Clerk derives from the word cleric and references control of the Catholic Church over the keeping of records, particularly since in most cases only clerics, priests and some nobles could read and write. They might work in many capacities, recording marriages, births, and deaths, working as secretaries for the church or for the royal families, or illuminating manuscripts. Today the term clerk is in much use and applies to many different types of occupations. Typically you’ll see clerk appended with other job descriptions such as legal, banking, sales, or file. What you will do as a clerk largely depends upon the other descriptions of your job.
Sales clerks, for instance, often work in retail stores, and when they are good at their jobs, they assist customers with information about products, help them to find what they need, and usually operate a cash register to record sales and returns. Banking clerks may also be called tellers, and are usually the point of contact for basic banking needs. They take deposits, give out withdrawals, cash checks and answer banking questions. They usually need good math and counting skills in order to perform this work.
Grocery clerks are another type of worker, usually referring to the folks who run the cash register at grocery stores. This is differentiated from other people in the store who might stock shelves, manage employees, or perform other duties required in a supermarket. Theoretically, a grocery clerk is similar to sales clerks, though they may be required to merely operate the cash register and check groceries rather than working away from the register.
Other forms of clerks have secretarial or administrative assistant jobs. File clerks might be responsible for filing documents, records, and for maintaining an orderly file system. Though this may be their principle work, they may additionally work at the front of the office to receive visitors, they may answer phones, and/or perform light typing or computer work.
A court clerk functions in the legal system to help maintain schedules of trials, file or have available documents needed by the courts. They may also prepare court reports, take care of evidence in a trial, and give needed information to juries. People training to be lawyers frequently vie for jobs clerking for various judges over the summer months when school is not in session.
The term clerks can also refer to singers of liturgical music. At the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, those participating in choirs are called clerks. In various large cathedrals, especially in the UK, people who participate in choirs may be called lay clerks.
The term has so many uses, only you, as a clerk of one kind or another, can best define the parameters of your work. With the exception of lay clerks, most clerking positions involve some interaction with customers, some organizational experience, and possibly excellent counting, filing, or accounting skills.