Important Skills for Clerical Jobs
For Resumes, Cover Letters, and Interviews
Clerical work ensures that an office runs smoothly and efficiently. It involves the day-to-day administrative tasks of an office, such as answering phones, scheduling appointments, sending faxes, and filing documents.
Clerical and administrative skills are useful for almost anyone who works in an office. Most employees need to do at least some clerical work. Therefore, these skills are important regardless of your official job title. Office clerks and secretaries need to have particularly strong clerical skills. Employees in these positions perform the majority of an office’s everyday tasks.
Types of Clerical Jobs
While some people use these job titles interchangeably, office clerks and secretaries differ from administrative assistants. Administrative assistants often need a college degree and are given more responsibilities, including spearheading projects and sometimes managing teams.
In contrast, clerks and secretaries typically do not need extensive education beyond a high school degree (although there are higher-education programs that focus on clerical and secretarial work). Clerks and secretaries manage the daily operations of an office but generally do not have managerial responsibilities.
Clerks and secretaries work in a variety of industries, including finance, business, medicine, government, and law. Some of these positions require specific skills. However, there are basic skills that are necessary for nearly every clerical and administrative assistant position.
Top Clerical Skills
The list below describes clerical skills that employers seek in candidates for employment. Included is a detailed list of the five most important clerical skills, as well as supplemental lists of related administrative skills.
Attention to Detail
Clerical work involves paying attention to the day-to-day details of an office—things other people might overlook—such as answering and keeping track of emails, tracking appointments, and reviewing documents. As a clerk or secretary, it's important to focus on these details and not let anything slip through the cracks. For example, clerks are expected to review documents for any typos or errors before they go out to stakeholders.
Clerical workers need to have strong written and oral communication skills with superiors, colleagues, and customers. They will typically answer phones, write memos, send emails, and greet clients and customers. They must be able to speak and write clearly and effectively, and in a way that is easy to understand. Clerks and secretaries communicate with many different personalities on a daily basis, so knowing how to effectively communicate with co-workers will mean the difference between a long-term career and short-term one.
- Answering phones
- Customer service
- Front desk
- Language skills
- Oral communication
- Written communication
In this day and age, computer skills are critical for any clerical job. Clerks and secretaries have to be quick and accurate typists. They are also typically required to do some data entry, so they should be familiar with Microsoft Excel and other data entry software. They should also be familiar with other Microsoft Office software, such as Word and PowerPoint. Any additional computer skills, such as the ability to design or edit web pages, would be considered a big plus.
- Accounts payable/receivable
- Data entry
- Data management
- Data visualization
- Database fluency
- Desktop publishing
- Digital calendars (Google, Outlook, etc.)
- Email communication
- Microsoft Office
- Office machines
- Word processing
Clerical work involves numeracy, which requires basic mathematical skills for understanding numerical information. Some clerks are in charge, to a degree, of bookkeeping and/or accounting for a company, among other numerical duties. Clerks who are able to carry these functions quickly and efficiently will thrive in these roles. If you aren’t a great mathematician, don't worry. Just be sure to have basic math skills and analytical thinking.
Clerks and secretaries must be organized because they are in charge of making sure the office runs smoothly. Their tasks will involve keeping track of the employer’s schedule, answering emails and phone calls, and maintaining files.
Having strong organizational skills will allow you to carry out these tasks effectively. It will be helpful to take stock of the areas in which you are organized and what you should work on. For example, writing down tasks and things to remember on sticky notes is a way to ensure nothing is overlooked.
- Delivering mail
- Office management
- Photocopying and collating
- Physical organization
- Time management
Being a strong problem solver is key to effectively carrying out clerical functions and issues as they arise. Depending on the scope of your role, you will have to resolve issues with customers, among colleagues, or technical glitches. Doing so in a timely manner while remaining calm under pressure will ensure the best outcome every time.
- Active listening
- Creative thinking
- Critical thinking
- Customer complaints
- Emotional skills
- Risk management
- Technical troubleshooting
As a clerk, being able to adapt will help you thrive in a fast-paced environment. You will be expected to get the job done during times of change and be a reliable resource for your colleagues. Doing so effectively will require a range of skills, from multitasking and critical thinking to open-mindedness. There may be some cases in which your boss or a superior is unable to assist you in troubleshooting. If you have the ability to work independently under pressure, you will be a standout employee.
- Administrative acumen
- Creative thinking
- Handling inquiries
- Monitoring office inventory
- Problem solving
Important Soft Skills
In addition to these top five clerical skills, the best office workers also possess soft skills that are often innate personality traits rather than learned competencies.
These include strong interpersonal skills, teamwork, flexibility, dependability, adaptability, and creativity. They are essential characteristics for office managers, receptionists, personal assistants, office assistants, and executive assistants.
READ THE JOB DESCRIPTION CAREFULLY: Each job will require different skills and experience, so focus on the skills listed by the employer. You can review our other lists of skills listed by job and by type of skill.
ADD KEYWORDS TO YOUR COVER LETTER: In the body of your cover letter, try to mention one or two of these skills, and give a specific example of a time when you demonstrated them at work.
MENTION SKILL WORDS IN THE INTERVIEW: Make sure you have at least one example of a time you demonstrated each of the top five skills listed here for your interview.
O*NET. "Knowledge - Clerical," Accessed Nov. 12, 2019.
Bureau of Labor Statistics. "What Information Clerks Do?," Accessed Nov. 12, 2019.
Bureau of Labor Statistics. "How to Become an Information Clerk," Accessed Nov. 12, 2019.
Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Information Clerks - Work Environment," Accessed Nov. 12, 2019.