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Records Management: File Clerk to Records Manager

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The future is bright for individuals interested in a career in records management. A hierarchy of jobs exists at levels ranging from file clerk to records clerk to records manager.

Records management is a total systems approach concerned with the creation, maintenance and use, retention, transfer, and destruction of records. It is a significant area in the office of the future and will undoubtedly continue to develop in the 80s as it did during the past decade. The information explosion and the vast amounts of paperwork created in this electronic age have led to the creation of records centers as a vital part of a company's management program. As the volume of records grew from the mountains of information poured forth from the computer and from the expansion of large-scale industry and governmental offices, clerical forces also grew to handle this paperwork, simultaneously adding new dimensions to the filing process.

Records are all documentary materials that are created or received in connection with some activity or transaction. Certain legal documents must be preserved for a stipulated period of time, while others are kept as evidence of decisions, functions, procedures, or policies used in a given situation. The many records that are commonly filed in business are correspondence, legal documents, reports, inventory lists, bank statements, price lists, maps, charts, catalogs, newspaper clippings, personnel records, committee reports, and minutes. Records and information storage can be on paper, cards, punched cards, computer tapes, microfilm, microfiche, or magnetic discs.

The term filing and records management frequently are confused. Filing is the process of arranging and storing materials according to some definite plan for immediate access and for permanence; most filing jobs are clerical in nature. Records management pertains to the life cycle of a record. This cycle includes the creation, design, processing, and disposition of records in conjunction with the selection of files and equipment and the orientation and training of employees. Records management jobs are classified as managerial.

Systems vary based on companies needs. Some filing systems are completely automated and may be installed to rotate files horizontally on tracks or may be stacked in hidden spaces vertically in elevator-type filing consoles. Frequently, in systems such as these, the operator may not have to leave his or her work station.

As a substitute for paper records, microfilm has gained wide-spread acceptance as a record keeping medium. Microfilm is prepared in several formats, such as roll, microfiche, aperture card, and jacket. The advantages of microfilm are that it is inexpensive both to purchase and duplicate, and it is readily stored in compact office files from which it is also easily retrieved.

Most office workers, including supervisors, managers, and executives, do some filing. In small firms, the work is usually performed by the secretaries and stenographers; in large firms, clerks usually do the bulk of the filing. These large firms have centralized records areas.

Since businesses of every size use records, filing jobs can be found almost anywhere in the United States. Some of the specialized job titles for entry-level work are: coding clerk, records clerk, unit clerk, sorting clerk, correspondence file clerk, and file clerk.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics describes the levels of file clerks follows:

Clerk, File I. Performs routine filing of material that has already been classified or which is easily classified in a simple serial classification system (e.g., alphabetical, chronological, or numerical). As requested, locates readily available material in files and forwards material; may fill out withdrawal charge. May perform simple clerical and manual tasks required to maintain and service files.

Clerk, File II. Sorts, codes, and files unclassified material by simple (subject matter) headings or partly classified material by finer subheadings, Prepares simple related index and cross-reference aids. As requested, locates clearly identified material in files and forwards material. May perform related clerical tasks required to maintain and service files.

Some of the responsibilities of the specialized clerks are:

Correspondence File Clerk - Maintains a file of general correspondence; sorts and files; answers inquiries about correspondence; maintains a follow-up file; labels folders; retrieves correspondence; and maintains an activity-count record.

Sorting Clerk - Handles notices of change; distributes changes to unit clerks; alphabetizes information on new accounts; sorts outgoing interoffice communications; type of envelopes; and routes caption changes and changes of address to the central file records.

Unit Clerk - Maintains an alphabetical unit of customer cards; answers inquiries about customers; processes reports and data about accounts; handles signature cards for the file; checks against file for titles of officers of customer accounts; and removes cards from unit file according to a retention schedule.

Coding Clerk - Codes information obtained from reports for processing by machines.

Records Clerk - Receives company records and examines contents to determine filing captions; maintains a card file of records by date for destruction; locates information in central files upon request; and assists supervisor in organization of records and filing procedures.

Records Manager - Supervises and trains personnel in maintenance of central files; supervises work of employees and evaluates performance; improves personnel relations in the records management department; keeps monthly records of activity; performs miscellaneous duties.

Promotional opportunities are available to the alert, well-trained clerk who knows how to file and control records. The employee who uses initiative and demonstrates leadership qualities may rise from the entry-level job of file clerk to the position of file supervisor, file consultant, or the highly responsible position of a records manager. Most employers follow a promotion-from-within policy.

Educational Requirements and Personal Aptitudes

Most employers prefer to hire high school graduates for beginning file clerk jobs. They prefer applicants who can type, have knowledge of office practices, have an aptitude for numbers, have the ability to do detailed work accurately, and are able to read quickly and with understanding. In addition, employees should understand the importance to management of accurate files, the necessity to follow organized procedures, and the importance of teamwork. Good clerks have manual dexterity, good eyesight, and good memories. Since file clerks have access to the confidential records of the company, they should possess the personal qualifications expected of other office workers-loyalty to the firm and ability to keep confidences.

How Former Students View Their Training in Records Management

In a follow-up study to determine the importance of records management training, 150 college students who were out of school from one to four years were surveyed. Eighty-five percent of the respondents indicated that they are actively involved with the records of their company.
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