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What Are 10 Key Skills for Data Entry?

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Have you seen job opportunities for data entry clerks and wondered how you can qualify? Data entry means typing information into an electronic format such as a word processing or spreadsheet program. Jobs are available in almost every industry for individuals skilled at touch-typing and those who have achieved proficiency with 10-key data entry.

Getting Started

Look on the right side of a standard computer keyboard: On most keyboards, you'll see keys with numbers and mathematical symbols on them, arranged so they look like a calculator. When a clerk has a lot of numbers to enter, it's much more efficient to use the keypad than the numbers that appear in the horizontal row at the top of the keyboard. Just as learning to type on the standard alphanumeric keyboard can seem difficult at first, mastering the keypad may seem tough. Most people are unaccustomed to using it, so it can feel awkward to try to find the right keys with your fingers. If you practice consistently, however, you'll find it's possible to become proficient in a fairly short amount of time.

What Is Touch Typing?

Are you a two-finger "hunt-and-peck" typist? Is your only experience with typing limited to using two thumbs to text your friends? If so, your first step is to develop proficiency as a touch typist. "Touch-typing" means you use your fingers and find the correct keys without looking at your hands. Instead, you keep your eyes trained on the source of information from which you're typing. It's a lot faster to type this way and, believe it or not, a lot less fatiguing because you minimize movement of your head and neck.

Typing, or keyboarding, is routinely taught in schools as part of the curriculum. If you're not in school any longer, you can learn to type by taking a class through your community college or an adult education program. Free typing programs are available on the internet. If you're disciplined enough for self-paced study, an internet-based typing course can be the way to go. If you're going to school or if you have another job, online learning lets you practice your typing skills on a schedule that suits you.

How to Practice

How do you practice typing for data entry? Do an internet search on "10-key typing practice" and you'll find an assortment of free tutorials, tests and games to help you. Find one or more that you like and commit to spending time each day working on your 10-key skills. The practice program you use should provide feedback on your speed and accuracy. Both are important. Being able to type fast doesn't mean a thing if your work is full of errors. It's very difficult to proofread your work when it consists of only numbers.

Web- and computer-based 10-key drills and tests might have you typing Social Security numbers, series of multidigit amounts, and numbers with added symbols such as commas, decimal points and hyphens. Some programs will immediately signal an incorrect key stroke, while others will give you feedback at the end on your speed and accuracy. You'll find one-minute, three-minute and five-minute drills and tests. Be sure to practice some of each so you'll be ready to take any prospective employer's test.

When you practice at home, be sure you're in a well-lighted area, free from distractions. Posture is extremely important if you're going to be sitting in front of a computer screen for long periods of time. Keep your feet flat on the floor. Your wrists should be flat so that your hands can sit comfortably on the keyboard. Most laptop and desktop keyboards have an area below the space bar that supports your wrists. If your keyboard does not have one, you can buy a wrist rest at a local office supply store. In a pinch, you can also roll up a small towel to put under your wrists. The goal is to minimize fatigue and strain, both of which will affect your ability to work effectively.

Push yourself all the way to the back of the chair rather than sitting on the edge. An adjustable office chair is the best choice, because it is padded and you can set it at the height you need for optimal comfort. If you're sitting at a kitchen chair or other chair with a hard surface, get a cushion that's specially made for people who do a lot of sitting. They're usually wedge-shaped to provide the right support for your lower back.

Check frequently to make sure your shoulders are relaxed and not hunched up around your ears. Take a break every hour by getting away from your screen. Resist the urge to check your email or social media. Stand, stretch, and close your eyes for a couple of minutes. This will apply when you're on the job too, not just while you're learning and practicing.

Establish a consistent practice routine. Try to practice at the same time every day for at least an hour to develop a habit. Remember you're trying to develop speed as well as accuracy. Challenge yourself to improve every day.

What Is a Good Speed for Data Entry?

The normal typing speed for data entry, according to most employers, is 60 to 80 words per minute. If you're entering numerical data, you speed is measures in keystrokes. Most employers look for a minimum of 9,000 keystrokes per hour (kph). A rate of 12,000 kph with 98 percent accuracy is achievable with practice, and such a score will qualify you for just about any job in the data entry field.

You'll probably have to take a typing test and/or 10-key test as part of the interview process, so it's best to state your speed honestly on your application. You're better off understating your rate slightly and achieving a higher score on the test than claiming a top score that you can't realistically attain during a job interview.

