In any office, there are tasks that need to be completed in order to keep the business moving forward. These tasks, which fall under the umbrella of clerical work, are generally fairly straightforward and easy to master, and are usually assigned to entry-level workers. Despite the fact that clerical tasks like typing and filing are relatively basic, they do take time – and in many cases, executives and midlevel employees are focused on other priorities and unable to keep up with everything that needs to be done. For that reason, many companies hire clerical support personnel who are specifically charged with handling these tasks.
Common Clerical Activities
The title of clerical support worker refers to individuals who support or assist co-workers with a wide range of tasks. Some of the most common jobs that fall into this category include typing documents, filing, answering phones, managing mailings, data entry, photocopying, faxing and sorting and delivering incoming mail. Clerical support professionals may also be responsible for maintaining and ordering supplies, and handling other tasks as assigned, such as ordering food for meetings. By taking on these responsibilities and taking them off of others’ plates, they help keep the office running smoothly and ensure that everything remains organized.
Although general clerical support focuses on these general tasks, in some businesses or departments clerical support may be focused on specific activities or require more specialized knowledge. For instance, clerical activities in a finance department may include bookkeeping tasks, managing accounts payable and accounts receivable, assisting with payroll, or sorting and verifying expense reports. If you work in a government office, you may be responsible for filing permits or managing mailers. Regardless of the setting, though, most clerical support involves repetitive, defined tasks, and not strategic or operational work.
Skills and Education
Most clerical support roles are entry level, and therefore typically require a high school diploma or the equivalent. Some individuals complete additional training in office administration through an adult education or community college program, while others move into these roles with a bachelor’s degree as a means of getting their foot in the door for a position with greater responsibilities and higher pay.
A familiarity with basic office tasks is the most important qualification for clerical support roles. While companies will provide on-the-job training in specific processes and procedures, they expect clerical support workers to come into the job with a general skill set. These skills include knowledge of how to use basic office machines (fax, copier, etc.); general computer skills, including the ability to type 60 words per minute or faster as well as basic word processing and spreadsheet software; filing abilities; data entry skills; and the ability to use the phone and learn the company phone system.
Clerical support jobs also require a number of soft skills. A professional demeanor is a must, as well as exceptional organizational skills. Customer service skills are important, especially if you will be interacting with the public, and it’s vital to be detail oriented. In some industries, such as health care and finance, clerical support workers are also expected to be familiar with industry regulations regarding information security and personal data, and to conduct their work accordingly.
Clerical Support Salaries
Because clerical support is considered an entry-level position, salaries are comparatively low. According to PayScale.com, the average hourly rate for clerical support positions is $12.87, for an annual salary of around $30,000. Pay is generally commensurate with experience, but even the most experienced support professionals rarely earn more than $40,000 per year. There is room for growth in this field, though, as many people go on to higher-paying administrative or executive assistant roles, or move on to different jobs within the organization. According to PayScale.com, it’s also very common for a clerical support provider in the medical field to move on to become a medical assistant, registered nurse or nurse practitioner.
The highest paying industries for clerical support are the government and professional, scientific and technical services. However, healthcare is also a high-paying field, and the one industry where there is expected to be at least some growth in the coming years.
Clerical Support Industry Trends
As with many industries, technology is changing clerical support and the way the work is handled. Many tasks that were previously done manually can now be done via computer, saving time and increasing the need for additional training. Within this realm, there are two major trends taking shape that are changing the face of clerical support.
First, the move toward paperless offices is changing the face of – and in some cases, eliminating the need for – clerical support. Companies are going paperless, or at least using less paper, for a number of reasons, including improved sustainability, better organization and reduced costs. In fact, a 2014 study by Gartner found that the cost to U.S. businesses associated with storing and retrieving paper documents is somewhere in the neighborhood of $25 billion to $35 billion annually. By using digital services to create, store and organize documents, businesses can potentially save money and become more efficient.
