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It’s easy being a consultant? Think again!

Even Sherlock Holmes has a hard time as a consultant in his field. (image from tomandbensbitch.tumblr.com)
Even Sherlock Holmes has a hard time as a consultant in his field. (image from tomandbensbitch.tumblr.com)

I was recently reminded of how challenging it can actually be to be a consultant in this world. As a result, it was suggested to me (thanks, Marc Gravez!) that perhaps it would be a good idea to write and share what it really means to be a consultant.

We need to start with the general perception of what a consultant is. Most people think that consultants are mega-experts in their field that focus only on specific skills. Consultants advise others on how to do certain tasks, and only stay for a short amount of time at a job. Consultants are paid the big bucks, and are independent workers, so they don’t need benefits because they can buy their own–they are independent entrepreneurs of sorts. These individuals want to be consultants, and aren’t looking for permanent work. Because they are at a project for a short amount of time, they do not make any personal connections with clients, and don’t need to be integrated into the company team working on a project. Likewise, when it comes to team or company activities, they don’t care about being included, because their own company does things with them outside of the company.

While I can understand why people would think this way, over many years, I’ve discovered that very rarely are these perceptions are true. In fact, this view is a little bit skewed, and this became very clear once I became consultant myself.

To clarify, there are some independent consultants who are mini-entrepreneurs who do like working on short-term projects, moving around, and making a good salary in the process. However, in my experience, there aren’t many of those out there necessarily, or only a few of those factors are in play.  I would venture to guess that many–if not most– consultants are not voluntarily consultants.  For example, I’ve been looking for a full-time position for about 8 years now, and have yet to find one.  I take consulting jobs to keep my income going, because even temporary work pays more than unemployment or unemployment benefits. I’ve met many people like myself who are in the same situation.

From what I’ve discovered, a “consultant” is a fancy term for a temporary worker with more than administrative assistant level skills (which justifies the higher than admin assistant level salaries).  With the economy as it is, many companies are afraid to hire skilled workers full-time because they are more expensive to hold onto long-term due to benefits, insurance, etc.  I understand that. Very often, that’s what companies think that they need.  However, the disruption of getting temporary workers changing every few months to every few years is not helpful to a company who is looking for consistency. As I said, some people like to be able to change jobs every few months or every other year, but most would prefer to have some employment stability–or at least as much as a regular employee would have. The longest assignment I’ve had to date, since entering the tech comm field, is two and a half years–which is fairly long. The longest assignment I’ve heard of is three years, unless some consultant works more as a vendor than a consultant. Sometimes consultants are converted into full-time employees, but those instances are very rare. There have been SO many times when I was hoping for such a conversion for myself, and it didn’t materialize to my frustration, even when I was told that I was a valuable member of the team and my manager was pleased with my output. I had one “client” even tell me that they just had to hand a project over, and then “let go of the reins”–they didn’t have to worry about me messing anything up, and they knew the project was in good hands. How do you not hire someone like that after more than 2 years? It’s not just me, but many aren’t.

It’s also thought that they are super specialized–and some are. But I’m willing to bet there are a lot of consultants out there that are like me, that have multiple talents and skills waiting to be used. I do content strategist and management tasks mostly, but I can also write and edit, do intermediate level graphics work, interact and write on social media and blog, help build e-learning modules– there’s more than one facet to me.  Often, consultants are not allowed to grow and develop their skills as much because they are limited to the task they are hired for, and their client isn’t about to help with professional development. Professional development becomes the responsibility of the consultant if they want to keep up with their field, and be able to either keep the assignment they have, or be able to find something else in the future. The cost of that professional development comes out of the consultant’s pocket, and it’s not cheap by any means. This is not only detrimental for the consultant, but it can also be detrimental for a company, because if they have a long-term consultant, they aren’t investing much in helping their company grow, just in the same way that they claim that investing in professional development for employees helps their employees grow, thus the company grows. It’s a double-edged sword. Even a discounted investment, if not full investment, in a consultant’s professional development, would be helpful for all parties involved.

