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Correspondence Clerks

Significant Points

This series includes all classes of positions the duties of which are to supervise or perform work involved in the composition or review of correspondence prepared for the purpose of obtaining or supplying factual information when the work primarily requires skill in the composition of letters and memoranda.

Nature of the Work

The scope of the writing performed by persons in the Correspondence Clerk Series, GS-0309, includes letters, memoranda, or messages requesting or conveying factual information based on available records, subject matter specialist explanations, and standard interpretations of established rules, regulations, or other Federal guidelines. Material written is generally keyed to information in the record or to questions, requests, or complaints presented in incoming correspondence.

There is a wide range in the difficulty of correspondence work. Some letters transmit specifically requested facts or materials. Some are based on explicit instructions, notes, or models provided by other employees. Other letters require the writer to independently recognize issues, topics, or problems and to explain specifically applicable provisions of program guidelines. In other situations, the information initially given the writer may be vague, confused, wrong, or incomplete, requiring the sorting out of fact from error and reconstruction of past transactions or events.

The difficulty of a correspondence assignment cannot be judged by the end product alone. Considering the length, brevity, or number of topics contained in a letter written is not enough. The entire work process must be appraised. Is the issue or question obvious or obscure? Are the facts or materials employed in the letter composed readily available or must they be searched out? Difficulty also may stem from the variety of issues or actions involved in the case, the specificity and accuracy of the information given in an assignment, the accessibility of information needed, and the specificity and detail required in relating subject matter information to a given situation.

Correspondence Clerk, GS-0309-03

Serves in a correspondence unit of a military personnel command activity composing responses to a variety of requests and questions related to an individual's military status or record. Replies are based on worksheets developed by military personnel examiners.

Duties:

  • Reads incoming worksheets written by military personnel examiners. These worksheets contain notes and instructions for composing finished replies to requests and questions that have required technical determinations on matters such as the correct amount of retirement pay, family housing eligibility, and amount of service creditable toward retirement.
  • Selects format, forms, and standard paragraphs as indicated on work sheets and composes correspondence incorporating factual information provided by the examiners. Expands abbreviated worksheet notes into fully developed sentences and paragraphs, adding appropriate regulatory citations as needed.
  • Submits completed draft letters, memos, certificates, etc. to typists for typing in final form. Instructs typists in matters such as format, addressees, addresses, and necessary number of copies. Reviews typed correspondence for adherence to specified format and typographical accuracy. Assembles final correspondence into a prescribed "package" of letter, attachments, and enclosures in the right number of copies and submits it to the authorized official for signature.
Correspondence Clerk, GS-0309-04

Serves in a correspondence unit of a military personnel command activity composing responses to a variety of common requests, questions, and complaints related to an individual's military status or record. These responses require examination of service records, but do not require more involved technical determinations such as those made by military personnel examiners.

Duties:

  • Reads incoming correspondence concerning current and former service members written by service members themselves, their relatives, employers, prospective employers, creditors, commanding officers, military finance centers, attorneys, congressmen, federal, state, and local government agencies, and other authorized parties.
  • Identifies the specific kind of information required to answer the correspondence that has been screened and coded to any one of 10 general categories by the "make ready" unit. Determines the correspondent's entitlement to such information.
  • Searches individual service record "jackets," records on microfiche, and service record information retrieved electronically via computer terminal to father information on an individuals current military status or past record such as the date and place an individual entered the military service, his or her current duty station, current rate of pay, periods of active and inactive duty, disciplinary actions taken against the individual, training received, dates and places of duty, past assignments, rates or ranks held at particular periods of time, etc. Information is used to determine eligibility for and preparation of upgraded or reissued discharge papers and certificates; to determine eligibility for particular medals and citations; to prepare necessary documents certifying an individual's military or civilian status for a court's use in determining his or her susceptibility to garnishment in child support, alimony, or mortgage default cases; to prepare service transcripts needed by a former service member for use in obtaining specialized employment such as work as a merchant seaman; etc.
  • Composes letters, messages, or telegrams to other military commands, branches of service, or other appropriate sources to request information not found in records at hand or omitted from the incoming correspondence or information needed to resolve conflicting or inconsistent information found in initial search. Composes correspondence arranging information gathered into logical sequence and appropriate format including any necessary forms. Submits completed draft letters to typists for typing in final form instructing them on matters such as format, addressees, addresses, and necessary number of copies. Assembles final correspondence into a prescribed "package" of letter, attachments, and enclosures in the right number of copies and submits it to the authorized official for signature.
Correspondence Clerk, GS-0309-05

