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What Are the Skills for General Office Duties?

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If you are looking for an office job, you may be unsure what employers mean when they ask for general office skills. Although each workplace is unique, there are common duties that general office help is expected to perform. The more skills you can offer a prospective employer, the better your chances of getting the job you want. Whether the job title is general office assistant, general office clerk or general office worker, here are some of the skills employers are most often looking for in the performance of general office duties:

Typing

Employers usually expect you to type at least 60 words per minute (wpm). If you're used to messaging your friends using your thumbs and a smartphone, the thought of using all 10 fingers and a full-sized keyboard may seem daunting. If you learned to type in school, you can build up your speed with some practice. Open a magazine article or a book and copy what you read. Send emails to family and friends to practice typing complete sentences and proofreading your work. The shortcuts and abbreviations you use when communicating casually with friends are not acceptable for business correspondence.

Even if you never learned to type, you can teach yourself through one of the free tutorials that are available online. After learning where to place your fingers, it's all about getting in as much practice as you can to improve your speed and accuracy.

Data Entry

Think of data entry as typing on a numeric keypad. The keypad, also called a number pad, numpad or 10-key, is a section of a standard computer keyboard. Usually positioned to the right of the alphanumeric keys, it looks like a calculator. When you're proficient with the numeric keypad, you'll find it's a lot faster and more efficient for typing numbers than the row of keys above the alphabet.

To start, check out some of the free tutorials online. Accuracy is extremely important since numbers and numerical sequences are unique. There's no spell check or autocorrect, so you have to be sure you input information correctly every time.

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Filing

Filing is more than just knowing your ABCs. Most people can easily recognize the initial letter in a file name and see that "horse" goes before "igloo." It can be a little trickier when you have to look at the second or third letter when initial letters are the same. For example, "horse" comes after "handy" because "o" comes after "a." Because both "horse" and "house" have the same first and second letters, you have to look at the third letter. "Horse" comes before "house" because "r" comes before "u."

Before technology was commonplace in office settings, filing meant the management of paper documents. Now filing can include the storage and retrieval of digital documents as well.

Phone

Do you need to put a smile on your face to talk to clients on the phone? The answer is yes because your smile comes through your voice when you speak. Although it's important to know how to transfer calls and put calls on hold, the most important component of phone skills is the ability to be pleasant and remain calm, even when the caller is frustrated, impatient or just plain rude. As the person who answers the phone, you may be a customer's initial contact with the company. The first impression you make is the one that's going to keep customers coming back.

Microsoft Office

Microsoft Office is a set of software programs designed for various types of data management. The three most commonly used are Word, Excel and Outlook. Word is a word processing program, used for creating documents such as letters, flyers, brochures, memos and other forms of written materials. Excel is a spreadsheet program for a variety of applications such as managing inventory, creating employee work schedules, and tracking expenses. Outlook is used for email, maintaining individual and group calendars, managing tasks and a few other organizational functions. As with typing and data entry, there are many tutorials available online to help you learn the software. If you need to go into greater depth, many community colleges and extension programs offer noncredit courses for Microsoft Office that you can complete in a few evenings.

Office Machines

Office machines include computers, copiers, multiline telephones, fax machines, shredders and postage meters. The basic operations of each type of machine may vary according to the brand and the model of the machine. You won't be expected to do major repairs, but general office workers are often responsible for routine maintenance such as replacing paper and ink in the machines that use them.

Soft Skills

Soft skills can be difficult to quantify, but they are essential in the business world. Consider the following skills and how they could be assets to an employer:

  • Adaptability
  • Collaboration
  • Leadership
  • Management
  • Multitasking
  • Prioritizing
  • Problem-Solving
  • Teamwork
  • Time management

According to Robert Half, an international human resources company, evidence of soft skills can tip the balance in your favor when your skills and experience are comparable to those of other candidates. Some hiring managers say soft skills are even more important. Technical skills are easily taught. It is much more difficult to teach interpersonal and decision-making skills. When writing your resume or talking about yourself in a job interview, highlight your soft skills using phrases like these:

