How to Land and Keep a Job in Technical Writing
How to Land a Temp (or Permanent) Technical Communications Job in 7 Days
Many Truths -- Will They Set you Free? (originally published on blogspot.com, November 2008)
Accidental Technical Writer
Sometimes I wonder if I'm an accidental technical writer (tech writer). You know what I mean. I don't wear glasses, haven't read enough of Dilbert, and I'm not even an English major. Regardless of your major, your experience, your gender, race, or beliefs I think you'll agree with many of the truths listed here. If not, please feel free to share your perspective (tech writers and non-tech writers alike).
Technical writing can cover a variety of disciplines from engineering, medical sciences, pharmaceutical writing, financial software, software development in a federal environment and networks. For information technology documentation, your safest bet would be to stick with the Microsoft Manual of Style for Technical Publications. I like to have style notes or a guidebook just on hyphenating compound words. That's a matter of personal preference.
Like the above paragraphs, the content that follows is based on my experience and may have a somewhat biased tone (Disclaimer! Disclaimer! Disclaimer). Take away what you like and leave the rest behind. Good luck and happy reading.
A Few Truths about Working with Recruiters
Recruiters will beat a path to your door unless you alienate them (see list of recruiters below). How might you alienate a recruiter? I'll share an example. My best friend signed up with a large IT staffing firm. Let's call them T-Systems. She went on her first interview--an internal screening by the recruiter. She passed one milestone after next until her resume was presented to a nationally recognized Systems Integrator with whom she interviewed. An offer was in place and a contract drawn. When it came to sign, she received another offer that paid her "big bucks." She declined T-Systems' offer. Guess what, T-Systems would have nothing to do with her after that single incident. Moral of the story. When in doubt, just say "No," right off the bat. Don't wait to decline the offer after a contract's been negotiated with the end client.
Once you're on board with a staffing firm, you don't have to worry too much about the recruiter nor will the recruiter worry about you. Just do your job; be on time; and don't forget to submit your timesheet on a weekly basis. Some firms will send the recruiters out to meet with you twice a month or so. Remember, there's no free lunch! The staffing firm's recruiter or account manager is taking you out because they want to sniff out any minor issues that you have with your new boss or environment before they become major roadblocks. Smart strategy on their part.
- Temporary assignments will always be there. If your finances are in shape and you can afford to choose among assignments, please do. If you're like me and some of my colleagues, you may not have the luxury of evaluating assignments as bills are piling up on the shelf.
- You will fix the previous tech writer's mistakes (suffer the consequences of her or his actions) True or False? Mostly True.
- You will research, write, and edit requirements, user guides, and maybe even policy and procedures. Keep at least one style guide close to your chest (y'know what I mean). Many organizations will not have an "in-house" guide; if they do, your direct supervisor may not know where to find a department-level guide. Be prepared to sound confident and offer input on stylistic notes for all documentation produced by the organization that's just adopted you.
- So you think you deserve an award? Perhaps even a raise? After all, your accomplishments include developing an in-house style guide, writing exemplary prose, and standardizing the appearance, language and tone of stacks of documents. If you're receiving a paycheck, that should be good enough.
- My favorite is on email exchanges. I've kicked myself repeatedly during my career for sending an email that I should have held off on. There are a few good email etiquette books out there such as Email Etiquette for Business Success.(Just Google the terms email etiquette to yield a page or two of decent results).
- Expect to develop any of the following (feel free to add to the list): policy and procedures; SOPs; system development lifecycle documents; medical content; pharmaceutical glossaries; proposals; curriculums; training materials; Captivate demos; User Guides in RoboHelp; meeting minutes; PowerPoint shows; monthly reports with charts and graphs...the list goes on.
- Be prepared to explain the difference between writing and editing to your manager
- Be proactive and develop a schedule when you are tasked with a series of assignments with no due dates and priorities (It took me years to learn this; correcting a project manager's schedule should be your last resort, unless you have a great relationship with him or her)
- Definitely check out the Society for Technical Communication (STC) and join if you can afford the membership or persuade your employer to pay for it. I belonged to STC several years ago -- during the early stages my tech writing career and found it very useful to attend their annual conference.
If you're young or just plain adventurous and wish to expand your horizons, you could try joining the Public Relations Society of America or the International Association of Business Communicators. At the very least, these member-driven organizations would love for you to volunteer and you can gain experience in event planning, reporting, journalistic writing using such avenues. If your heart in completely in reporting and writing news, The Connection Newspapers have internships that they advertise in the Alexandria Gazette, Springfield, Oakton and Great Falls Connection Newspapers. They do require you to cover events when and where they occur (evenings, weekends etc.) Try calling 703-917-6431, which I believe is the Managing Editor's phone number and ask for "Steve." Please don't tell him I sent you. Really.
Career Sites (some are sites like Monster; others are company Web sites)
Note! Many of the sites listed below will require a quick registration process; others will require you to build your resume online; either way patience will pay off.
SNI (Staffing Now) has temporary and permanent administrative and clerical assignments. They have professional divisions as well.
Velvet Jobs: I've only skimmed this Web page and at first glance they seem to specialize in media relations and PR jobs. They do charge a minimal fee for signing up.
Ziprecruiter, CareerBuilder, Monster, and DICE are the old classics. The Ladders is for executives but feel free to try it. Some new career recruiters and agencies that I've encountered locally and had a positive experience with are: Signature Consultants and The Select Group. American Cyber Systems (ACS) with offices in Georgia and Chicago helped me land a temp-to-perm position at Northrop Grumman. Google "ACSICorp" + Duluth, GA" to find their info on the Web.
THE ORIGINAL LIST (Compiled in 2009; some of the companies my have gone out of business; I have not validated the below list recently)
http://www.12manage.com/methods_covey_seven_habits.html (Seems like a good site, although I haven't explored it fully)
If tech writing's not your thing, but you're a talented writer, you may want to check out
While I haven't been to iuniverse and writermag in a while, I have searched and found assignments on Flexjobs, OutSource.com, elance and Odesk. Job hunting is grueling and can tax your energies and leave you feeling "empty" at times. Try to stay away from that feeling by setting attainable goals, patting yourself on the back for applying to X number of jobs etc. And, then go for a nice, long drive with your windows and sunroof rolled down and back and your favorite tunes playing. You just recharged yourself. The next day, get back into the saddle and apply to another X number of jobs. You will get calls. Prepare well and thank the interviewer(s) for their time and use that opportunity to emphasize strengths that you might have forgotten to highlight during the interview.
© 2009 Geeta