Columns October 2020

Experiences and Skills Most Appealing to Managers and Key to Getting a Job During the Pandemic

By Kit Brown-Hoekstra | STC Fellow and Cindy Currie | STC Fellow

What kinds of university-based experiences are most appealing to tech comm management? STC student membership? Publications or projects? Extracurricular and service activities? Coursework? And because so much training happens on the job, what is most important for students to know how to do on their first day? What is the value of references and certifications versus soft skills in the job search process?

Most managers look at a potential job applicant’s involvement in many things. When you make time to go beyond the minimum requirements and invest in your own success, it tells managers that you are a go-getter and that you are invested in your career. When you invest in yourself, it makes other people also want to invest in you. Most managers recognize the dedication, commitment to the profession, and hard work that it takes to get a master’s degree or a PhD.

Expanding beyond your academic experience to things like STC Student Membership and showing a level of involvement in STC demonstrates that you are actively making the transition to professional life.

Moving from a Student Membership to a Professional Membership is also advised.

Publications? Great! Again, this shows effort to share knowledge you’ve gained.

Acquiring a professional certification like CPTC Foundation might help if you are starting from a bachelor’s degree and have little practical experience. For people with master’s degrees and PhDs but little practical experience, managers also look for an ability to apply what you’ve learned in class and research to practical, real-world applications.

It is important to recognize that, in a corporate environment, done is more important than perfect, and there will always be trade-offs to be made. Showing that you understand this idea will go a long way in your interviews.

References? Always a plus, but most people only get references from people they know will give good ones, so these might not be as important as the other things.

The real secret sauce for us is an applicant’s personality traits. Managers are looking for enthusiastic, persistent, eager-to-learn, self-motivated, trustworthy, committed team players. Because so much of tech comm is interacting with other people, good interpersonal skills are table stakes for finding a position in today’s world.

It’s all about the team and how well you play with others! During the interview process, managers will be assessing your interpersonal skills and trying to get a feel for how you will fit in with their existing team and the team members on the product or solution team they might be hiring for at the time.

You can learn tools and technologies (and will do a lot of that on the job). You can learn processes and workflows and more, and you will. For entry-level positions, we assume that we will need to train you on tools, processes, and practical applications of the concepts you have learned. We expect you to understand the core competencies in technical communication, at least at a conceptual level.

There are many things in our profession that you can only get good at by doing them. When you are looking for your first position, ask interviewers about their training, mentoring, and onboarding plans. Take advantage of every learning opportunity that comes your way.

In interviews, be proactive and show your enthusiasm in your body language and your actions. Research the company and, because most people are working virtually right now, ask what the expectations are about this situation. Make sure that you have a dedicated spot in your home where you can work comfortably and without distractions.

How do you expect the pandemic to affect job searches for upcoming graduates?

With everything virtual during the pandemic, new grads will need to be creative about networking and finding job opportunities. The STC Mentor Board can help you find someone to talk to and provide help with your résumé and interviewing skills. The STC Job Board has many opportunities, as well.

The great thing about the current situation is that most companies are totally virtual, so you can live anywhere. In other words, don’t restrict your search to your current locale.

The downside to the current situation from a job search perspective is that a lot of companies are holding off on hiring, especially at the entry level, and job opportunities can be harder to find.

To maximize your chances at landing a job mid-pandemic, take these steps:

  • Make sure your LinkedIn profile is complete and updated. Review your social media for anything that might detract professionally and remove it or lock it down.
  • Connect with the STC special interest groups and geographical communities to network. See if you can volunteer for something that’s important to you.
  • Read some articles on how to work effectively in a virtual environment. Make sure you have a dedicated workspace (even if it’s a desk in the corner of your bedroom). Set a schedule for yourself and stick to it.
  • Remember, job hunting is a numbers game. Treat the job hunt like a job. Set a goal of three to five job submissions per day focused in the industry or technical communication specialty you are most interested in. Apply even if you only meet 80% of the requirements. Follow the instructions and set a reminder in your calendar to follow up after a week or two, then do it.
  • Be proactive and reach out to connect with people. Practice your videoconferencing skills and make sure that everything in view of the camera is professional and tidy.
  • Continue taking classes and building your skills.
  • Take regular breaks in nature and turn off your devices to reset your brain and rejuvenate (even 15 minutes helps). Do something nice for yourself every day, and be patient with yourself and others. Everything is more challenging and takes longer right now.
  • Read Atomic Habits by James Clear and start building a schedule and plan that helps you be productive. This is a marathon, not a sprint.

 

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.

 

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