Education and Training: High school
Salary: Median—$29,340 per year
Employment Outlook: Poor
Definition and Nature of the Work
Offices that receive large quantities of mail and e-mail depend on correspondence clerks, or correspondents. These clerks answer letters and e-mail that do not require the personal attention of an executive. Some replies are routine, allowing the correspondent to send a form letter or e-mail. For replies that must be researched, the correspondent gathers information from a number of sources and then interprets company policy carefully before drafting the response. A correspondent's job is one of great responsibility, and it requires excellent judgment. Correspondence clerks work for publishing and media companies, retail operations, mail order companies, and government agencies.
On a typical day a correspondence clerk first goes through the mail and e-mail, arranging it so that the most important letters and e-mails will be answered first. After putting together the necessary facts, the correspondent either types or dictates replies. The remainder of the day is spent answering less pressing correspondence. Companies frequently expect their correspondents to meet quotas—that is, to produce a certain number of replies each day. By the end of the day all letters and e-mail dictated by the correspondent are typed and proofread. The correspondent attaches the necessary enclosures and puts the letters in the mail.
Some correspondence clerks specialize in a particular aspect of their company's business. For example, credit correspondents are skilled at writing letters urging customers to pay bills. Other correspondents answer product queries regarding, for example, what a product does or how much it costs. Still others deal only with customer complaints.
Correspondents may have an area of skill that permits them to deal more effectively with certain types of requests. Technical correspondents, for example, can explain the workings of tools or machinery in the language of the industry.
Education and Training Requirements
Many employers hire high school graduates as correspondents. Some companies, however, prefer applicants with a degree from a two-year college. Writing skills and a solid knowledge of grammar and spelling are essential. Typing, computer, and business courses are important for some jobs. Regardless of prior training, beginning correspondents usually receive several months of supervision while learning company policy, office routine, and, in some offices, how to use dictating machines or voice recognition software.
Getting the Job
School placement offices may be able to help a graduating student find a position as a correspondence clerk. The classified ads of local newspapers list job openings, as do state or private employment agencies. Candidates can also apply directly to companies that employ correspondence clerks. When contacting prospective employers, individuals should be sure to do so by letter. It is a perfect opportunity to impress them with writing skills.
Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook
Many correspondence clerks are promoted to their jobs from secretarial positions. A talented correspondent who demonstrates an ability to handle difficult problems may advance to senior correspondent and then to a training or supervisory position.
As of 2004 some twenty-three thousand Americans were employed as correspondence clerks, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' 2004–14 projections. Employment of correspondence clerks was expected to decline through the year 2014.
Some companies provide private offices or partitioned rooms for their correspondents. Many others expect correspondence clerks to work in large, open rooms. The noise and distraction of this setting demands that clerks have the ability to concentrate.
The normal work week for correspondence clerks ranges from thirty-five to forty hours. Some firms, such as mail order houses, have seasonal peaks when correspondents may be expected to work overtime. Some workers belong to labor unions that are active in the industry in which they work.
Where to Go for More Information
Earnings and Benefits
Wages vary depending on experience, level of responsibility, and location of the work. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in their November 2004 Occupational Employment Statistics survey that correspondence clerks earned a median salary of $29,340 per year. The benefits that correspondence clerks receive depend largely on the size of the business and the particular industry in which they work. Generally, however, a correspondent can expect paid holidays, vacations, and health insurance.