Continue to practice your data entry skills every day while you're looking for a job. That way, you know you can perform at your best during the interview process. Accuracy is extremely important in data entry, because numbers are used for important functions such as billing, inventory and payroll. An incorrect entry can mean that a wrong part gets ordered or, worse, employees don't receive their pay.

It's natural to be nervous when you're applying for job and faced with a typing and 10-key test. If possible, schedule an interview for late morning at the beginning of the week, when you're likely to be at your sharpest. Find out the length of the test so you can be mentally prepared. Take a couple of deep, calming breaths before you sit down at the keyboard. If you've been practicing consistently and have a achieved good scores in class or with online 10-key drills and games, have confidence that you're going to do well on the test.

Suppose you take the test and your results are unacceptable. In that case, ask the employer politely if it would be possible to take the test again in the near future, after you've had more time to practice. The worst that can happen is that you'll be told no. An employer may tell you that your resume will be kept on file. You may be given the opportunity to apply again.

Dressing for Success on the Job Interview

Data entry is often a behind-the-scenes position, but even if you won't be dealing with the public, you want to make a good first impression on the person who has the authority to hire you. Dress neatly and conservatively. Wear a black, navy or gray suit if you have one. Women can choose to wear a dress or skirt and blouse with modest neckline and hemline. Men can wear a shirt and tie (no jacket) with dress pants or pressed chinos. Jewelry should be kept to a minimum, and nails should be short for efficient typing.

Once you get the job, the company dress code may allow you to dress more casually. For the interview, however, you want to look like a professional who's ready to go to work.

Salary for Data Entry Workers

Data entry operators in the U.S. earn a median salary of $13.21 per hour. Median salary means that half in the field earn more, while half earn less. Salaries vary due to a number of factors, including location, education, years of experience and any additional skills you have to offer. There are often positions for individuals with little or no experience. If you're planning on a career working in an office, data entry is a good place to start. Building a reputation as a dependable, capable employee can lead to other opportunities with more responsibilities and higher pay.

Beware of Work-from-Home Scams

Today's technology makes it possible for employees in certain positions or industries to work from home. Sometimes the employer is in another state. Working from home is an attractive employment option for many people, particularly for those who have issues with childcare, transportation or personal mobility. It may be the only real employment option for those who live in rural or economically depressed areas where jobs are few.

Although there are legitimate work-from-home opportunities, there are many scams in magazine and newspapers ads as well as on the internet. Unscrupulous people prey on those who are out of work and desperate to find a job. Here's how these scams often work:

  1. You see an ad and respond via email or online chat.
  2. You submit a resume, giving the scammer all your contact information. You're not asked to take a typing or 10-key test.
  3. You're offered the job and asked to provide your bank account information so the "employer" can pay you.
  4. The "employer" pays you upfront and requests that you then use all but a small percentage of that money to pay the "employer" for training, equipment and/or fees.
  5. You send the money as requested. Days later, your bank contacts you about an overdraft. The deposit you received was bogus and now you're liable for the payment you made to the "employer."
  6. Since the payment you received was likely stolen money,  you've just participated in a money-laundering scheme. Even if you acted unknowingly, the paper trail leads back to you –

    and you could be charged with a crime.

Another scheme is even quicker. You provide the "employer" with your bank information and log-in credentials. They tell you it's to make payments to you, but instead they empty your account.

How to Protect Yourself from Work-From-Home Scams

Protect yourself by learning how to recognize work-from-home scams. Scammers offer wages that greatly exceed the going rate. Do your research on the company offering the job. Talk to someone on the phone, if possible. Ask questions such as these:

  • What tasks will I be asked to perform?
  • How will my output be measured?
  • Will I receive a salary, or is the pay based on commission?
  • Who will pay me, and how will I receive payments?
  • When do I get the first paycheck?
  • Is there a cost to the work-from-home program? If so, what is the total cost?
  • What do I get for my money?
  • If I have questions or problems with the work or the pay, is there a phone number I can call?

If you're not satisfied with the answers to these and any other question, don't take the job. Trust your instincts. If something doesn't feel right, there's probably a good reason. Remember this basic rule of thumb: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.


Denise Dayton is a a freelance writer who specializes in business, education and technology. She has written for, Library Journal, The Searcher, Bureau of Education and Research, and corporate clients.

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