Landing your first (or 20th) technical communication job


A job search can be discouraging. Yet prospective employers need to see that you’re confident and optimistic. (Morguefile:jdurham)

I spent an enjoyable and productive Saturday afternoon at the STC Carolina chapter’s Student Resume Clinic. Several colleagues and I gave resume advice and conducted mock interviews with students from local colleges.

(Kudos to the Carolina chapter, especially president Christina Mayr, for putting on such a great event.)

If you’re looking for your first job in technical communication — or your 10th job, or your 20th — here’s some wisdom the students took away from that afternoon.

Your resume

When you’re a technical communicator, your resume is the first piece in your portfolio. It should show that you know how to write and that you grasp the techniques of good design. Here are a few tips:

Think of your summary statement as your handshake speech: it’s the first thing you’ll say when you meet your potential employer and look them in the eye. How comfortable would you feel using clichés like passionate and results-driven? Especially when you consider that most hiring managers are really, really good at spotting phoniness.

Make your summary statement an honest expression of who you are. Make sure it describes how your work will add value for the employer.

In the skills and experience sections, start each item with a strong verb. Not just any verbs, but ones that show you taking initiative, being accountable, and (above all)
contributing value. Then add some description to go with the verbs. Did you write a user guide? Or did you design and write a user guide that improved customer satisfaction in some measurable way?

Be especially wary of verb phrases that simply mimic the job title, like wrote and edited technical documents. And strike anything that starts with was responsible for.

Customize your resume for the job. Move to the top the things that are most relevant for the specific job you’re seeking. Most professionals have 2, 3, or more resumes. (I
have resumes for writing, marketing, and content strategy.) If you have a different resume for every job you pursue, that’s OK.

Learn to be agile

If you’re interested in working in the software industry, learn about agile methodology. You’ll probably start by looking it up in Wikipedia, and luckily that article will give you a good introduction.

I strongly recommend Alyssa Fox’s Techwr-l series on technical writing and agile. Start with the first article in the series, and you can find the others from there. (Click Read more articles from Alyssa Fox at the bottom, and scroll through the results.)

Even if you’ve never worked in agile, think of experiences that simulated the agile environment, like working on cross-functional teams or in short development cycles, and emphasize those during your interview.

The right attitude

Looking for work is hard. Disappointment and feelings of rejection go with the territory. In spite of that, hiring managers demand that you be confident without being cocky, optimistic without being over the top.

You need to stuff down the disappointment and be your confident, genuine self. Lest you be tempted to take George Burns’ advice — If you can fake sincerity, you’ve got it made. — don’t. Remember what I said about hiring managers and phoniness.

You have something of value to offer to the lucky person who hires you. Make sure that’s foremost in your mind when you go to the interview, and make sure that’s the message you leave them with.

Good luck!

2 thoughts on “Landing your first (or 20th) technical communication job

  1. christinamayr

    Thanks for the mention, Larry! These are all great tips. Even for writers, it’s hard to find other verbs besides “write” and “edit” to begin our accomplishments, but is a worthwhile exercise. I’m always revising my resume to make it stronger. As most of us do more than just write and edit, I definitely recommend having 2 resumes (I have 3 different versions myself).

    1. Larry Kunz Post author

      Christina, thanks for making a very important point: the resume is a living document, constantly evolving and being refined to meet current needs. The only place where our life story should be engraved in stone is in the cemetery.


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