As the news continues to spread that I finally got a full-time job after a year of searching, one of my friends from Adobe suggested that I should write a post about how I got the job, with the purpose of encouraging others that they, too, can find a tech comm job.
Well, I won’t lie. It wasn’t easy. And my path may not be the right path for everyone, but I think there are some universal elements that can be recommended here. As this blog has often been a testament of my job searching woes and questioning what seemed to work and what didn’t, all I can do is recall what seemed to work for this particular interview that got me the job, and what lead me to that moment. In a nutshell, it was a lot of hard work.
Let me first start by bringing this recent article to your attention:
The article explains that in the US, while there isn’t a lack of unemployed workers, there is a lack of skilled workers in specific professions, and that employer demands of finding such workers instead of making a small investment in training otherwise competent workers is contributing to the problem. Gone are the days when, if you had half a brain and could learn how to do things, your employer would hire you and train you on that specialty. Most of my career was done this way. After college, I had a degree in hand, and could show that I could speak, write well, and think on my feet, so I was trained as a consumer affairs rep for a national manufacturing company. I would pick up different skills as I went from job to job, learning and gaining skills as I went along, eventually even shifting from a client services career to an IT career. But when I returned to the workforce after a brief stint away to be a stay-at-home mom, I found that wasn’t always the case anymore. In the last year or two, I can tell you that I KNOW this isn’t true anymore, or it’s a rarity. The article above mentions the loss of the time honored tradition of apprenticeships, something that may need to have a comeback. I supposed that internships are similar to apprenticeships, but they are far and few between as it is, especially for a mom like myself trying to get back into the workforce to help the family finances. Most are for school credit, instead of a small wage to learn a skill or craft. Possibly good for some students, but not that good for the rest of us who have to support ourselves or family.
In a sense, I had to create my own apprenticeship. In economic hard times, necessity is the mother of invention, and this mother needed to invent a new career out of necessity. My first full-time job after the onset of motherhood gave me the direction–technical communications. From there, I had to figure out how to better establish myself as a technical communicator, and eventually become one in the field.
So as not to bore you with my long story of how I finally arrived at this moment of getting a job, I’ll cut to the chase of what I think helped me in the end.
1) Don’t be afraid of being a multi-specialist or generalist. I know that several weeks ago, I questioned this, because this seemed to be a huge roadblock for me. In the end, it was the fact that I was a multi-specialist, I think, that picqued the employer’s interest. Yes, I could work on a CMS system, but I also know a lot about m-learning, social media, web design and yes, I can write. I think that the more I discussed what I knew about each topic, the more I could see eyes of the interviewers light up.
2) Create an e-portfolio of your work. This was really helpful for me. As much as I could say that I could write, create audio and video files, understood web design, and understand social media, I had PROOF. My e-portfolio could provide samples of most of my skills so that employers could see for themselves. While my e-portfolio originally started as my capstone project for graduate school, it has been enhanced and appended several times after graduation to appeal to prospective employers as well as those who just want to understand my work.
3) Get an education. You don’t necessarily need to go out and get a Masters degree like I did, but if you feel deficient in any field and there is any course available that will allow you to gain some new skills, take advantage of it. Even if I had only taken that first introductory course in grad school, I feel like I would have gotten ahead more than if I didn’t take that class. I knew when I was first unemployed that I had a lot to catch up with when it came to technology, so I took advantage of my state’s re-employment program that allowed workers to enhance their skills. It paid for the first three courses of my graduate certificate that eventually was transferred into my degree. But there are lots of great courses too, at local community colleges, continuing education programs, and oh yeah–online! Learning more always gives you more to provide a prospective employer.
If you are looking for a technical communications position specifically, there are several accredited schools who offer online programs for certificates, undergraduate degrees, and graduate degrees. Look at the ID/TC Education Resources in the menu bar above for some suggestions. Being a product of one of these online degree programs, I do recommend NJIT’s MSPTC program, as it did help me get to where I am and prepared me for this.
Or, educate yourself, and teach yourself a new skill. Take advantage of trial offers to use software you haven’t used before, but see what is prevalent in the field. For me, it was Adobe’s Technical Communications Suite. (As a technical communicator, you can try it out too if you click on the ad on the right column at the top!)
4) Get involved in social media. While I had always been someone keeping up with friends and family through social media, I also made a conscious decision during my job search to use social media to gain an advantage in the workforce. How? If I could keep up with trends going on in the field, then I could speak more competently about changes going on in the field than if I just stayed stagnant where I left off. In the past year, I’ve learned so much about technical communications and e-learning/m-learning issues that were never discussed in the classroom. Also, don’t be afraid to start a blog like this one. It allows others to understand how your mind thinks as well as what is important to you. It’s a great addition to the e-portfolio. It can also be a resource in finding positions as well, as many employers and groups are posting job vacancies through social media channels now.
5) Get a part-time job in the meantime. While I was trying to find that great full-time job, I actually held two short-term part-time jobs. One was as an assistant webmaster to a local academic publisher, and the other was teaching a virtual course in technical and business writing to a corporate office in Asia. While they weren’t exactly traditional tech comm jobs per se, they both helped me keep some of my skills fresh, and let me look at other industries beyond those I already had experienced.
6) Network with other tech comm professionals. You always hear how one should network, and it’s true. Just so you know, networking does NOT come naturally to me at all–not even close. In fact, I really don’t like networking, but I forced myself to do it, and I’m glad I did. I signed up with the STC while still a student, and attended one or two events that were local to me, and I was able to make some valuable connections. Similarly, networking is an extension of social media. While I did use social media to educate myself on the latest topics of the field, I also used it to get to know other tech comm professionals. When I went to Adobe Day at Lavacon a couple months ago, it allowed me to instantly connect with more people because I had gotten to know them online, and for that, I’m grateful. I’ve also kept in contact with my professors and several classmates through social media, and that’s helped with networking as well. While it wasn’t the case for this particular job, my last full-time job came about from networking with a classmate who helped get my resume in front of the right person at her office. Even the teaching job was found because one of my professors posted it on LinkedIn. You never know what connections you can make that will either lead to a job, or provide you with an excellent support system to help get you through.
7) Create a functional resume instead of a chronological one. I had a recruiter tell me that a chronological resume that I was submitting wasn’t telling him anything about my abilities, especially since my career was going in a zig-zag direction between jobs. On top of that, my last two jobs, which were part-time, didn’t really say much about my ability as a technical communicator necessarily. He suggested that I create a functional resume rather than a chronological resume to send out to his clients. I balked at first (which I often do when I think I already have something good), but I did it anyway, and I’m glad I did. This is part of what the recent interviewers liked most. I was able to lay out what skills I had in both a broad sense, and then with specific examples of what I did with those skills. The places where I did them and when I did them didn’t matter as much as me being able to do them. My actual skills were able to shine more than where I was last. I still have a chronological resume for those that insist on that type, but more often, I would sent the functional one instead, and I got a better response for jobs that were more in line with what I was looking for as a result.
I’m sure there are plenty of other factors that contributed to me landing this position, but I think these seven items were key for me, and they can easily apply to someone else.
In the end, it boils down to making an effort to put yourself out there, not only with resumes on various job engine websites, but also making something of yourself that can make you stand out a little more, thus providing you with that slight edge over someone else that can land you the position. If you don’t put yourself out there, then no one will ever know who you are or what you are capable of, and that’s self-defeating. Even after taking a year to get a job, I would still pursue all of these steps to seek a job, as I know they are steps that do give me an edge above the rest.
If you are job searching for a technical communications or instructional design position, try some of these if you haven’t already, and good luck!