Receptionists and administrative assistants don’t always do the same things, and they always earn the same pay. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in 2010, receptionists earned a median pay of $25,240 a year, while secretaries, also called administrative assistants, earned closer to $34,660 – a pretty big difference. That’s because their duties usually vary quite drastically.
A receptionist typically works the front desk, answering phones and greeting guests. An administrative assistant most likely picks up the phone when it’s transferred by the receptionist to her boss. Administrative assistants, more so than receptionists, serve as the gatekeepers for busy executives who don’t want to be bothered by every call. In a large company, the administrative assistant doesn’t even have to see visitors unless they’ve been vetted by the receptionist at the front desk.
The receptionist is often the first person in a company to take information from callers and visitors. In a medical office, the receptionist is the person who hands patients questionnaires and pulls the charts for the doctors and nurses. An administrative assistant often gathers information and keeps records for her boss as well. Depending on the setup at your company, you may have to do filing when you sit in the receptionist’s desk. You most definitely will do filing, both electronic and paper, when you work as an administrative assistant.
Both receptionists and administrative assistants spend a considerable amount of time on the telephone. You might even have to get pretty good at multitasking in either role and handle large numbers of callers wanting to speak to someone in charge all at once. While receptionists mostly work with large telephone systems, an admin might have just two or three lines to manage. As with most of the workers in any business, you’ll need to be proficient on a number of computer programs that include email, scheduling programs and word processing.
While neither receptionists nor administrative assistants earn the big bucks, in those roles, a whole lot of people in the company you work for depend on you and your abilities to multitask, deal with the public and manage the comings and goings of everyone from the top executive to the cleaning crew. Most everyone, visitor and employee alike, passes by your desk and knows who you are. Your duties often include interacting with people at all levels in the company as well as every kind of visitor, from customers and patients to vendors and job seekers, so you’ll do best in one of those roles if you like people and can talk to most every kind of person.
Linda Ray is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years reporting experience. She's covered business for newspapers and magazines, including the "Greenville News," "Success Magazine" and "American City Business Journals." Ray holds a journalism degree and teaches writing, career development and an FDIC course called "Money Smart."