Sep 272012

Some people are friendly and considerate as a matter of cultivated character. They’re consistently pleasant and accommodating toward others — absent some good reason for different behavior, such as knowing that the person is a major asshat. They’re that way to everyone, whatever their social position, including to cab drivers, help desk operators, grocery clerks, strangers on the elevator, receptionists, baristas, janitors, neighbors, and more.

Some people, however, are only pleasant and accommodating to people they deem important — usually, people higher up on their idea of the “food chain,” like their boss. Such people aren’t selectively friendly and considerate; they aren’t friendly and considerate at all. They’re just pretending to be so — and then, when they don’t see any benefit from that, the mask falls away, revealing their true character: self-absorbed, scornful, belligerent, and demanding.

Such people — the self-absorbed, scornful, belligerent, and demanding type — should be avoided whenever possible. They’re manipulative and dishonest. They see the world in terms of dog-eat-dog hierarchies of control and domination, not mutually beneficial trade. They trample on the people they see as beneath them, and they suck up to the people they see as above them. They’re always looking to get the better of others, and they’re happy to hurt people as they claw their way to the top. They’re practiced in their ways, and they always play their manipulative games better than honest traders can.

This recent article in the Wall Street JournalThe Receptionist Is Watching You — reminded me of all that.

Want that job? Better be nice to the receptionist.

Job seekers might not know it, but an interview often begins the moment they walk through the door. Candidates usually save their “best behavior” for the hiring manager and assume administrative assistants are automatons whose opinions don’t matter.

But assistants are not only close to the boss, they’re generally sharp observers who can instantly sense whether someone will fit in with company culture, says Karlena Rannals, president of the International Association of Administrative Professionals, which represents 21,000 members.

It’s just one way companies are filtering candidates in a tight labor market where more applicants are vying for fewer openings, experts say.


Administrative assistants aren’t the only ones watching. Sometimes crucial impressions are formed even earlier than the first meeting, if an applicant has been communicating with administrative staff to make logistical arrangements for, say, an in-person meeting or a videoconference.

“Smart recruiters ask for feedback from the travel agent, the driver from the car service that picked you up at the airport, and the admin that walked you around all day,” says Rusty Rueff, who once headed HR at PepsiCo and Electronic Arts and now is a board director at workplace-review site

Remember, if you’re not friendly and considerate to the security guard, the receptionist, and the barista, then you’re not a friendly and considerate — and people will notice. And, if you see that kind of behavior, beware!

  • Timothy Arends

    “Selectively friendly”… that’s the term I use for people who size you up very quickly, and if they decide you’re not an interesting conversationalist or at least someone that they find interesting, they will lose interest in you and will not interact with you again except to whatever extent that may be required. The common wisdom is that most people will be friendly if you are friendly to them, but this is not the case with “selectively friendly” people. If they don’t find you “interesting” then they have no desire to be friendly toward you.

    It’s sometimes hard to differentiate selectively friendly people from shy people, because if they’re quiet and unresponsive to your attempts at conversation, their behavior seems similar to that of shy people, but then you turn around and see them laughing and chatting and having a good old time with someone else, and then you realize that they’re really just “selectively friendly.”

    • Diana Hsieh

      Alas, that was not my point at all.

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