Passing the receptionist test

A recent post on The Daily WTF discusses a company where they employ The Receptionist Test. The hiring manager has the receptionist stage a tech support problem and asks the candidate, waiting in the lobby for his or her interview, for help. One guy tries to help with a document that won’t print, but doesn’t realize the printer is off, and so on.

While tricks like this may not be common, there’s a reception test that you run into every time you interview. Every interaction you have with everyone in the company is part of your interview that could have positive or negative effects, and the receptionist is the first candidate. The receptionist comes into contact with hundreds of people every day, and is likely tuned into observing people as they pass through the doors.

Whenever I have an interview, the first thing I do after showing the candidate out is ask the receptionist “What did you think? Any comments?” Usually I’ll get something bland like “He seemed nice, I like that car he drove up in.” Other times I get more interesting comments like “He took a long time to fill out his application. He spent a lot of time on his phone while he was writing, and didn’t seem like he was very interested in the interview.” or “It must have been a long trip, ’cause he practically ran in and asked for the bathroom.” Those specific comments don’t affect much as far perception, but it gives an idea of how you’re constantly on display.

How you treat the receptionist speaks volumes about you. Were you polite? Did you say “please” and “thank you”? Or did you just grunt and drool before bothering to put on your Happy Interview Face? The receptionist, and those around you, will know.

It might not even be the receptionist who notices your behavior. Maybe that guy in a suit sitting in the lobby isn’t another interview candidate, but the CEO waiting for the CFO to go to lunch. I’ve even sat in the lobby myself before interviews observing the candidate.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that your scrutiny starts when you step into the interviewer’s office. You’ve been on stage well before that point.


2 Responses to “Passing the receptionist test”

  1. Says:

    Yes, this is a fact that can’t be stated often enough, it seems, but interviews are performed by humans for human reasons. Humans performing interviews work by gathering impressions and trying to assemble those into a workable description of the interviewee to determine what her capabilities are and how they would best fit the hole they think needs to be filled. Rarely is the hiring manager certain she has a good description of the hole, let alone the person she needs to fill it with. Thus, every little thing may be used to try and figure out how to make sense of the available candidates and how they can help the company, particularly since in hiring you rarely find a perfect fit.

  2. Says:

    It may be “urban legend”, but I heard of an EE professor who put a question on an exam asking the name of the Department Head’s secretary. It was *not* extra credit. When students complained of being penalized for material that was “not in the lecture material”, he noted that some students got it correct and further stated that part of any professional job is much more than knowing the technical content. He made his point, and the students learned a useful life lesson.
    When I first heard this story, it struck me, possibly because I *did* know the department secretary’s name at my undergraduate school. Knowing her name (Linda Moore — remembered 25 years later) helped me get better access to the department head, other professors, a good job as a student assistant and even a private desk (somethign usually reserved for graduate students). I even knew the names of the cleaning staff who cleaned every night. We’d chat about her family, and she’d exercise her empty-nest mothering skills by bringing me homemade cake. Decile May even made me a graduation gift as I moved onto graduate school.
    And it made the late night study all that richer.
    (I was amazed at how those names came back. I’m not so good lately. 50-ish brains don’t work the same as 20-ish brains.)
    You’ll hear that “knowing the secretary” is a secret power tip, but good secretaries (and other support staff) know the smarminess of folks who would abuse this “secret”. It’s not such a secret, and they see through it.
    The “game” is played on a big field. Knowing all the “players” isn’t just a strategy, it’s a more connected way to live a bigger life.
    You may have seen my signature quote:
    “All Mammals Learn by Playing”.
    Enjoy the game and all the players….

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