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Top 5 Tips for Landing Your First Tech Comm Job
2014, Q2 (April 15, 2014)
By Ann-Marie Grissino, STC Fellow, Duke Technical Communication Certificate Program Instructor, NetApp Information Engineering for Data Center and Cloud Solutions

Ann-Marie Grissino
Ann-Marie Grissino
Your first interview. Your first networking experience. Your first technical communication job. How do you get there? It isn’t easy. Having an error-free résumé, excellent communication skills, and interviewing skills is a given. Additionally, if you work on these tips, you’ll find that doors to new jobs might open more easily.

1. Get plugged into the jargon

Learn the lingo of the technical communication profession. Every profession has its own jargon.
Do you know what the following terms mean?

authoring tools, SMEs, WordPress, information plan, wikis, tags, character styles, DITA, structured authoring, UA, Ux, IA, audience analysis, XML, Strunk & White, TOC, single sourcing, HATs, specifications, Agile, gamification, topic-based authoring

If you don’t, I encourage you to look them up!

Look at online job ads for tech communicators, instructional designers, technical writers, information architects, editors, or science writers. Identify the jargon in the ads and learn what the terms mean.

During a course I teach, I invite the students to bring in job ads, many of which contain phrases that are unfamiliar to them. We discuss the terms and the confusing ad then becomes clear.

2. Meet other people in the profession

These are the people who know what’s going on, know the companies that are hiring, understand what different jobs entail, and can help you along your path.
In your online presence, your articles, or your samples, demonstrate that you care about this endeavor.

  • Participate in STC meetings. And, I don’t mean just attend a meeting; I mean participate. Ask questions, offer ideas, meet the presenter after the meeting, join in a discussion, offer help on a project, or volunteer your time on the STC newsletter or STC judging events. Don’t sit on the sidelines.
  • Create an online presence with LinkedIn and Facebook. One of my students trying to get a job and he was doing everything right. He had the skills, the personality, some experience, and the determination. But, he had no online presence. After he quickly created one, a group of my colleagues and I encircled him with colleague requests, comments, and recognition. His name became visible, we helped him network, and he got an excellent job.
  • Actively manage your online presence by writing articles, commenting on articles, tweeting or retweeting professional comments, or posting professional videos.
  • Take a course or seminar. Attend a conference or unconference. Again, don’t just attend. Instead, participate actively.

3. Get experience

You wonder how you can get experience when you don't have any. Here are some tips.
  • Internships are often offered at colleges or universities. If you are in school, participate in an internship.
  • You can even set up your own internship. For example, offer two months of free services to a company.
  • Experience doesn’t have to come from working at a company. Write for anyone: your vet, your doctor, or your dentist. I have seen superb writing samples from someone who wrote about her vet’s medical equipment (the vet needed to write up this information and didn’t have the time), someone who wrote about her child’s daycare training procedures, and someone else who wrote about his church’s summer programs.
When we interview candidates for tech comm jobs, those people who had internships or related experiences have far more to talk about and are much more engaging than those who did not.

4. Demonstrate a specialty

Find a specialty that distinguishes you from others. For example, maybe you aspire towards a technical bent. Try writing about an aspect of an authoring tool or what Ux means to technical communicators. Try writing a book review on an area that helps define your niche.

5. Provide examples of your work

Offer portfolio samples online. Also, include a statement in your samples about the impact that your work had on others or on an organization. Show an example that shows initiative, something that says you started something or did something with a unique process or perspective.

6. Show passion

The article title says I'll offer 5 tips. Well, here's an extra. Show passion. In your online presence, your articles, or your samples, demonstrate that you care about this endeavor. Your passion shows through.

Some common terms and their explanations:
  • Agile: Software development methodology that includes short bursts of work, called "sprints," that encompass work from development, QA, product management, and documentation.
  • Audience analysis: A process, conducted early in a project, of identifying the demographics, skills, and knowledge of the people who use the information that you provide.
  • Authoring tools: Software that enables content developers to create and deliver content to their audiences.
  • Character styles: Group of character-formatting attributes that you can apply to text, for example, an "emphasis" tag that formats the text selection in italics.
  • DITA: Darwin Information Typing Architecture
  • Gamification: In technical communication, the process of applying gaming technigues to non-game content to improve its engagement and use.
  • HATs: Help authoring tools. A type of authoring tool that enables you to create and deliver online Help.
  • IA: Information architecture
  • Information plan: A set of statements that describe the types of content that you are going to provide as part of the project, the schedule for delivering it, and the process.
  • Single sourcing: A method of re-using content in another type of output deliverable.
  • SME: Subject matter expert
  • Specifications: In technical communication, a detailed description of a project's requirements, impact, and design approach, usually provided by the development or engineering group early in a project.
  • Structured authoring: A method or workflow that enables content developers to define and enforce a consistent organization of information.
  • Strunk & White: Two authors who developed a guide, The Elements of Style, familiar to technical communicators.
  • TOC: Table of contents
  • Topic-based authoring: A method of creating content as discrete topics that are centered around performing a task.
  • UA: User assistance
  • Ux: Usability
  • Wiki: A web application that lets you create and change content with others in a very collaborative way.
  • WordPress: A web application that lets you create a website or blog, usually with the help of design elements that you can choose.
  • XML: Extensible Markup Language

Ann-Marie Grissino can be reached at grissino at netapp dot com. End of article.

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