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Difference Between a Secretary & a Receptionist

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Many people think a receptionist and a secretary have the same job, the same responsibilities and the two job titles are interchangeable. The reason people hold this assumption is because both secretaries and receptionists often answer phones and perform clerical tasks. The two jobs are completely different because a secretary and a receptionist have different roles and requirements.


The duties of a secretary vary by the type of secretary and the size of the organization. Business trends have changed with technological advances. In the past, each manager had her own secretary. Because of email and automated voice mail, a secretary can work for several managers. In a small company, there might be one secretary for all of the managers. She handles all of the mail, schedules appointments, orders supplies and answers the phone. If the secretary works for only one or two managers, she is often given additional duties similar to those of an administrator. For example, a human resources secretary could check references. A secretary usually must have at least a high school diploma, and many offices prefer to hire those who have a liberal arts degree, secretarial training or a degree or certification from an administrative support school. A secretary must also have a fast typing speed, knowledge of computers and communication and people skills, State University reports.


A receptionist is who you see first when you walk into the door of a business. The receptionist greets visitors, answers the phone, writes letters and documents and keeps the reception area clean during the workday. A receptionist can also sign visitors in and out of a business, sort mail, maintain an employee attendance log and proofread letters, reports and emails. A high school diploma is usually preferred. But, if you are intelligent and have a friendly demeanor and appearance, employers often value those qualities over formal education. Some companies offer on-the-job training to receptionists, according to State University.

Differences in Job Responsibility

Part of a receptionist's responsibilities is to greet company visitors; a secretary is not usually responsible for greeting visitors. A secretary might greet visitors, but only if they are visiting one of the particular managers whom the secretary works for. The secretary works specifically for one or more managers. The receptionist represents the entire company and does not work specifically under anyone. A secretary could have additional responsibilities, such as scheduling appointments, ordering supplies, making travel arrangements and handling petty cash. He can also have additional responsibilities depending on his type, such as legal, financial or marketing. A receptionist's responsibilities are general -- greeting, answering phones, sorting mail and other small responsibilities as determined by the company, according to State University.

Other Differences

The receptionist's desk often is located in the most visible area of the company. She is the first person you see when you walk into the company. The secretary's office or area is often located near the managers whom she works for. Also, a secretary usually is required to have at least a high school diploma and even a college certification or degree. For a receptionist, a high school diploma is preferred but not always required. As of 2009, the average annual salary for receptionists and information clerks was $26,010, the average annual salary for lower-level secretaries was $31,060 and the average annual salary for executive secretaries and administrative assistants was $44,010, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.


E.M. Rawes is a professional writer specializing in business, finance, mathematical and social sciences topics. She completed her studies at the University of Maryland, where she earned her Bachelor of Science. During her time working in workforce management and as a financial analyst, she reinforced her business and financial know-how.

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