You get what you pay for, yet you want quality. Try again.

Audrey Hepburn questions someone's motives.

Even Audrey Hepburn questions this.

One of the things that I try to do as I build up my business is get an idea of what kinds of positions are available out there for someone with my skill set. I scour through Glassdoor, Indeed, and Startwire adverts to see what people need, and then see if I qualify. One thing that I find most valuable is when the employers or recruiters post what the yearly or hourly salary is.

Let me start out by saying one of the patterns I’m seeing is something I have mentioned before. Employers are looking for “unicorns”–people with an impossible or impractical collection of skills. But I’m finding that the same job listings are posted over and over and over, with a duration of months of these jobs being unfilled. Now, there are some occasions that the companies who have posted these jobs have forgotten to pull them down once they’ve been filled, but I’ve had occasions where I’m called up by recruiters or see the same positions posted month after month, and nothing new is posted. That tells me a few things. First, their search for a “unicorn” is going badly because they can’t find this unique individual. Second, I have found that even if I have applied to these position because I fulfill most of those requirements–but not all–they still dig their heels in and want the “unicorn” instead of seeing individuals with good foundations as potential investments with a little training. Third, many employers are unwilling to yield to telecommuting workers. Many technical communication jobs lend themselves easily to remote work, and if these employers are not willing to yield to that, they are going to continue to have employee shortages.

But today, I realized another big thing that employers are not realizing. It’s often said that with almost any kind of content work, clients are looking for quality, speed, and low costs to do it. You can’t do all three, and something has to give. The problem is, most employers–understandably–are looking at low costs and concentrating on that. As a result, they are pricing themselves out of finding quality workers, and quality work. For example, today I saw a job advert for a Web Content Coordinator. They were offering $14-16/hour for this full-time job. I could make more money as an unskilled clerical worker than doing this skilled job. That’s an insult to anyone who is applying for this job! Other jobs I’ve looked at, whether they are showing hourly or yearly salaries, are WAY underpriced for the skills they are asking for. Are they trying to get the younger generation to apply? It’s hard for a 23 year old to have 10 years of experience doing a certain skill, after all.

Technical communicators are skilled workers. Many of us have gained our specialized knowledge through many years of experience, certification, or schooling. We’ve worked hard to not become just any technical writer or content specialist. We shouldn’t be undervalued for what we do. When I’ve talked to recruiters and they offer a certain hourly wage, I’ll often tell them that it’s too low for the skills that are being asked for. I will tell you that just about every time I’ve said this, they will often agree, but they have to work within the confines of what their client is willing to offer, and what amount of the cut they are willing to sacrifice. Even for permanent positions, companies are offering tens of thousands of dollars significantly under what would be appropriate. They are offering entry-level wages for jobs requiring ten or more years of experience. Seriously?

I know that it’s hard finding work in a lot of areas because of these employer inflexibilities. Most companies don’t want to pay a premium. But here’s the thing–they are getting what they pay for. If they pay lousy wages, they are probably getting lousy work because that worker doesn’t understand the value of content. If you understand the value of content, then you need to know that like any other product or service, a premium product earns the right to cost more. As a profession, we should not sell ourselves short. We are told that the need for technical writers is increasing, and there’s probably a shortage. Simple economics prove that supply and demand are at play here–if the demand is high, but the supply is low, employers have to give those who are qualified some sort of incentive to work for them. We don’t need the free lunches or the fooz ball table for breaks. We just want the ability to earn a fair wage, and if employed full-time by a company, to get all the normal perks everyone else gets.

It all starts with paying a normal wage for what you should be earning. As a skilled technical communicator, you should not be making clerical hourly wages, even if you are an independent consultant or a contract worker. That’s insulting. Companies need to get on the ball, and pay fair wages for our skills, and not start cheating us now. Content is more important than ever, and with our knowledge of how content and UX works together, that helps to provide companies with the ammunition to gain and retain their customers. We are valuable, and they should remember that.

If you are looking for a quality, customer-centric technical communicator, contact me through my consulting website, Dair Communications.

Do you agree with my assessment? Include your comments below.

About TechCommGeekMom

Danielle M. Villegas is a technical communicator who has recently started her own technical communications consultancy, Dair Communications. She has worked at the International Refugee Committee, MetLife, Novo Nordisk, and BASF North America, with a background in content strategy, web content management, social media, project management, e-learning, and client services. Danielle is best known in the technical communications world for her blog, TechCommGeekMom.com, which has continued to flourish since it was launched during her graduate studies at NJIT in 2012. She has presented webinars and seminars for Adobe, the Society for Technical Communication (STC), the IEEE ProComm, TCUK (ISTC) and at Drexel University’s eLearning Conference. She has written articles for the STC Intercom, STC Notebook, the Content Rules blog, and The Content Wrangler as well. You can learn more about Danielle on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/daniellemvillegas, on Twitter @techcommgeekmom, or through her blog.
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