Dee Burrell wants to remove one word from every receptionist’s vocabulary — “just.”

“I never want to hear anyone say ‘I’m just a receptionist,’” Burrell says. “That little word says they don’t think their job is important. I’m going to tell you it is important — it’s one of the most important jobs at any company.”

Burrell will present “First Impressions Count” at the next meeting of the Central Jersey chapter of the International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP) on Thursday, April 28, at 5:45 p.m. at Villa Romanza Ristorante Italiano in Hamilton. Cost: $30. Call 609-922-4352 or visit

Burrell has worked as a front desk receptionist for about 15 years, much of them at schools in Mercer County. In the last year she founded the Dee Burrell Institute for Women, a professional and personal consulting organization “dedicated to empowering women to become happier and healthier in our professional and personal lives,” based in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania.

“I am a breast cancer survivor,” she says. “I came through that experience very well and with the desire to help others. I want to eventually speak to women around the world hosting workshops and training seminars for receptionists and administrative assistants,” she says. As an advocate for women’s health, Burrell hosts seminars and workshops designed to teach women about early detection of breast cancer. She recently wrote a book on her experiences with breast cancer, titled, “Open Up the Door and Let Me In.”

Burrell began her career as a receptionist for the Ewing Township Board of Education. After seven years she moved to Princeton Day School. “I started out as the switchboard operator and I loved it,” she says. “I eventually became the administrative assistant to the head of the lower school.” She then moved to the Chapin School, where she worked as administrative assistant to the headmaster for another four years. Currently, she works in her own business and as a receptionist for Dudnyk, a healthcare branding company in Horsham, Pennsylvania.

“My mission is to restore self-esteem and self-empowerment in all women,” she says.

#b#First impressions#/b#. Receptionists should always remember that they are often the first impression of a business. “When someone calls a company or comes into the office, the first person they meet is the receptionist,” Burrell says. “That sets the tone for the first impression they have of that business.” When someone comes into the office the receptionist should stand, extend her hand and welcome the person. “I always say, ‘Good Morning, I’m Dee Burrell, and you are?’ and offer them a cup of coffee,” she says.

But words aren’t everything when it comes to first impressions. “Remember to smile, even if you don’t feel like it,” she says. “A smile goes a long, long way.” She tells receptionists to remember that no matter what their own personal day is like, when they are at work, they are not representing themselves and their own personal feelings, they are the face of their companies. “When you get to work you have to put your personal business away and be on the job,” she says. “Your smile and your tone of voice affect the way others think of you and of your company.”

#b#Professional dress#/b#. “Styles today are great, but women must be especially careful,” Burrell says. “The clothing you would wear to a club or happy hour is not the clothing you should wear for business.” She has numerous stories of people who have not been hired for jobs simply because of the way they were dressed. “I remember one young man who came in for a job interview. He had on a white dress shirt, a beautiful tie, and jeans. He was very well qualified, but he didn’t get the job simply because of those jeans.”

#b#On the phone#/b#. A large part of a receptionist’s job is to answer the telephone, and since the person on the other end of the line cannot see you, voice becomes very important. “Always answer the phone with a smile,” says Burrell. “Be professional. Say good morning, give your name, and ask how you can direct their call. Even though the person cannot see you, you must have the same professional demeanor over the phone that you do in person,” she says.

Burrell dislikes the automated answering systems found so frequently in business these days. “Businesses think they are saving money, but they have no way of knowing how much business they are losing when someone hangs up because they aren’t sure what button to push next,” she says.

It is also important to be professional when you are making a phone call out of the office. “Again, remember that you are giving a first impression of the business you are representing,” she says. “Speak politely. Say your name and ask for the information you need. It is always easier to get the information you need if you begin the conversation in a polite and friendly manner.”

Working at the front desk is a great stepping stone to your next job, Burrell says. “I’ve almost never had to go in search of a job because people from inside the company and from other businesses constantly see me,” she says. “I’ve usually been offered the next job without having to spend a long time looking for it.”

That’s another reason to always remember to make the right first impression, Burrell says. You never know who you are meeting or when you might meet or work with that person again.

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