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Clerical tasks, such as typing, filing and answering office phones, were once relegated to secretaries, executive assistants and administrative employees. But with more jobs requiring technology skills, it's not an uncommon expectation for professionals (including lawyers, doctors, teachers, etc.) to use clerical skills to perform their daily tasks. Because many workers use computers, clerical work has become an essential part of practically every job and occupation. GoodTemps contributor Carissa Doshi discusses why these six clerical skills are vital for office workers: typing, filing, data entry, phone use, and proficiency with Microsoft Word and Excel.
Typical Office Skills
Regardless of whether you're applying to be an executive assistant or a staff attorney, you should have some clerical skills. Depending on your role, you might not refer to these skills as strictly clerical – describing them as office skills may be more accurate. For example, an administrative assistant will naturally spend the majority of his workday performing clerical tasks. That said, lawyers, nurses and other professionals also rely on their typing and related technology skills in drafting client letters, composing medical-office visit summaries, writing legal briefs or taking notes on the laptop during trial. The administrative assistant might refer to his "clerical skills" when describing his qualifications, while the staff attorney might simply use the term "office skills" to explain that she knows her way around a keyboard. You owe the widespread and cross-functional use of clerical and typical office skills to computers, laptops, tablets and smartphones.
Improve Your Ability in Typing, Microsoft Word and Excel
Understanding the placement of letters on the keyboard and the letters on which you rest your fingers is key (no pun intended) to fast and accurate typing. Before you submit your application for a job that asks for typing as a required qualification, take an online typing test like the one offered on LiveChat. An online typing test will measure your speed (words per minute, or WPM) and accuracy. Many employers appreciate accuracy over speed. For example, if you type 100 words per minute and your accuracy is only 60 percent, you'll spend time correcting your mistakes. You might as well strive for typing 50 WPM at 100 percent accuracy. There are plenty of online tutorials to help you improve your typing skills.
Clerical skills nowadays are generally synonymous with the ability to use productivity applications – such as Microsoft Word, Excel and often PowerPoint and Access – on the computer. Your proficiency with Microsoft Word, Excel and other software applications depends, in part, on your typing skills. The same with data entry. When you're composing correspondence, reports or other written materials in a narrative format, it's likely you'll use Microsoft Word. The spreadsheets you create will require data entry skills and knowledge of Microsoft Excel – both of which require accuracy, and in some cases, speed, depending on how quickly you have to produce your work. The term "data entry" usually refers to keyboarding skills (i.e., typing) that involve numbers, along with your level of comfort with the right side of the keyboard that is similar to a 10-key adding machine.
Telephone and Office Communication
Secretaries, administrative assistants and receptionists are generally required to answer office phones, which could range from a single phone line to a multi-line business telephone or switchboard-like Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) system.
Regardless of the number of phone lines you must answer, proper telephone etiquette is an important area of clerical work. An office worker's usual phone duties include responding in a clear and professional manner to callers, as well as knowing how to properly direct and redirect calls. Even if you aren't the receptionist, you should know the correct way to respond to callers in the event that you receive a misdirected call. If you're applying for a nonadministrative position, don't list telephone skills on your resume – simply refer to your written and verbal communication skills, because it's unlikely that you'll be assigned to phone duty. On the other hand, if you are interested in a nonadministrative position and you are the receptionist backup or if you are managing the clerical staff, indicate your knowledge of complex phone or switchboard systems so that it's clear you're familiar with the equipment.
Describing Your Clerical Abilities
How you describe your clerical skills and abilities may depend on the position for which you're applying. If the job posting specifically states that clerical duties are a part of the job, then by all means your resume and application should include a section for "Clerical Skills." In this section, indicate the software applications that you're proficient in; if you are an advanced user, include that in your description. If you have training or certification in those applications, you might also include that in the description of your skills or in another section of your resume for training and certifications. In addition, if you have a substantial number of years of experience using certain applications, list that as well.
For example, your resume might state: "Microsoft Word – 10 years of experience, including strong proficiency creating complex reports, composing correspondence and utilizing mail-merge functions for efficient handling of mass mailings. Microsoft Excel – 8 years of experience, including 3 years using functions such as creating multi-reference formulas, pivot tables and VLOOKUP."
If you are applying for a job where you are not part of the administrative team or if you aren't applying for a clerical job, consider describing your technology skills in a way that doesn't seem like you are an accountant looking for a secretarial position. For example, if the job posting is for an accountant with knowledge of software and productivity applications, don't list "Clerical Skills" on your resume. Include a brief description of your proficiency with specific applications, such as Microsoft Excel, Access and PowerPoint – these often are the applications that employees in professional roles have to be comfortable using. Again, if you are an advanced Excel user or have received training or certification in an application that accountants use, include that on your resume. You can use the header "Productivity Applications" or something similar so that it doesn't look like you're more focused on the clerical aspects of the job you want, rather than the qualifications you bring to the table for a higher-level position.