  • "Successfully juggled multiple projects and deadlines"
  • "Led a 3-person team that streamlined application process and management of accompanying paperwork"
  • "Calmly prioritized multiple projects in a fast-paced environment"
  • "Always completed projects on time or before the deadline"
  • "Consistently followed through on work commitments, leading to a promotion and greater responsibility"
  • "Implemented new system to reduce filing time by 20 percent"

Education Requirements

There are no formal education requirements for a general office position. Many people enter the field with a high school diploma. Depending on the employer, some college or even a degree may be required. Employers want to know you can do the job. For most, your administration skills and qualifications are more important than a specific degree. Every organization has its own purposes and procedures. Beyond your basic skills, you'll learn what you need to know when you're on the job.

Work Environment

General office workers are found in a variety of settings, from small businesses to large corporations. General office help is needed in almost any industry you can think of, including academic institutions, health care facilities, government agencies, for-profit companies and nonprofit organizations. The majority of general office workers are women. About one in four work part time.

Salary and Job Outlook

The median pay for a general office worker is $15.14 per hour or $31,500 per year. Median pay is the figure at which half in the profession earn more and half earn less. Salaries vary widely depending on the employer, geographic location, years of experience and education, and skills. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts little or no job growth for general office workers through 2026. That doesn't mean you can't find a job. It just means that a lot of new jobs won't be created. Technology has increased the efficiency of office workers, so not as many people are needed as in past generations. Still, new general office workers are needed for those who retire or leave their jobs for other reasons.

Getting an Office Job With Little or No Work Experience

General office worker is often an entry-level position. It's a good place to start if you're entering the workforce for the first time or following an extended absence. It's also a good place to start if you're changing fields and you don't have the kind of experience that applies directly to other jobs. Even with little or no experience, though, prospective employers want to know that you can handle the office clerk duties and responsibilities that the job requires.

Get the attention of a prospective employer with a resume that highlights the skills you have. There are plenty of good examples online. Include achievements from high school if you're a recent grad. If you served an internship or did some meaningful volunteer work, include it. List courses completed and certificates earned if they relate directly to the job you're applying for. Otherwise, don't pad your resume with unnecessary information to try to fill up the page. A class in "Introduction to Computers" is relevant to almost any general office position. A class in "Basic Dog Obedience" doesn't enhance your resume unless you're applying for a job with a veterinary office or animal care facility. However, if you are certified in first aid or cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), you can list them. Those skills are an asset to an employer, no matter the business or industry.

Look at an employer's job listing carefully and try to match each requirement with a demonstration of your knowledge or skill. Use phrases such as "Type accurately at a speed of 60 wpm" or "Earned certificate in Microsoft Word from ABC Community College."

Nailing the Job Interview

The goal of a resume is not to get you a job. It's to get you a job interview. The resume gets the attention of a potential employer. When you speak with that person face-to-face, you have the opportunity to highlight your qualifications. It's also your opportunity to ask questions about the position and the company. As the employer determines whether you'll be right for the job, you should determine whether the job is right for you.

Dress neatly and conservatively for the interview. You want a prospective employer to focus on your skills and qualifications, not on a look that is more suitable for date night or an evening at your favorite club. Acceptable attire for an interview can vary according to geographic location and the employer. If you're working with an employment agency or career adviser, check with them on what's appropriate. In general, simple, modest styles in neutral colors such as navy and gray are best.

The night before your interview, make sure your clothing is clean and pressed and that it doesn't have any missing buttons or split seams. Check your shoes, too, to make sure they're clean and business-appropriate. The day of the interview, your hair should be clean and styled away from your face. Keep jewelry to a minimum. Once you get the job, you will probably have some flexibility within a company's dress code to show your style. For the job interview, however, you want the focus to be on your abilities, not on your clothes

Looking Toward the Future

A job as a general office clerk can lead to other positions and higher pay. With experience, you may be promoted within the company. You may find you're qualified to be a manager with supervisory responsibilities over one or more general office workers. Although technology has changed the nature of office work, many organizations still rely on qualified general office workers to ensure that business runs smoothly. General office workers are essential support personnel who enable other workers to do their jobs.

About the Author

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

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