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Getting Your First Job and Staying Sharp with More Training in Tech Comm

By Katherine (Kit) Brown-Hoekstra | STC Fellow and Cindy Currie | STC Fellow

Ask a Tech Comm Manager is an advice column geared toward answering all those questions you have, but might be uncomfortable asking. We glean the questions from social media, forums, and most importantly, from you, dear reader. If we don’t know an answer, we will interview experts and get information for you. Send us your questions to kitbh.stc@gmail.com or tweet them to @kitcomgenesis or the hashtag #askTCmgr.

The sheer volume of information available about various aspects of technical communication can feel like you are drinking from a firehose. In this column, we identify some resources that can help you get started.

What are some resources where I can get more training on tools and other topics I’m interested in?

STC membership offers robust educational offerings, including the Tech Comm Body of Knowledge (https://www.tcbok.org/), the Mentor Board (https://www.stc.org/mentor-board/), and online courses and webinars (https://www.stc.org/education). In addition, the STC community is supportive and a great place to build your network.

Additionally, STC is now offering Roundtable, a new subscription-based offering from STC that is separate from STC membership. Roundtable provides ongoing professional development in the form of fresh, high-quality content for 12 months on topics relevant to technical communicators and curated by well-known experts. You can find out more at https://www.stc.org/roundtable.

Here are some other places that you can go for help:

  • To discover career paths you might find interesting, do an informational interview (see Kit’s article in the May/June 2019 issue of Intercom).
  • For training on tools, download the trial version and then find a tutorial on LinkedIn Learning (https://www.linkedin.com/learning), the application site, or YouTube (www.youtube.com).
  • To get started on DITA, go to www.ditalearning.com and take the free courses.
  • Some books that will help you understand the field include:
    • The Language of series from XML press provides terminology and essays on how different terms apply practically on topics such as content strategy, technical communication, localization, and cybersecurity.
    • Managing Enterprise Content by Ann Rockley and Charles Cooper teaches you how to analyze and organize content for re-use.
    • Every Page is Page One by Mark Baker talks about taking your topic-based authoring to the next level.
    • The Content Pool by Alan Porter talks about content as a business asset.
    • DITA 101 by Ann Rockley et al., explains the basics of DITA.
    • Letting Go of the Words by Ginny Redish.
    • The Global English Style Guide by John Kohl.
    • Simplified Technical English specification (free download from www.asd-ste100.org).
  • Magazines and e-zines:
  • Blogs: https://blog.feedspot.com/technical_writing_blogs/.
  • STC’s Notebook blog (https://www.stc.org/notebook).

There are myriad resources out there for technical communicators. What we listed here doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface, so talk to people around you who are doing cool things.

I just graduated and am struggling to find a job. How do I break into the field?

Technical communication is both broad and deep, so start with defining an industry or specialization that interests you. This will help you focus your search. Many jobs in our profession are not widely advertised, so you need to build your network.

Here are some ideas to get your network started.

  • Volunteer for STC.
  • Set up informational interviews with people who work for companies that interest you and in areas that interest you.
  • Attend conferences and meetups.

Make sure that your résumé is error-free and effectively communicates your skills and interests. Keep your portfolio current. Learned a new tool? Use it to create a portfolio piece.

Continue to build your skills by blogging, contributing articles to industry publications, learning new tools and skills, etc. Get Jack Molisani’s book, Be the Captain of Your Career.

Learn about the industry you are interested in.

  • Who are the players?
  • What are the trends?
  • What are the biggest challenges?

Your first job is often the hardest one to get, so don’t get discouraged. Do organize your search, and set goals of at least three to five contacts and applications per day. To an extent, job searching is a numbers game. You need to be consistently sending requests for contacts and applying for jobs, and then following up in a timely manner. Ask for help. Get a mentor. Show your enthusiasm and willingness to learn. Avoid the “yeah, buts…” when people make suggestions. Instead, take what makes sense and ignore the rest. Sometimes it feels like everyone is offering advice; it’s because they care.

You also need to practice good self-care. Remember, you only need one YES, but to get that, you will hear a lot of NOs. Remember, you are interviewing the companies as much as they are interviewing you. Be willing to stretch yourself and also listen to your instincts. If it doesn’t feel like a good fit, don’t take the job. On the other hand, don’t count yourself out if you don’t meet 100 percent of the requirements. Willingness to learn, enthusiasm, and an ability to play well with others are more important, particularly in entry-level jobs, than being an expert in something.

You’ve got this.

Reference

Brown-Hoekstra, Katherine (Kit). “Conducting Informational Interviews.” Intercom. 66.3 (2019): 19–22.

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