Serves in a correspondence unit of a military personnel command activity composing responses to a variety of requests, questions, and complaints related to an individual's military status or record. These typically include correspondence that poses problems such as persons seeking to obtain information, benefits, or other desired action for which they have made previous, unsuccessful, attempts at obtaining.

Duties:

  • Reads incoming correspondence concerning current and former service members or their dependents on matters such as desired or disputed reassignments, reenlistment eligibility, shipboard conditions, bachelor or family housing eligibility or problems, and hardship discharges.
  • Identifies both the basic issues to be addressed and complicating factors (such as charges of rudeness, unresponsiveness, and error) to be considered in any response.
  • Searches for and gathers information on the facts and on the regulatory provisions that apply to the specific circumstances discussed in the incoming correspondence. Information is gathered from written sources at hand such as individual service records, prior correspondence on the same subject or pertaining to the same individual, personnel manual and regulations, and through telephone conversations with other persons in the Department. Documents all telephone and face-to-face contacts to substantiate replies composed.
  • Composes letters, messages, or telegrams to other military commands, branches of service, or other appropriate sources to request information not found in sources at hand, omitted from the incoming correspondence, or needed to resolve conflicts or inconsistencies in information already gathered.
  • Composes detailed explanations in response to correspondence received, arranging information into logical sequence and appropriate format and choosing the appropriate words and expressions to convey the desired tone (such as warmth and concern to the parents of a missing service member). Instructs typists on matters such as format, addressees, addresses, and necessary number of copies. Assembles final correspondence into a prescribed "package" of letter, attachments, and enclosures in the right number of copies and submits it to the authorized official for signature.
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement

Word processing, writing, and communication skills are essential for all secretaries and administrative assistants. Employers increasingly require extensive knowledge of computer software applications, such as desktop publishing, project management, spreadsheets, and database management.

Education and training. High school graduates who have basic office skills may qualify for entry-level secretarial positions. They can acquire these skills in various ways. Training ranges from high school vocational education programs that teach office skills and typing to 1-year and 2-year programs in office administration offered by business and vocational-technical schools, and community colleges. Many temporary placement agencies also provide formal training in computer and office skills. Most medical and legal secretaries must go through specialized training programs that teach them the language of the industry. Virtual assistant training programs are available at many community colleges in transcription, bookkeeping, website design, project management, and computer technology. There are also online training and coaching programs.

Employers of executive secretaries increasingly are seeking candidates with a college degree, as these secretaries work closely with top executives. A degree related to the business or industry in which a person is seeking employment may provide the jobseeker with an advantage in the application process.

Most secretaries and administrative assistants, once hired, tend to acquire more advanced skills through on-the-job instruction by other employees or by equipment and software vendors. Others may attend classes or participate in online education to learn how to operate new office technologies, such as information storage systems, scanners, or new updated software packages. As office automation continues to evolve, retraining and continuing education will remain integral parts of secretarial jobs.

Other qualifications. Secretaries and administrative assistants should be proficient in typing and good at spelling, punctuation, grammar, and oral communication. Employers also look for good customer service and interpersonal skills because secretaries and administrative assistants must be tactful in their dealings with people. Discretion, good judgment, organizational or management ability, initiative, and the ability to work independently are especially important for higher-level administrative positions. Changes in the office environment have increased the demand for secretaries and administrative assistants who are adaptable and versatile.