Consultants are thought to be well paid. And generally, they are. But, as far as being super rich as a result? HA! Consulting can be lucrative if you are representing yourself and you are not working from an agency. Agencies try to get you a fair hourly pay rate, but because they are the “middle man”, they get a huge cut of what the company/client is paying. So, if you got all the funds from the company directly, then yes, you’d be making big money! But as it is, you hope for a fair rate. The only advantage of working through an agency, as I see it, is that they will figure out how much taxes and fees to take out of your paycheck. You are actually an employee of the agency, not the client/company you are working at. If you are an independent consultant without an agency, sure, the extra money that would be the agency fee would be yours, but then you’d be needing to ensure that YOU are taking out the taxes from your incoming paychecks. Additionally, while some agencies offer some benefits, they are often overpriced benefits that aren’t worth the money. I get my medical benefits through my husband’s job, because I’ve yet to have an agency offer a package that would benefit me (or my family) at a reasonable cost. Additionally, independent consultants have to pay for the benefits 100% out of their own pockets, and at least with American medical insurance, that’s a huge sum of money. So in the end, they don’t make as much as an employee does, or probably makes less or the same as an employee does, with less benefits. Additionally, consultants aren’t paid a salary, but rather an hourly rate. No paid sick leave or paid vacations. You don’t work–you don’t get paid. That’s less money right there, alone.

Lastly, consultants are PEOPLE, not robots. We like to interact with other people, and we often enjoy being part of a team. Most of the time, we are treated the same as employees in the workplace when it comes to our daily responsibilities and output, with the same expectations. But when it comes time for rewards, recognition, and simple company inclusion, consultants are left out in the cold. We are the “red-headed stepchildren” of the workforce. We aren’t allowed to participate in the company picnic, get any praise for a job or project that’s done well, or get the bonus or “holiday gift” at the end of the year for all our hard work unless our personal manager decides to give a holiday token gift as a small thank you. I understand that companies can’t pay for everyone because some consultants would start to say they deserve all the rights and privileges of being an employee–even try to pass themselves off as employees– when they are not, but some companies are outright draconian with it. And often, this grand divide between employees and consultants is further widened because consultants are left in the cold.

For example, a company I know gave their employees both a bonus AND and expensive wearable device as an employee gift.  Some of the employees complained that they didn’t want it because it wasn’t compatible with their Android phone (okay, valid point), but they whined about it in front of the consultants. What did the consultants get? Nothing. Just an earful of complaints about the gift from the employees. My experience is that consultants do know their place and function in the company. Consultants are usually happy to get whatever they can, because they’re just happy that they are EMPLOYED AT ALL! There was another occasion where I had worked on a very large team project, and everyone on the team except me got an extra bonus and reward because of the company’s reward and recognition program. It was the first time I had actually been recognized for my work, and I couldn’t even benefit from it because I was a consultant. (I admit, I cried about it, because it was the first time in my entire career I had been recognized for my work in any way, and here I was left out again only because I was a consultant and not an employee.) I was fortunate that the client wanted to do something about that so I wouldn’t feel left out, and they were kind enough to make sure that the agency forwarded a token “bonus” of sorts to me. It was an exception, but it meant so much to me because I worked so hard on that project–as much as any employee if not more than some of those employees, and I had never been recognized for my professional work before. It was a kind gesture, but ultimately, it still wasn’t the same as being an employee.  Being a consultant often means being left out in the cold, the persona non gratis, at the workplace, and it can be a lonely, un-fulfilling feeling.

Being a consultant is not glamourous or Ab Fab.
Being a consultant is not glamorous or Ab Fab.

Being a consultant is not all that glamorous. We work as hard–sometimes harder–than your average employee so that we can try to keep up or move ahead. Some consultants can turn their independence into a thriving business–they are the lucky ones. Most of us are merely those who struggle to find some stability and security in their career, working for agencies, taking what assignments we can get so that we still use the skills that we have and pay our bills.  We are team players, and we can fill in gaps as needed, but even when we are the star players, we are treated like bench warmers. Sure, life isn’t fair, but in that respect, consultants need to be treated with more respect in the workplace as a result. They are doing jobs that perhaps no one else can do–or wants to do, and they are trying to do their best to help your company pull ahead, and they don’t get to reap any of the benefits of doing so, other than knowing they do a good job.