In terms of clerical support, this also means that the need for someone to physically file documents – or type and print letters, keep track of documents, etc. – is reduced. While some companies are doing away with clerical positions (the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects little to no growth in the field by 2026, due in large part to technology) others are changing the qualifications for such positions and requiring advanced computer skills and experience managing electronic documents.
Another trend affecting the clerical support field is the rise of the virtual assistant. Virtual assistants, also known as VAs, are assistants or support personnel who work remotely and provide many of the same services as an assistant in the office. Many VAs work for entrepreneurs or small business owners who need support, but can’t afford or don’t have the space or equipment to hire someone to work full time in the office. Again, technology is key in this industry, as virtual assistants work via the internet, using email, document sharing and other technology to handle tasks for their employers. While some VAs are specialists and handle tasks like social media and website management, some entrepreneurs simply need someone to manage their email and respond to customer inquiries.
Because virtual assistants are typically self-employed or work on a freelance basis, they can often command a higher pay rate than those working in offices. Some VAs also work for multiple clients at once, increasing their earning potential. On average, a VA earns between $10 and $25 per hour.
Landing a Clerical Support Job
While clerical support jobs may not be as plentiful as they once were, they are still available. Most openings are created by turnover and assistants leaving for other opportunities.
A good resume for clerical support will highlight your administrative and technical skills. Demonstrate to employers that you are organized, detail-oriented, a good problem solver and have excellent communication skills. Be sure to highlight your technical skills in a quantifiable manner; indicate how fast you can type in words per minute and specify the software that you know how to use. As you detail your experience, highlight the tasks and accomplishments that reveal your clerical skills, especially those that can set you apart from other candidates. Above all, be meticulous with your grammar and spelling. As with any resume, typos and poor grammar reflect poorly on your skills, but in a field as detail oriented as clerical support, you need to be perfect. No one is going to hire a typist who can’t get his or her own resume right.
Clerical jobs can usually be found listed on job boards or company websites. Temporary agencies are also a good place to find this type of work. Working as a temp gives you the opportunity to build your skills at a variety of companies. Some agencies will make long-term placements, or you could be hired full-time after working as a temp. Internships are another way to build your office support skills. Although many companies with formal internship programs allow interns to work on specific projects, interns are also often expected to “pay their dues,” by taking on clerical tasks. Expect to spend some time in any internship doing some filing, data entry, managing mail or answering phones – but look at is as an opportunity to develop skills that could prove useful later.
Making Yourself Indispensable
Just because clerical work is usually entry level, that doesn’t mean you can’t be an important part of the team. In fact, making yourself indispensable to your boss and co-workers can increase your chances of getting promoted, and eventually having your own clerical support team. For starters, take your job seriously and do your best with every task – no matter how menial or tedious it may be. As with any job, there will be parts of your job you love and parts you hate, but you need to treat both as important and do them well.
Second, learn to prioritize. Chances are, you are going to have multiple projects and tasks on your plate at any given moment, especially when you are providing support to an entire team or office. Learn to determine what is the top priority and what can wait, and develop systems to ensure that everyone gets what they need when they need it. Multitasking and time management are vital skills for a clerical support worker, and by getting to know the company and team member goals and priorities, you can provide the highest level of support.
Third, be willing to go the extra mile. Your job is to provide support, and that might mean taking on a few extra tasks here and there. Indispensable assistants are always willing to learn, and will do what it takes to not only get the job done, but also solve problems and prevent crises from occurring. For instance, if you see that an associate sent over a memo that contains a major error, don’t just print and distribute the document. Confirm with the associate that the information is correct – and make changes as needed.
Finally, be professional and polite at all times. There may be times when others in the organization treat you rudely or don’t give you the respect you deserve, but maintain your own professionalism nevertheless. Treating everyone with kindness and respect will increase your stock in the company, especially if you develop a reputation of discretion and a willingness to help. In your clerical support position, you’re likely to have access to a great deal of information, but resist the temptation to gossip or share what you know. Gaining the trust of your boss and co-workers can help advance your career, while serving as the office gossip will tarnish your reputation and potentially keep you from advancing.