Hiring a Front Office Manager? Check for These Soft Skills

Now that visitor management software like The Receptionist can automate check-in tasks that used to take up a lot of a receptionist’s time, many companies are using that extra availability to expand the receptionist’s role.

They’re structuring their front offices in ways that give receptionists significant responsibilities in office management, executive assistance, accounting and more.

That kind of work requires technical skills (e.g. experience with spreadsheets, background in HR) that you’re probably thinking of first as you draft a job description.

But the skills required for welcoming visitors and checking them in are paramount. After all, that’s the real reason you’re hiring someone destined for a seat at the front desk.

As the gatekeeper to your office, your receptionist will embody your brand, protect the rest of your staff from interruptions, and keep the company more secure. To perform those roles well, they need more than technical skills. It’s their emotional skills that will really help them thrive.

Despite being really valuable and essential for many jobs, soft skills tend to get passed over for “hard skills” that are a little easier to measure with things like certifications and training.

Soft skills may seem like innate personality traits, but in many cases they can be practiced and learned. In fact, the right combination of people skills can be much more difficult to find in a candidate than the technical skills may be.

So what, exactly, should you be looking for in a candidate’s personality and people skills? Here are a few things to look for.

Empathy

The ability to put yourself in another person’s shoes is the foundation of any healthy relationship — in the workplace or outside of it — and it’s a valuable asset for employees in any position. However, empathy is particularly important to a customer-facing, people-centered role like that of the receptionist.

If the first person your visitors encounter isn’t empathetic (and by extension, courteous and accommodating), your company will make a terrible impression.

We at The Receptionist believe that the best companies make an effort to connect personally with customers (read more about our Radical Support culture here). Your front desk staff is your front line when it comes to your support efforts.

Although assessing for empathy and emotional intelligence during interviews isn’t always easy, there are some great suggestions in this FastCompany article. A few of them include asking questions about the candidates’ past working relationships, asking them to teach you something, or asking them to tell you about a time they learned something. Basically, you want to look for their ability to accept responsibility and work well in a team environment.

One soft skill particularly relevant to a highly visible receptionist is their ability to appear professional and on-brand at work — but hiring based on appearances can be tricky. Find out more in our bonus resource: How to Evaluate a Job Candidate’s Appearance.

Friendliness

Unless you want your brand to project a very buttoned up and serious vibe, visitors should start their experience off right with a great first impression that includes a smile and a warm greeting.

Thankfully, friendliness is easy to test for in a job interview: Does the candidate greet you warmly and with a smile? How do they interact with the rest of the staff? Do they come across with confidence and make small talk easily?

Don’t chalk standoffishness to interview nervousness. Being friendly will be a key part of their success at the front desk.

Firmness

Occasionally, the receptionist has to be the bearer of bad news, turning away solicitors and others who aren’t allowed a meeting. This might be more of an issue in some businesses (such as law offices, perhaps) than others.

If you really need the receptionist to take charge when it comes to protecting the staff from interruptions, see if you can get a sense that the candidate can be friendly but also confident enough to turn a pushy salesperson away.

A comment by a user named Rita on this Business Management Daily forum rang true in the discussion of whether “an enforcer” is needed at the front desk:

“I find the friendlier and more cheerful our receptionist is, the easier it is for them to diffuse anger and aggression. People who are ‘sunny and friendly’ usually have a very deft hand when dealing with aggressive, upset or down-right angry customers. And, since they do it in such a nice, sincere, friendly way, the person on the receiving end usually just deflates.”

Relationship-Building Skills

Your receptionist should certainly build relationships with key visitors, but they also have to build relationships with your staff. This is particularly important in offices where the receptionist is expected to take on an office manager role, doing things like planning celebrations for employees and remembering birthdays and other special events. The rest of the staff should feel comfortable coming to the office manager when they need help with equipment, supplies or other tasks.

References can be a great place to inquire about how well any job candidate works with others.

You may also get a sense of their relationship abilities by asking them to describe some of their favorite working relationships from past jobs — or even to describe a time where they dealt with a difficult coworker.

Attentiveness / Perceptiveness

Especially if security is a big concern at your office, you need a receptionist who can understand both the big picture of who should be in your facility, and the details that might indicate that something is off.

Ideally, the receptionist will take ownership of the front desk area and visitor procedures, lending suggestions for how it could be improved. Receptionists in an office manager role can be great at spotting inefficiencies or gaps in how the office runs. That requires big-picture thinking.

It can be difficult to find people who are both detail-oriented and big-picture thinkers, but you may be able to find it by looking for leadership experience along with detail-oriented work.

A receptionist who buys into your company’s values and feels like part of the team is a huge asset to your company. Click To Tweet

Punctuality

This one is pretty simple. The receptionist is often one of the only people on staff whose regular, daily ability to get to the desk on time makes a big difference to the company image.

An obvious sign that your receptionist will be punctual is that they show up for every interview on time. But another great way to gauge punctuality is references from other jobs where they had to be on time every day, or at least a job history that includes success roles where being on time was important.

There’s one more factor to consider: Does your receptionist reflect your brand with the way they dress and present themselves? Check out our bonus download: How to Evaluate a Candidate’s Appearance.

There was a time when hiring a temp or contractor to cover the front desk was perfectly suitable. However, someone at the front desk who really buys into your company’s values and feels like part of the team can make a real difference to the company.

Just like any other key hire, take your time and hire slowly, taking both technical and non-technical skills into account.

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