So, support your local consultants. They often contribute to your company as much as any employee does. They invest themselves into what’s best for your company as much as any employee. Like I said, most would love a full-time job, but there are few to be had. They are resourceful people who keep going on many short-term positions with no guarantee of a next assignment right away.  I wouldn’t mind being a full-time independent consultant either, but again, figuring out where each next assignment is going to come from is not a guarantee, either.  It’s time that consultants are given more credit and compassion than they get now.

If you are a consultant, do you agree with my assessment? Do you like being a consultant, or would you prefer more stable employment? Do you have anything to add to the discussion? Add your comments below. I would like to hear about other people’s experiences and perspectives.

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2015 will be a year of ch-ch-ch-changes.

David Bowie is trying to assure me that everything will be okay.  "Oh baby, just you shut your mouth."
David Bowie is trying to assure me that everything will be okay.
“Oh baby, just you shut your mouth.”

2014 has been a whirlwind of a year, so much so that I’ll be reviewing that in another post soon. But much of what’s been on my mind lately is how I want 2015 to be a significant year of change. I keep hearing David Bowie singing his song, “Changes” in my sub-conscious much of the time these days, as I try to make some sense of what kind of changes I want to make.

But recently, some of these decisions have been made for me. I was told within the last two weeks that my contract has not been extended by a year, but only by four months. When I had discussions with my managers about the upcoming year’s workload months ago, I was assured that there was plenty to do, and no worries. They suddenly were changing their tune, because of instructions from higher up from them that the direction of content needs were going to be changing, so there might not be as much work and maintenance down the line. When they first said they couldn’t commit to a year, I thought, “Well, if it’s six months, that would be okay. I would get off in time for summer break when my son has off from school, and then I can find something in the fall.” When they said that they could only commit to about three months, I was shocked. It really sent a ripple through me that I’m still recovering from. They assured me that it was not a reflection of my work, but quite the contrary. I had proven my value and commitment to my job throughly this past year. With my contribution to their new external website, they told me that had I been an employee, I would have been recommended for company recognition, but since I’m a contractor…well…

It’s hard to hear the “It’s not you, it’s me” line from employers after so many times of hearing it. I’ve always worked hard and proven my worth as an asset to the company, and yet something like this always happens. I see other people go from contractor or temporary worker to employee–why not me? I’ve been told time after time to not take it personally and that it’s not a reflection of my work, but after a while, you can’t help but not completely believe that, and wonder what’s wrong with yourself that you can’t fix to make yourself someone they will fight not to let go. I know that employees don’t have much security anymore either, some say, but having been through the process more times than I’d like, I can tell you that employees have a little bit more security, because a)they let the contractors go first and b) there is usually some sort of severance pay involved, including unused vacation time. Even if it’s not much severance pay, you get something. Not with contractors. It’s usually short notice that your contract is ending when you thought you might be renewed due to the workload, and barely a word of thanks. Trust me, like I said, I’ve been through this several times before.

I’m pretty sure that this is hurting more than other times when this has happened because I really liked this job. I like the company. I like the people I work with. I like the set-up of working from home most of the time. I liked the work, and finally had a chance to have more freedom in how I did things–I could call my own shots more often than I had in any other job, and my voice was heard, making this very valuable to me. I also had the opportunity to learn how to use new tools to add to my personal toolbox of skills. Why would I want to leave that?

