In February 2009, Mary Printz passed away at the age of eighty-five. She was an answering service switchboard operator in Manhattan. Some of the calls she fielded may have been long-distance, but they were always strait from the heart. She became the confidante and communications nerve center to a host of Hollywood and Broadway celebrities. A human model for the Broadway musical Bells Are Ringing.

Never underestimate the power of a receptionist.  As I have often said, the occupant of the first-line position is one a CEO is a well advised to interview and help select.  In fact, as the number of secretaries and administrative assistants in firms has declined, the role of the receptionist has generally become far more influential.

These days, the receptionist who greets you is as likely as not a company’s switchboard operator.  Note his or her name.  Listen for cues as to this person’s hobbies and special interests so you can make small talk when he or she next directs your call.  If there’s a family photo on the desk, that can be another hint to a human touch.

Read the reception area as well as the receptionist.

Some companies will place recent articles about their business or their managers in the reception area.  Don’t overlook these.  Also, many firms now stream video about their latest products on wall-mounted screens, and you would do well to pay attention to them.

Reception area trophies can be killer cues.  The company softball teams may be internal legends, and you might suddenly remember how good a shortstop or pinch hitter you used to be.  If you don’t know the difference between a yellow MacGregor Fast pitch Softball and a Worth Super Green Dot Slowpitch Softball, this company could be out of your league.  Also, on trophies of a different sort: Ad agencies delight in showing trophies for creative awards they have won.  Best you know which and why before you show up to admire the silver-plated loving cups.

Mackay’s Moral: A reception area can tell you as much about the workings of a company as a restroom can reveal about a restaurant.

You can find more job search and job hunting tips in my book “Use Your Head To Get Your Foor In The Door

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