Five Traits to Look for in an Excellent Clerk
Typewriters and telegrams may have gone out of style, but the clerk is still a vital role to many businesses. Carrying out a variety of seemingly minute yet significant tasks, clerks help ensure a company’s day-to-day operations run smoothly. While training is usually done on the job, there are also a few skills and strengths that indicate promising candidates. Read on for the top five criteria to look out for.
1. Organization and attention to detail
Fun or not, details are the bread and butter of any business. Making sure those odds and ends don’t fall through the cracks is the clerk’s job. Day-to-day administrivia such as answering phones and taking messages, scheduling appointments, making copies, ordering supplies, data entry, and so on requires a good deal of organization and attention to detail to keep track of effectively. Accounting accuracy and research proficiency also rely on these skills.
Past experience is often a reliable indicator of these essential traits. It’s a good idea to ask what type of management systems and software a candidate is familiar with and how they have (or would) deal with organization-related issues or situations. You can even glean this information from a candidate’s application approach – how they followed directions, how they conveyed information and past experience, and how prepared they arrive at the interview.
2. Communication and interpersonal skills
Although they spend a good portion of their time working independently at a desk, clerks are a vital envoy between multiple parties. Conveying information and messages between employees, answering the phone, writing emails and memos, and greeting and directing visitors, the role provides a link between company and client/visitor and between fellow employees. As such, strong communication is a must.
An effective clerk should be able to keep track of messages, clearly explain information, listen, and deal with clients respectfully and efficiently. Knowledge of phone systems and answering etiquette is also important. To get a picture of how candidates would perform in these areas, pay close attention to how they conduct and explain themselves in interviews and cover letters, and inquire how they would deal with hypothetical interactions.
3. Computer proficiency
As noted before, typewriters and telegrams are a thing of the past. These days, most clerks rely on computers to do their work, so coming into the position with a working knowledge of computer programs and systems is essential. Candidates should be proficient in word processing, data entry, spreadsheet, and calendar software, especially Microsoft Office, and web knowledge is often a huge plus.
In addition, clerks need to be adept at typing (usually a speed of at least 60 words per minute) and note-taking. Most of this is evident from a resumé, though tests for typing proficiency are also a good resource.
4. Initiative and a self-directed approach
Although the clerk is undeniably a part of the office (and an integral one), the position is often one spent primarily working alone at a desk. A degree of initiative and resourcefulness is therefore a key element. The role calls for a skilled balance: an ability to work both independently and as part of a team. A good clerk follows directions and completes tasks; a great one takes initiative in the tasks to be completed and is able to figure out how to complete those tasks and solve problems without constant supervision, while still communicating effectively with other employees.
This can be difficult to determine from a resumé, but posing hypothetical situations and discussing work methods is often a good way to determine if a candidate is up to the task. A lot can also be gleaned by how proactive the applicant is in the interview, application process, and follow-up.
5. Numerical know-how
The degree to which a clerk will be working with numbers depends on the company and industry specifics, but a capable grasp of math and accounting basics is a great asset. Clerks are often responsible for accounting or budgeting tasks, writing reports, managing travel arrangements, and so on, so a little numerical savvy will go a long way. Look for previous experience and/or coursework in accounting and managing money to gain an idea of this – even cashier experience can provide a good base.
Less easily measurable but equally important is a strong sense of integrity, trustworthiness, and discretion. This applies to money matters as well as other confidential company information, and it’s an important aspect to keep in mind when examining past experience and interview responses pertaining to numbers and money.
Clerical positions may have a reputation as menial labor, but they make up a key element in the smooth workings of any company. Since training in specific systems often occurs on the job, many hallmarks important for hiring focus more on soft skills and traits, which calls for interviewers to pay close attention to how an applicant conducts themselves in an interview and often requires a little imagination in hypothetical cases.
In addition, keep an eye out for previous experience in secretarial, receptionist, assistant, and customer service roles, as well as clerical or secretarial coursework. Hiring a clerk isn’t as formulaic as might be expected, but it’s worth putting in the time and effort to find a stellar one.