So, for now, I know I just have a few more months left on my contract, and I need to try to figure out what my next step will be. What kind of job should I get next? I have a little more experience now, but it doesn’t feel like much when looking at job listings. Do I settle for another contracting job, or look only for permanent employment? The other idea that’s been floating in my mind is becoming an independent contractor, as in setting up my own little tech comm consultancy. The job I have now might not completely end, but might slow down to a crawl. I’m still one of their uber-users for thier custom CMS, so I can keep them on part-time if they’ll have me. Part-time work is better than no work, and usually pays better than unemployment, after all. But perhaps I could find some other clients and start doing work, and get my own business running. The trick is figuring out where to find those clients! I wouldn’t know where to begin doing that. The rest of the business set-up doesn’t concern me, like setting up an LLC or stuff like that. It’s finding the work. I’m thinking of getting the LLC set up, even if I don’t use it right away. But where do I go from here? Continue in content strategy? Revisit looking at instructional design work? (I’m thinking “no” on that for now.) Look at social media strategy work? Find a job being a professional blogger? Or should I take a technical writing job? I feel like I’m swimming in confusion.

Originally, when I was setting out to write this blog post, it was going to be about how I felt I needed to make some changes in how I expanded my knowledge, more specifically in what conferences I was going to attend this year. I wasn’t accepted as a presenter for this year’s STC Summit, so that presents a financial issue for me, as the registration–even with the early bird special–is a lot. I would attend some others that I’ve attended before as well, like ICC or Lavacon, but again, expenses are high when they come out of your own pocket. So, I was thinking of exploring some new conferences. But with this empending unemployment situation in a few months, I’m thinking that might not be a great idea financially. It’s not that I’m against investing in myself to learn more, but I think I have to find more affordable alternatives that are more suitable to my needs right now.

Related to all of this, then, is that I have some time before my contract ends to start teaching myself some new skills that will help make me more marketable. I keep going back to my own advice that I’ve given in presentations about finding tech comm jobs which is you need to always be learning something new or brushing up on a skill to make yourself into a more attractive candidate. But for myself, I’m not sure what that would be. I know it wouldn’t hurt to learn more about SEO, even though there are those who say it’s going away. I keep hearing about Content Marketing. Well, I’ve spend many years doing customer service-related work, so I understand the principles with this, but have never done any formal marketing work other than marketing this blog. Does that count? Or would taking a Marketing 101 class be necessary to be taken seriously for a content marketing job? Or, should I start learning more about coding so that I can learn how to do API documentation? There are so many possibilities that my brain feels like it’s going to explode, and I don’t know what do to.

Add the conundrum of having difficulty finding work in my area without commuting to a major city (usually more than an hour away) or finding another remote position like my current position, and you’ve added another twist to the problem.

David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust
David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust

So, 2015 will be a year of change. Maybe it’s shaping up to be going in a direction I hadn’t expected, but there will be changes, for sure. At this writing, it absolutely terrifies me, like David Bowie’s look during his Ziggy Stardust years (not my favorite look, Dave).  I know I’ll be fine in the end. I’ve got great support at home, and I know the tech comm community is there to support and help me, too. It’s the Aspie in me that doesn’t like changes that aren’t on my terms. I like routine to a certain point, and if there’s change, it’s easier when I make the changes. When something or someone else imposes them, I freak out, perhaps looking more like Ziggy here myself as a result. I’m guessing this will be another year of reinvention. Constant reinvention has worked for Bowie, right?

(If you have any recommendations for me based on the above, or recommendations for anyone else who’s looking for work in the next year, feel free to comment below.)

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TechCommGeekMom’s 2013 Year in Review

IMG_2423
TechCommGeekMom visits Multnomah Falls during her Lavacon/Adobe Day 2013 visit to the Portland, OR area.

Okay, I’ll admit this is going to be a slightly self-indulgent (and slightly long) blog post. I read something recently that said that there shouldn’t be so much “self-promotion” in promoting your blog. This has always been a blog that not only encourages community, but it also tracks my own journey through technical communications, for better or worse. Taking the time to do the year-end review of what’s gone on in the past year is a good exercise for anyone.

