good idea to research which programs the company is using before the interview.
I have very strong computer skills. As well as being familiar with Microsoft Office, I also used to make updates to the company website in my last role, so I'm comfortable using WordPress as well. When I start using a new program or application, I usually find that most of my questions can be answered with an online search, although I do appreciate getting a tutorial from a co-worker, too.
10. Tell me about your customer service experience.
What They Want to Know: The interviewer wants an overview of your customer service experience—how many years, specific examples, and which skills you are comfortable using to resolve problems.
I've been working in customer service since I was a teenager. My first job was working at a bookstore, where I helped customers find books and sometimes covered the cash register. During college, I had a part-time retail job as well, this time, selling clothing. Then, of course, as a receptionist at ABC Company, I also dealt with customers, although in this role, I was not directly making any sales. I feel really comfortable interacting with customers and solving their problems, whether it's finding the book they're looking for or changing their meeting time with an executive.
Watch Now: How to Answer 4 Common Receptionist Interview Questions
Tips for Answering Receptionist Questions
The best receptionists are detail-oriented, organized, and excellent communicators. Therefore, candidates should show up prepared to answer open-ended interview questions that will evaluate experience, familiarity with workplace tools, process, and skill set—including working with customer service, multitasking, and the ability to make quick judgment calls.
In this case, interviewers aren’t necessarily looking for yes or no answers. Instead, they are expecting candidates to answer with specific examples that describe how they handled past workplace situations, and ask carefully researched questions about company priorities, expectations, goals, and challenges.
Because of ever-increasing technological advancements in the workplace, receptionists must also have strong technical skills. You should have experience using phone systems and office machines like printers, copiers, scanners, and fax machines (yes, still), in addition to computer applications like MS Office and industry-specific software.
7 Questions to Ask the Interviewer
Interviewers will expect you to ask questions. Here’s a list of questions that you can ask during or at the end of your interview:
- Can you tell me more about the day-to-day responsibilities of this position?
- Which qualities are you looking for in a person you want to hire for the company?
- What are your expectations for this job, and how do you measure success?
- Why did the last person who held this job leave?
- Who does this position report to?
- What are the opportunities for career advancement with the company?
- Does the company offer any training opportunities for employees?
How to Make the Best Impression
A receptionist position may be considered entry-level, but it can also be the first step up the corporate ladder. A prospective employer will be drawn to a confident, self-assured person. Often you will be the first person their clients or patients will meet when walking into the office for the first time.
Be sure your first impression is the best it can be. Here’s how to prepare for an interview. Along with a standout resume, take the time to dress the part when you interview. If you get the job, you’re going to be the frontline person and it’s important to show the employer your professional image.
If you aren’t sure about what to wear to your interview, check out these tips on how to dress for an interview. If both your resume and your professional attire are on point, and you are prepared to answer likely questions, you will be successful in obtaining the position you are interviewing for.