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Where are all the Jobs?
2006, Q4 (March 02, 2007)
by Doug Davis, Atlanta Chapter Senior Member
Editor's Note: This article was originally published in "The Business of Technical Communication" column at http://www.stc.org/stcmembers/botcOct_2006.asp.

You sit in your favorite comfy chair and open the Sunday newspaper. The economy is steadily improving. Good. Unemployment rates are down. Nice. You've seen all the data. You've read the reports. So, where are all the jobs?

The current economy is a little like a patient coming out of a coma. He's not quite sure where he is. He's a little unsteady on his feet. He's having a hard time making decisions. And he's hungry.

After companies have downsized, downsized, and downsized, they get a little gun-shy when it comes to hiring. Here at ProEdit, we've seen job requisitions come in, candidates identified, interviews held, offers made, accepted, and then withdrawn — all within two weeks. Hiring decision-makers just change their minds. It's tough, but that's the nature of the job market right now.

So, what do you do in this type of economy? You lean on the one bulletproof, universal truth about the technical communication job market...

Location is everything.

Over the last few years, I have compiled data from the following sources:
  • STC membership
  • Résumés from a variety of Web-based sources
  • U.S. Department of Labor data
  • ProEdit's 20,000-person skills database

I have tallied that information to determine which areas of the country are hot and which are not. After studying this information for several years, I have found that it doesn't change much from year to year.

So, folks, here are the results. These are the fifteen cities (including metropolitan areas) in the United States where over 50 percent of all technical communication jobs are found:
  • San Jose, California (Silicon Valley)
  • Boston, Massachusetts
  • Seattle, Washington
  • Washington, D.C.
  • Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota
  • Chicago, Illinois
  • Atlanta, Georgia
  • Denver, Colorado
  • New York, New York
  • Houston, Texas
  • Dallas/Ft. Worth, Texas
  • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • Portland, Oregon
  • Los Angeles/Anaheim, California
  • Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill, North Carolina (Research Triangle)

Over the past ten years, companies have followed a general trend of moving to the Sunbelt. Technical communicators are somewhat like tropical plants. They flourish where the sun is warm. If that's true, then the San Francisco Bay area must have the perfect mix of sun (opportunities), water (income), and soil conditions (quality of life) for technical communicators. About one out of every ten technical communicators in the U.S. lives around the Bay. And it's been that way for at least a decade.

"Here, Fishy, Fishy, Fishy"

You can look at these results in a couple of ways. On the one hand, if you are a technical communicator living in one of these areas, you are a small fish in a big pond. And there's a lot of food in that pond. If you are looking for a job in one of these major market cities, a good strategy would be to network with other technical communicators to find out where the fishing's good and not-so-good. Since there are a lot of employers in these markets, someone is always hiring. Contact each of those hot companies, whether they have published job openings or not. Also, ask your out-of-work colleagues where they were last employed and, if the same names keep being mentioned, avoid those companies like the plague.

On the other hand, if you don't live in one of these major market cities, you are a big fish in a small pond. But there's not as much food. Your job-hunting strategy has to be more focused on talking to the companies themselves, not networking through other technical communicators. This means doing a traditional job search process. Drive around office parks and identify the top technology companies within a forty-minute commute from your home. Then, go online and research those companies to see if they have any posted job openings. Look at their Web sites. Also, look at Monster, Dice, Craigslist, local periodicals, and industry specific recruiting agencies. Then, pick up the phone and start calling companies that are hiring. Let each company know what you can do for them. Ask if you can submit your resume, whether they have any current openings or not. Two advantages of working in a smaller market city are that employers are more approachable and their technical communicators tend to keep their jobs longer because there's less competition.

Can I Work from Home Tomorrow?

You may be asking yourself, "Do I need to move?" To which I would reply with a confident, definitive, "Maybe." Seriously, that's a personal decision that is influenced by too many factors to mention here. Suffice it to say, if you are a technical communicator who is not living in a major technical communication market, you should probably have a good reason why not.

Now, if you like to gamble — and I'm betting you don't (see last month's column, "Why do we gamble with our careers?") — you may be waiting to see if telecommuting will make your location less important. I know some job-challenged and lifestyle-rich residents of Hawaii who are really hoping it will turn out that way. Still, few people telecommute full time. And according to the U.S. Census Bureau, only about 20 percent of all telecommuters work for employers that are out of state.

Now, I'm a big proponent of living close to where you work, for two reasons. First, I hate sitting in traffic. I mean, I really, really hate sitting in traffic. Second, I've tried daily telecommuting and didn't much care for it. I guess I'm just a people person. That said, if I've got a serious amount of writing to do, I'll choose to work at home because I know I can get it done much faster.

Now that I've given you some good career-building information about where the jobs are, check back next month, when I'll discuss which industries are best for you to specialize in. I'll give you a hint: we aren't getting many requests to write owners' manuals for sewing machines these days.

Doug can be reached at ddavis at ProEdit dot com. End of article.

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