At first, I thought my year wasn’t all that great, meaning that it wasn’t exciting. I hadn’t achieved some things that I wanted to do; I did not fulfill all my tech comm resolutions for the year. But as I looked through photos of the past year on my mobile devices to come up with something to put in this blog post, I realized that a LOT of good things still happened this year.

The year started off with a bang, as I was finally working full-time after a year of unemployment.  The new job ended up being a good opportunity. I get to work from home, I’m being paid well (a lot better than I ever had before), and it’s doing something that comes naturally to me–content management. I have had the chance to use my UX and web design abilities during this position, too. Things have gone well enough that my contract has been extended for another year.  I know that there’s a good chance that later in 2014, the company I’m contracted to will be switching CMS software, so it’ll be an opportunity to learn a new system and flex those content management muscles. I’m looking forward to it! It’s been a long time since I had a job that I truly enjoyed and feel appreciated for what I do. In past positions, I would offer my suggestions and advice based on what I had learned from my social media connections, graduate school courses, conferences, and personal experience, and I’d be ignored. I don’t mind if someone doesn’t take my suggestion if there’s something valid that will discount it, but using the excuse of “that’s the way we’ve always done it” or “that’s what the end user is used to, so why change it?” doesn’t cut it for me. There’s always a better way. This was the first position that actually gave me a chance to use my voice and makes some executive decisions that would benefit the end user. My manager supports my decisions 99% of the time, so that’s been a huge load off my shoulders. Stress has not been a major issue with this job, and I know I’m fortunate to have made this employment connection.

Having a job, and a good job at that, would make for a good year. But there’s been more.

2013 was the year that I started to go out on the public speaking circuit. It started with my first conference presentation at the STC-PMC Conference in March, followed by two webinars this past fall. Three presentations might not sound like a lot, but considering that I have only presented to my tech comm peers twice beforehand (my capstone presentation at grad school and an Adobe Webinar that Maxwell Hoffmann helped me with immensely in 2012), and all these presentations were STC-related, I figure that’s a pretty good feather to add to my cap.  I’ve been told that the presentations were well-received, and I have gotten some good feedback, so I consider that a big success.

I also added an additional writing credential to my repetoire.  I started writing a by-line for the STC Notebook blog that started out as a column as a newcomer for the 2013 STC Summit. That column has now turned into a regular monthly column for the STC Notebook called Villegas Views. Again, I feel like I’ve received some good feedback on my writing there, so that’s another success.

I attended three conferences this year, namely the STC-PMC Mid-Atlantic Technical Conference, the STC Summit, and Lavacon (although I was only at Lavacon for a day–hey, I still need to write about that! I’ll try to get to that soon!).  The biggest one, of course, was the Summit, which was mindblowing for me. I loved being able to travel, considering I work from home day in and day out. (I’m not complaining, but it was a welcome change of scenery.) Actually, all the conferences were wonderful and overwhelming at the same time, and that sense of feeling somewhere that I belonged was never more evident than when I attended these events. I’m SO glad I did, and that leads me to the last thing that I found to be the greatest part of this year.

While I had started to develop some professional connections in 2012 through social media and through my first visit to Adobe Day at Lavacon in 2012, both social media and these conferences enabled me to expand my professional connections exponentially. However, it became more than just professional connections.  I’ve ended up making some fantastic friends along the way.  I know most people don’t think of me as being shy or introverted, but I actually am. I’m horribly awkward socially , and I know it.  Social media helped with the introductions, for sure. A few in-person introductions have helped as well. I’ve said this before, and I’m sure I’ll say it many times again, but I have found that technical communicators to be one of the most friendly and inviting groups of people I’ve ever met. I have appreciated every person who introduced himself or herself to me in person when knowing me from my blog or a social media connection. I’ve appreciated the friendships that have developed over time from these connections. I’ve loved having some of these friendships with those who are industry leaders develop into mentorships as well. When one of those supportive mentors encourage me or tell me how proud they are of my accomplishments, I want to cry tears of joy. (Heck, I’m crying tears of joy just writing this!) For so long, I’ve felt like an outsider, so to have my professional peers look to me as an equal and show me constant support and encouragment is a huge boost that I’ve needed for years.

