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From: "Doug, Data Librarian at Ext 4225" <engstromdd -at- PHIBRED -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 8 Nov 1994 08:24:11 -0600


This is written in reply to your survey questions.

1.) [Dealt with people who majored in TC; I didn't.]

2.) For those with technical writing jobs who did not major in technical
writing but are currently technical writers:

What did you study in college?
Journalism, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. 1984

What made you decide to choose technical writing as a career?
I chose technical writing when I completed my Air Force service as a
public affairs officer. I knew I didn't want to do PR work again, I was
certain I could write better manuals than the stuff I was seeing, and
technical writing paid better than small-market newspapers.

3.) General questions:
What advice do you for students about to graduate who hope to become
tecnical writers?
1) Sending out a truckload of resumes is not very efficient or effective. I
know lots of people who say "Gee, I sent out 40,000 resumes and didn't get a
single interview." When you ask how many follow-up calls they did, they look
blank. They've expended all their effort in bulk mail, and don't have anything
left to pursue the most promising leads.

2) Apply to advertised jobs that you really want. Unless the ad specifically
states "No calls," call and ask about the job first. If you have time, do a
little research on the company--what does it make, who are its customers, where
is it positioned? (scrappy newcomer, serenely dominant, struggling middle tier,
prosperous niche, etc.) If possible, find out who the position will report to.
Then, write a letter *to that company* explaining why you want *their job.*
This makes a far greater impression than an one-size-fits-all cover letter.

Also, remember that your cover letter and resume are pieces of professional
writing--they should be the best you'll ever do. Prospective employers will
assume that you'll never do better for them in terms of organization, grammar,
spelling, etc. than you do when writing for yourself in the cover letter. (I
mention this only because I've seen a lot of really bad cover letters lately.)

3) Once the letter and resume are sent, follow up in a couple days with a phone
call to ask if your stuff arrived, if there is anything else they want
(transcript, references, etc.) and when you can expect to hear from them. This
has several effects, all good. First, you make sure your stuff is on the right
desk; both the US and internal corporate mail have been known to lose things.
Second, it's another indicator to the company that you are intested in their
job, not just any job. Third, it gets you noticed, since they will probably
have to sift through the pile and pull your stuff out to verify that it's there.
Finally, if they indicate at that point that you're out of the running, you may
be able to get them to talk about why (thus identifying weaknesses that may be
correctible) and to talk about other job opportunities they know about in other
companies (because they feel bad and will want to help you).

4) Remember that regardless of a company's formal policy, it is almost always
true that the best candidate does not get the job; the *safest* candidate will
usually get the job. Consider it from the hiring managers perspective. If the
candidate is hired and does well, this is considered largely a function of the
candidate's merit, not the hiring manager's wisdom. If the candidate is hired
and performs as expected, the hiring manager is percieved as simply doing his or
her job. However, if the candidate fails (particularly in a dramatic way) the
immediate question is "Who the hell hired this person?" In almost all
companies, the internal incentives function make managers much more interested
in eliminating the worst candidates than finding the best ones. That's one
reason for the premium on experience. While it's true that experienced people
are generally somewhat more productive than the inexperienced, their real
attraction is that they blow up less often.

5) Join STC (Society for Technical Communication) and avail yourself of the
following services:

* Attend local chapter meetings faithfully. Meet people, talk about their jobs
and companies. Find out who is growing, even if they are not necessarily hiring
at the moment. Maintain close tabs on growing companies that you like; make
sure they know you're available, but don't beat them over the head with it.
When openings come up, you'll be among the first to know.

* Check out the STC BBS for an on-line posting of job opportunities. Dial up
Arlington, VA at (703)522-3299.

* Get to know the job bank coordinator in your local chapter and the chapters
in cities you want to live in. I'm not sure if there's a central listing of job
bank coordinators or not, but if you write STC headquarters at stc -at- tmn -dot- com, I'm
sure somebody there could tell you. (or call them at (703)522-4114.)

6) Don't underestimate your college placement office; my first two technical
writing positions came from ads in my alma mater's job bank.

7) When searching for a permanent job, scope out smaller companies. My first
job was with a 12-person agricultural software developer. I was the first and
only technical writer. Scary, but a great start. Smaller companies often can't
be as picky about whom they hire as "first tier" employers.

Unfortunately, this also usually means the pay is lower, benefits are skimpy and
security is not as great BUT you usually get a great opportunity to handle a
wide variety of tasks and chart your own course. If your economic situation
allows (ie no children or major debts) a good small company can be a great place
to start. (Side benefit: If you can participate though an ESOP or other stock
plan and the company takes off like a rocket, you can do very nicely. My
retirement accounts are much fatter than they would otherwise be, thanks to the
timely sale of a former employer.)

What are the biggest assests new graduates bring to the technical writing
Willingness to learn is always #1, and will remain so throughout your
career. As a new graduate, I'd emphasize exposure to some technology or
methods that haven't been introduced at the company yet, but would be a
good fit.

For example, there's a person here who's making a name for herself as the
local guru on interactive multimedia for training. We have acute
worldwide training needs, but very little experience with this technology.
In another shop, certain types of layout tools or analysis might fill the

What are the the worst liabilities new graduates bring to the technical
writing industry?
Inexperience. New graduates are inherently high risk, because nobody
knows how you will perform in the workplace yet.

4.) Location questions:
Where is the best place to look for technical writing jobs?
I don't know about "best" but Des Moines is at least "good." I talked to a
friend in a recruiting firm yesterday who said the local unemployment rate
is around 3 percent and for people with "any reasonable qualifications" it
was practically zero.

Does anyone have any suggestions on how to search for technical writing jobs
when you don't have direct access to a company. (For example, I live in Indiana
but am trying to find a job in the Salt Lake City area.) In other words, how
can college graduates become more assertive in looking for a job when all other
known routes fail?
Try subscribing to the local paper in your target area. You can get names
and numbers from the Ayer Guide to Publications, which is available in
most libraries. The local paper will not only tell you who is looking for
work, but study of the real estate ads will give you some general ideas
about cost of living and renting.

Also, don't be afraid to fire off letters to companies you are interested
in, whether they're advertising or not.


Doug "There are no small projects,
ENGSTROMDD -at- phibred -dot- com just incredibly bad initial

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