Rude to the receptionist? Too bad -- you just blew the interview
Increasingly, hiring managers are asking their assistants to help evaluate candidates. Be warned: A condescending attitude could cost you a job offer.
NEW YORK (Fortune) -- Dear Annie: May I please get something off my chest? I am a longtime secretary/receptionist for two senior vice presidents at a big company. We have been doing a lot of hiring lately, and almost all of the new middle-management personnel have been interviewed by one or the other of my two bosses, so naturally they come through my office first.
Let me tell you, Annie, some of these people are unbelievably rude. Either they treat me like a piece of furniture (no hello, no eye contact) or they think I'm their errand girl. (Just this morning somebody sent me out to Starbucks, and it wasn't the first time this happened.) Lately, my two bosses have started asking me for my impressions of job candidates. So far this week, two have been discourteous and dismissive, so I gave both the thumbs-down. Neither is getting called back for the next round of interviews. I don't know how common this is, but please advise your readers who are job hunting that the dummy at the reception desk may be anything but. -Not "Just a Secretary"
Dear Not: Funny you should bring this up. According to Annie Stevens and Greg Gostanian, two partners at a Boston-based executive coaching firm called Clear Rock, it's not unusual these days for a hiring manager to ask everyone who meets a potential new hire to give an opinion of him or her. "One of the biggest reasons so many newly recruited managers fail in a new job is their inability to fit in and get along with the people who are already there," says Stevens. "So employers now want to get staffers' impressions right at the start."
Adds Gostanian: "A lot can be learned from how candidates treat receptionists. If the jobseeker is rude, condescending, or arrogant, this might be an indication of how he or she would treat coworkers or direct reports." Yikes.
Obviously, anyone looking for a new job would do well not to alienate the person who sits outside the interviewer's door. Stevens and Gostanian offer these six tips for getting off to the right start:
Introduce yourself as you would to any other potential new colleague. Smile, shake hands, and so on. It seems odd that this has to be spelled out, but apparently it does; and, besides being a matter of common courtesy, ordinary friendliness offers a practical advantage: "Learning and remembering an interviewer's receptionist's name can only help as you advance in the interviewing process," Stevens notes.
Don't regard a receptionist or other assistant as an underling -- at least, not as your own personal underling. "Always ask the interviewer if you need help from anyone else in the office where you're interviewing, instead of seeking this directly yourself," says Gostanian. In other words, if you'd like to leave an extra copy of your resume, refrain from sending the interviewer's assistant to the Xerox machine.
It's fine to accept if you're offered a beverage, but keep it simple. "Don't ask for particular brand names or expect to be brewed a fresh pot of coffee," Stevens says. And of course, need we add that dispatching anybody to Starbucks is out of the question?
Feel free to make small talk, but know that anything you say may well get back to the interviewer. "Don't ask probing questions about the company or offer unsolicited opinions," Gostanian advises. No matter how hideous the office d馗or, endless the hike from the parking lot, or inconvenient the wait to see the interviewer -- keep it to yourself. Plenty of time for whining and grumbling after you're hired.
Don't talk on your cell phone in front of the receptionist, and try to put your BlackBerry aside. "If you have to make or take a call, leave the reception area," Stevens says. Preoccupation with wireless devices will mark you, she says, as "a cold and fixated person."
Don't forget to say good-bye. "Failure to say good-bye to someone you've just met reflects negatively on you," Gostanian notes. "You'll come across as impersonal and uncaring." That's hardly the image any job hunter wants to project.