This blog has grown, too. The numbers aren’t done for the year yet as I write this, but I’ve added a lot more readers and had more response to TechCommGeekMom in 2013 than in 2012. I’m sure I’ll be doing more celebrating when the blog hits its second “birthday” in March, but for the calendar year, it’s been great. I know I haven’t always been able to keep up with this blog as much as I liked during this year, but I feel like the efforts that were made to grow and expand have been supported by the tech comm community.

So, thanks to all of you for reading my posts either here, on the STC Notebook, or in social media. Thank you for taking the time to talk to me and share ideas with me. Thanks for continually teaching me more about technical communication, and helping me to expand my mind and my understanding of this profession, and teaching me how I can continue to grow in this profession.

2014 is already shaping up to be an exciting year as well. I will be attending three conferences before the year is halfway done, of which I’ll be presenting at two of them, I believe. I know, for sure, that one of the conferences I’ll be presenting at is the STC Summit 2014! That’s a big deal to me. I mean, think about it–only out of grad school two years, and already presenting at the annual Summit? Not too shabby, I would think.  I’ll be continuing to write here at TechCommGeekMom, and I’ll still be writing my by-line for STC Notebook, and I’m hoping that there will be some more opportunities to do presentations either in-person or in webinars.

2013 has been quite the year for me…time will tell how 2014 will be!

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What did you do to get that Tech Comm job?

MH900431660As 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:

Employers may be aggravating the ‘skills gap’

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!

Posted in Uncategorized

Big News for TechCommGeekMom!

doctor-who-dance_o_GIFSoup_comWhy is the 11th Doctor (of Doctor Who) on the left dancing? Because I feel like dancing! “Why?” you may ask. Well, I’ll tell you.

I’m very excited to announce that…

I FINALLY GOT A JOB!

Yes, I think that’s a reason to feel like celebrating, don’t you think? I’ve been looking for a new full-time job for about a year now, and it’s taken this long to find something.  I will be working as a consultant doing web publishing work for the internal and external HR websites of the North American headquarters of a global chemical company.  Much of the position will be helping to organize their content management system, but it sounds like this assignment could blossom into something more.

I have to actually thank all the people I’ve connected to in the last nine months through social media, especially through Twitter and this blog. I’ve learned so much from all of you during this time that went beyond my recently earned Masters degree, and I have received such fantastic support in the process. Social media has given me a voice, and I’ve appreciated those who “listened” to my words. My goal in participating in social media was to not only learn, but to keep up with the issues and concerns of those in technical communications and e-learning so that I would have a better understanding of them should I find myself in the position I am now–about to embark on a new job soon. I learned so much in the process, and it lead to opportunities–especially thanks to Adobe’s Technical Communications Suite team–that I wouldn’t have ever dreamed of, and those opportunities empowered me during my interview.  I learned about structured content, the importance of proper translation and XML metrics, and the need to be able to roll out content for mobile devices just from going to the Adobe Day pre-conference event at Lavacon alone.  Articles and conversations on Twitter and Facebook furthered the cause. Even though this new position does not involve m-learning, the topic did come up twice during my interviews, and I think that my knowledge and competency of the subject actually helped boost my credibility immensely. There was not one aspect of what I’ve delved into via social media with all of you involved that didn’t come up during my interview, and that evidently gave me the edge. So many thanks to all of you in helping me grow and learn through your continual support. Oh, and just for the record, being a generalist/multi-specialist did help the cause as well. 😉

But does this mean the end of TechCommGeekMom? Heck no! First of all, this position doesn’t start for another month, so I have some time to still contribute to this blog. If anything, I am hoping that by being a more active participant in the technical communications field, I will be able to write more as time goes on. I might not write as often from time to time, but I think more information will come through as I continue on my path to learn more through this new, upcoming experience.

I hope you share my excitement and will celebrate with me.  It’s been a long road to get here, but it looks like I’m finally on the road going in the right direction. 🙂