Certification and advancement. Testing and certification for proficiency in office skills are available through organizations such as the International Association of Administrative Professionals; National Association of Legal Secretaries (NALS), Inc.; Legal Secretaries International, Inc; and International Virtual Assistants Association (IVAA). As secretaries and administrative assistants gain experience, they can earn several different designations. Prominent designations include the Certified Professional Secretary (CPS) and the Certified Administrative Professional (CAP), which can be earned by meeting certain experience or educational requirements and passing an examination. Similarly, those with 1 year of experience in the legal field, or who have concluded an approved training course and who want to be certified as a legal support professional, can acquire the Accredited Legal Secretary (ALS) designation through a testing process administered by NALS. NALS offers two additional designations: Professional Legal Secretary (PLS), considered an advanced certification for legal support professionals, and a designation for proficiency as a paralegal. Legal Secretaries International confers the Certified Legal Secretary Specialist (CLSS) designation in areas such as intellectual property, criminal law, civil litigation, probate, and business law to those who have 5 years of legal experience and pass an examination. In some instances, certain requirements may be waived. There is currently no set standard of certification for virtual assistants. A number of certifications exist which involve passing a written test covering areas of core competencies and business ethics. The IVAA has three certifications available: Certified Virtual Assistant, Ethics Checked Virtual Assistant; and the Real Estate Virtual Assistant.

Secretaries and administrative assistants generally advance by being promoted to other administrative positions with more responsibilities. Qualified administrative assistants who broaden their knowledge of a company's operations and enhance their skills may be promoted to senior or executive secretary or administrative assistant, clerical supervisor, or office manager. Secretaries with word processing or data entry experience can advance to jobs as word processing or data entry trainers, supervisors, or managers within their own firms or in a secretarial, word processing, or data entry service bureau. Secretarial and administrative support experience also can lead to jobs such as instructor or sales representative with manufacturers of software or computer equipment. With additional training, many legal secretaries become paralegals.

Employment

Secretaries and administrative assistants held about 4.3 million jobs in 2008, ranking it among the largest occupations in the U.S. economy. The following tabulation shows the distribution of employment by secretarial specialty:

Secretaries, except legal, medical, and executive 2,020,000
Executive secretaries and administrative assistants 1,594,400
Medical secretaries 471,100
Legal secretaries 262,600

Secretaries and administrative assistants are employed in organizations of every type. Around 90 percent are employed in service-providing industries, ranging from education and healthcare to government and retail trade. Most of the rest work for firms engaged in manufacturing or construction.

Job Outlook

Employment is projected to grow about as fast as the average. Secretaries and administrative assistants will have among the largest number of job openings due to growth and the need to replace workers who transfer to other occupations or leave this occupation. Opportunities should be best for applicants with extensive knowledge of computer software applications.

Employment change. Employment of secretaries and administrative assistants is expected to increase by 11 percent, which is about as fast as the average for all occupations, between 2008 and 2018. Projected employment varies by occupational specialty. Above average employment growth in the healthcare and social assistance industry should lead to much faster than the average growth for medical secretaries, while moderate growth in legal services is projected to lead to faster than average growth in employment of legal secretaries. Employment of executive secretaries and administrative assistants is projected to grow as fast as the average for all occupations. Growing industries—such as construction; educational services; healthcare and social assistance; and professional, scientific, and technical services—will continue to generate the most new jobs. Slower than average growth is expected for secretaries, except legal, medical, or executive, who account for about 46 percent of all secretaries and administrative assistants.

Increasing office automation and organizational restructuring will continue to make secretaries and administrative assistants more productive in coming years. Computers, e-mail, scanners, and voice message systems will allow secretaries and administrative assistants to accomplish more in the same amount of time. The use of automated equipment is also changing the distribution of work in many offices. In some cases, traditional secretarial duties as typing, filing, photocopying, and bookkeeping are being done by clerks in other departments or by the professionals themselves. For example, professionals and managers increasingly do their own word processing and data entry, and handle much of their own correspondence. In some law and medical offices, paralegals and medical assistants are assuming some tasks formerly done by secretaries. Also, many small and medium-sized organizations are outsourcing key administrative functions, such as data entry, bookkeeping, and Internet research, to virtual assistants.

