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Receptionists and Information Clerks

Significant Points
  • Good interpersonal skills are critical.
  • A high school diploma or its equivalent is the most common educational requirement.
  • Employment is expected to grow faster than average.
Nature of the Work

Receptionists and information clerks are charged with a responsibility that may have a lasting impact on the success of an organization: making a good first impression. These workers often are the first representatives of an organization that a visitor may encounter, so good interpersonal skills—being courteous, professional, and helpful—are critical. Receptionists answer telephones, route and screen calls, greet visitors, respond to inquiries from the public, and provide information about the organization. Some receptionists are responsible for the coordination of all mail into and out of the office. In addition, receptionists contribute to the security of an organization by helping to monitor the access of visitors—a function that has become increasingly important since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, heightened security concerns.

Whereas some tasks are common to most receptionists and information clerks, the specific responsibilities of receptionists vary with the type of establishment in which they work. For example, receptionists in hospitals and in doctors’ offices may gather patients’ personal and financial information and direct them to the proper waiting rooms. In corporate headquarters, receptionists may greet visitors and manage the scheduling of the board room or common conference area. In beauty or hair salons, by contrast, receptionists arrange appointments, direct customers to the hairstylist, and may serve as cashiers. In factories, large corporations, and government offices, they may provide identification cards and arrange for escorts to take visitors to the proper office. Those working for bus and train companies respond to inquiries about departures, arrivals, stops, and other related matters.

Increasingly, receptionists use multiline telephone systems, personal computers, and fax machines. Despite the widespread use of automated answering systems or voice mail, many receptionists still take messages and inform other employees of visitors’ arrivals or cancellation of an appointment. When they are not busy with callers, most receptionists are expected to perform a variety of office duties, including opening and sorting mail, collecting and distributing parcels, transmitting and delivering facsimiles, updating appointment calendars, preparing travel vouchers, and performing basic bookkeeping, word processing, and filing.

Working Conditions

Receptionists who greet customers and visitors usually work in areas that are highly visible and designed and furnished to make a good impression. Most work stations are clean, well lighted, and relatively quiet. The work performed by some receptionists and information clerks may be tiring, repetitious, and stressful as many receptionists spend all day answering continuously ringing telephones and sometimes encounter difficult or irate callers. The work environment, however, may be very friendly and motivating for individuals who enjoy greeting customers face to face and making them feel comfortable.

Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement

Although hiring requirements for receptionists and information clerks vary by industry, a high school diploma or its equivalent is the most common educational requirement. Good interpersonal skills and being technologically proficient also are important to employers.

Receptionists and information clerks generally receive on-the-job training. However, employers often look for applicants who already possess certain skills, such as prior computer experience or answering telephones. Some employers also may prefer some formal office education or training. On the job, they learn how to operate the telephone system and computers. They also learn the proper procedures for greeting visitors and for distributing mail, faxes, and parcels.

Advancement for receptionists generally comes about either by transferring to a more responsible occupation or by being promoted to a supervisory position. Receptionists with especially strong computer skills may advance to a better paying job as a secretary or an administrative assistant.


Receptionists and information clerks held about 1.1 million jobs in 2004. More than 90 percent worked in service-providing industries. Among service-providing industries, healthcare and social assistance industries—including doctors’ and dentists’ offices, hospitals, nursing homes, urgent-care centers, surgical centers, and clinics—employed about one-third of all receptionists and information clerks. Manufacturing, wholesale and retail trade, government, and real estate industries also employed large numbers of receptionists and information clerks. More than 3 of every 10 receptionists and information clerks worked part time.

Job Outlook

Employment of receptionists and information clerks is expected to grow faster than the average for all occupations through 2014. This increase will result from rapid growth in service-providing industries—including physicians’ offices, law firms, temporary help agencies, and consulting firms—where most are employed. In addition, turnover in this large occupation will create numerous openings as receptionists and information clerks transfer to other occupations or leave the labor force altogether. Opportunities should be best for persons with a wide range of clerical and technical skills, particularly those with related work experience.

Technology will have conflicting effects on the demand for receptionists and information clerks. The increasing use of voice mail and other telephone automation reduces the need for receptionists by allowing one receptionist to perform work that formerly required several. However, the increasing use of other technology has caused a consolidation of clerical responsibilities and growing demand for workers with diverse clerical and technical skills. Because receptionists and information clerks may perform a wide variety of clerical tasks, they should continue to be in demand. Further, they perform many tasks that are interpersonal in nature and are not easily automated, ensuring continued demand for their services in a variety of establishments.


Median hourly earnings of receptionists and information clerks in May 2004 were $10.50. The middle 50 percent earned between $8.62 and $12.88. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $7.21, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $15.53. Median hourly earnings in the industries employing the largest number of receptionists and information clerks in May 2004 are shown below.

Offices of dentists $12.37
General medical and surgical hospitals 11.07
Offices of physicians 10.92
Employment services 10.28
Personal care services 8.16

In 2005, the Federal Government typically paid salaries ranging from $22,937 to $27,818 a year to beginning receptionists with a high school diploma or 6 months of experience. The average annual salary for all receptionists employed by the Federal Government was about $29,185 in 2005.

Related Occupations

Receptionists deal with the public and often direct people to others who can assist them. Other workers who perform similar duties include dispatchers, secretaries and administrative assistants, and customer service representatives.

Sources of Additional Information

State employment offices can provide information on job openings for receptionists.

    • Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2006-07 Edition

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