Author of " Every Way of Earning a Living," " Our Sons and Daughters," etc.
Leaving out of the question typewriting, which was dealt with in this series of articles under Private Secretaries, a girl who desires to earn her living as a clerk requires to have as a basis upon which to start a good plain education. She must be able "to spell" - i.e., to spell words in ordinary daily use without difficulty or hesitation. She must be able to write a good commercial hand such as is indicated in the Civil Service definition of good handwriting. This definition is of value to all who wish to improve handwriting and may be quoted here:
"Each letter and each figure should be clearly and completely formed, so as to avoid the possibility of one letter or one figure being mistaken for another; and the slope from the vertical should be even and not exceed, thirty degvees. The characters should be of moderate and even size. The projection of capitals and long letters above or below the line should not be more than one and a half times the length of the short letters. Flourishes and superfluous strokes should be avoided.
"There should be moderate and even spaces between the letters in a word, and also between the words of a sentence. The letters in a word should be united by strokes; the words in a sentence should he unconnected by strokes. The writing should be in straight lines running parallel with the top of the page. The intervals between the lines should be even and sufficient to prevent the intersection of loops and tails."
In addition to good spelling and writing the would-be girl-clerk, who is to spend her days - at least until married - in a commercial office, should have a fair knowledge of figures, the metric system being of great use in many firms who carry on correspondence with foreign countries where that system of reckoning is in vogue.
Now what, beyond these qualifications, does a girl require before she decides to become a commercial clerk?
Principally, good health and the quality of being able to adapt herself to new surroundings. A knowledge of the elements of bookkeeping is useful, but the knowledge of any particular system is not necessary, because every office has its own particular methods, adopted to suit its own requirements.
Now let us take the case of a young lady just about to leave school, or who has left school sufficiently long to gather some knowledge of typewriting and shorthand. These two latter subjects are now essential to nearly all clerical posts, and often if learned at all are learned after entering an office where the presence of a typewriter facilitates the learner's task in regard to the first-named subject.
The first thing is to find an opening, where, if the salary be small, a start will at least be made in gaining experience.
The columns of the "Daily Mail," the "Daily Telegraph," the "Evening News," etc., as well as many provincial papers, such as the "Manchester Guardian," the "Yorkshire Post," etc., contain daily many advertisements for clerks, both male and female. It is with the latter we are dealing at the moment, and we will therefore suppose the following advertisement catches the eye of our embryo clerk:
A Letter of Application "Wanted, young lady as junior clerk in a City office, one just leaving school not objected to. Knowledge of shorthand an advantage. Write, stating age and salary required, to Box, etc."
The applicant replying to this advertisement should take a sheet of plain white notepaper of business size. She should write her address in the top right-hand corner of page 4 - that is to say, the page which is on her left hand when she opens the sheet and lays it upon the table inside downwards. The letter about to be composed will be short, and therefore she should write the word "Sir" close up to the left-hand side, and about two inches from the top, placing a comma after it, and beginning the first word of the letter immediately under the "r."
Having, then, started in the right way, this is what a successful applicant might be expected to say:
Sir, - In reply to your advertisement in to-day's " Daily Mail " I beg to apply for the post referred to therein. I am just leaving school, where I have taken a first prize in English and arithmetic. I am learning Pitman's shorthand, bookkeeping, and typewriting, and I shall continue these studies, attending evening classes for that purpose, until I am proficient. I can furnish you with a good reference from my schoolmistress, and I am living at home with my parents. In the event of your giving me a trial I will do my utmost to give satisfaction. As salary to commence, I would suggest 12s. to 15s. weekly.
Awaiting the favour of your reply,
Yours obediently - The applicant will not have to write many such letters before she will be invited to call at an office in the City where she will pass through the trying ordeal of interviewing the manager or head of a City firm. Although knowing that she has nothing to be afraid of, she may be very nervous, but this need not trouble her much, for employers are well aware that the applicant finds herself in unusual circumstances, and is therefore not "quite herself."
The ordeal over, the lucky girl will probably be told to start on the following Monday, and on that day her career will begin, in surroundings different from those to which she has been accustomed. But different though her life may be, she will find it pleasant, and if she takes to it she may, within three years, be earning from 25s. to 30s. a week, and even more than that if she be particularly proficient. The Early Bird A very important point is punctuality. The better the clerk the fewer occasions will she plead "fog" as an excuse for being late on winter mornings, and in the summer she will very rarely leave the office five minutes before time to join a tennis party. Tennis is a splendid game; it is health-giving, it is enjoyable, but the moment it interferes with business, and makes a girl inefficient, it becomes a nuisance.
This is the employers' point of view, and it is this view only that the clerk must consider during business hours.
Another good rule is: "Do not run out of the office sharp to leaving-time. The minutes spent afterwards accumulate year by year, and then reap great profit."
My readers may say: "Yes, this is all very well. I have stayed late at the office nearly every day for the past five years, and yet, when I ask for a rise, I am refused."
I know there are mean employers just as there are bad clerks. If you do your work well, and are quite confident that you are a good clerk, you can afford to be dissatisfied with your employer, and give him notice if he will not give you a rise. A third rule would be this: ' Do not forget that those above you in the office know more than you." Be willing and polite, and they will then open their book of experience readily to you.