Developments in office technology are certain to continue. However, many secretarial and administrative duties are of a personal, interactive nature and, therefore, are not easily automated. Responsibilities such as planning conferences, working with clients, and instructing staff require tact and communication skills. Because technology cannot substitute for these personal skills, secretaries and administrative assistants will continue to play a key role in most organizations.

As paralegals and medical assistants assume more of the duties traditionally assigned to secretaries, offices will continue to replace the traditional arrangement of one secretary per manager with secretaries and administrative assistants who support the work of systems, departments, or units. This approach means that secretaries and administrative assistants will assume added responsibilities and will be seen as valuable members of a team.

Job prospects. In addition to jobs created from growth, numerous job opportunities will arise from the need to replace secretaries and administrative assistants who transfer to other occupations, including exceptionally skilled executive secretaries and administrative assistants who often move into professional occupations. Job opportunities should be best for applicants with extensive knowledge of computer software applications, with experience as a secretary or administrative assistant, or with advanced communication and computer skills. Applicants with a bachelor's degree will be in great demand to act more as managerial assistants and to perform more complex tasks.

Earnings

Median annual wages of secretaries, except legal, medical, and executive, were $29,050 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $23,160 and $36,020. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $18,440, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $43,240. Median annual wages in the industries employing the largest numbers of secretaries, except legal, medical, and executive in May 2008 were:

Local government $32,610
Colleges, universities, and professional schools 31,530
General medical and surgical hospitals 30,960
Elementary and secondary schools 29,850
Employment services 28,340

Median annual wages of executive secretaries and administrative assistants were $40,030 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $32,410 and $50,280. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $27,030, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $62,070. Median annual wages in the industries employing the largest numbers of executive secretaries and administrative assistants in May 2008 were:

Management of companies and enterprises $45,190
Local government 41,880
Colleges, universities, and professional schools 39,220
State government 35,540
Employment services 33,820

Median annual wages of legal secretaries were $39,860 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $30,870 and $50,930. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $25,580, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $62,290. Medical secretaries earned median annual wages of $29,680 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $24,530 and $36,090. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $20,870, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $42,660.

Virtual assistants set their own rate structure and billing terms based on the type of work, skill level, cost of living in their area, experience, and personal financial needs. Those who bill using an hourly rate can range anywhere from $25 to $100 per hour. Some also bill on a per page or project rate.

Related Occupations

Workers in a number of other occupations also type, record information, and process paperwork. Among them are:

Sources of Additional Information

State employment offices provide information about job openings for secretaries and administrative assistants.

For information on the latest trends in the profession, career development advice, and the CPS or CAP designations, contact:

  • International Association of Administrative Professionals, P.O. Box 20404, Kansas City, MO 64195-0404. Internet: http://www.iaap-hq.org
  • Association of Executive and Administrative Professionals, 900 South Washington St., Suite G-13, Falls Church, VA 22046. Internet: http://www.theaeap.com

Information on the CLSS designation can be obtained from:

Information on the ALS, PLS, and paralegal certifications is available from:

  • National Association of Legal Secretaries, Inc., 8159 East 41st. St., Tulsa, OK 74145. Internet: http://www.nals.org

Information on virtual assistant certification can be obtained from:

  • International Virtual Assistants Association, 561 Keystone Ave., Suite 309, Reno, NV 89503. Internet: http://www.ivaa.org

Information on obtaining Correspondence Clerk positions with the Federal Government is available from the Office of Personnel Management through USAJOBS, the Federal Government's official employment information system. This resource for locating and applying for job opportunities can be accessed through the Internet at http://www.usajobs.gov or through an interactive voice response telephone system at (703) 724–1850 or  (703) 724–1850  or TDD (978) 461–8404 and   (978) 461–8404. These numbers are not toll free, and charges may result. For advice on how to find and apply for Federal jobs, download the Insider's Guide to the Federal Hiring Process” online here.

Sources:

  • Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition; and
  • Office of Personnel Management, Position Classification Standards.

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