Administrative Assistant Jobs Requiring Clerical Skills
Administrative assistant roles require clerical skills, although the job posting may not specifically state "Here are the clerical skills you need to function in this role." The job duties listed are examples of tasks that require clerical skills. Here is a sample job posting for an administrative assistant position that requires clerical and office skills:
The ABC Public Health Institute is seeking an Administrative Assistant to support the Public Health Laboratory Manager and assist with the day-to-day operations of the Public Health Laboratories. This executive administrative assistant will be located on the seventh floor of the Institute to greet visitors, students, faculty and staff. In addition to providing the highest level of customer service, this person will provide general office support for laboratory-based faculty and staff while assisting the Public Health Laboratory Manager and Public Health Institute executive director with a variety of administrative activities and related tasks.
The executive administrative assistant will: Welcome, orient and refer visitors; direct phone calls, take messages and answer queries about the Public Health Institute and the Public Health Laboratories; assist in ordering, receiving, stocking and distribution of office, laboratory and teaching supplies; assist with other related clerical duties such as photocopying, faxing and filing, as needed; monitor and restock office supplies on a daily basis, including supplies such as paper and toner for the copiers and printers; monitor the conference rooms regularly to ensure they are adequately stocked with office supplies and presentation materials; maintain the cleanliness and safety of the work environment in the central office suite and other public areas throughout the seventh floor location; follow security procedures for employees and require adherence of security procedures for visitors throughout the office premises; place orders using the interoffice purchasing process, and maintain accounting of orders and supply usage throughout the seventh floor; reserve seventh floor conference rooms for the Public Health Institute; serve as the main point of contact for the Laboratory faculty and staff; submit maintenance requests for office equipment and furnishings; coordinate pick-up and delivery of overnight and express mail services (e.g., FedEx, UPS); and serve as primary point of contact for faculty, visitors and students.
Staff Accountant (Non-Administrative) Jobs Requiring Clerical Skills
Likewise, there are other positions that are not administrative assistant-type roles, but that require similar clerical skills, such as a staff accountant. This sample job posting for a staff accountant has several duties that require clerical skills. However, they are not specifically listed as clerical or office skills. For example:
The Staff Accountant for XYZ Industries will be responsible for preparing journal entries, monthly and year-end closings, bank reconciliation, fixed asset maintenance, and general ledger reconciliation. In addition, you will participate in compliance, review schedules for the reporting processes, and work alongside our external auditors for quarterly reviews and annual audits. Major responsibilities – prepare journal entries and account reconciliations including, but not limited to, cash, prepaid expenses and payroll; conduct month-end close, journal entries, without supervision; maintain fixed-asset ledger, depreciation and reconciliation; analyze income statements and balance sheets, and communicate findings to management; participate in department-wide initiatives; assist in the month-end, quarterly and year-end closing processes, including monthly financial close workbook preparation; implement, maintain and adhere to internal controls under SOX and accounting procedures ensuring compliance with GAAP; report on financial data and communicate it in a useful and understandable manner; manage capital lease and monthly payment schedules.
Job requirements include: proven analytical skills, such as identifying problems, collecting relevant data, drawing valid conclusions, and recommending improvement and corrective actions; experience with billing and familiarity with account reconciliation; accounts receivable experience preferred, as well as proficiency with Microsoft Excel; foundational knowledge in journal entries and accounts payable experience; organizational, written and verbal communication skills; and ability to work within spreadsheets and databases; dedication and requisite skills to meet critical business deadlines.
Never Underestimate the Relevance of Clerical Experience
Whether you're applying to be an administrative assistant or a litigation attorney, don't underestimate the importance of clerical skills or clerical experience. Knowing your way around office operations and clerical skills is a useful qualification in any job. Your familiarity with office processes and how to manage them is, obviously, essential in an administrative role. If you're applying for a role where you are expected to supervise clerical staff, you need management skills, but understanding the importance of office skills also is valuable because it means you can coordinate workloads and manage the work expectations of others who report to you. In addition, in a nonadministrative or nonclerical role, having office skills also suggests that you are capable of pitching in as a team member when the administrative assistant or secretary is unavailable or working on other priorities.
Ruth Mayhew has been writing since the mid-1980s, and she has been an HR subject matter expert since 1995. Her work appears in "The Multi-Generational Workforce in the Health Care Industry," and she has been cited in numerous publications, including journals and textbooks that focus on human resources management practices. She holds a Master of Arts in sociology from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Ruth resides in the nation's capital, Washington, D.C.