Is TW still hospitable to novices?

Subject: Is TW still hospitable to novices?
From: "Hart, Geoff" <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 29 Jan 2001 10:01:48 -0500

Peter Shea (USF) reports <<A friend of mine, having heard & read many
testimonials about people like himself (computer literate with liberal arts
background) breaking into tech writing, was inspired to take a run at
becoming a T-Writer... But whenever he applied for a job, the HR people
would ask if he had "worked on a network" or spent at least two years
working for another company... Inevitably, he grew discouraged and wondered
if the inspiring stories he had heard about people falling sideways in the
TW field from other professions were exaggerated...>>

Here's one data point: I had exactly your friend's experience, and still
ended up working as a techwhirler. One day, when I noticed that IBM
(Toronto) was hiring a batch of engineers, I sent along a resume, complete
with the cover letter "if you're producing stuff, you must need someone to
document it, so here's why you want to hire me." Picked up my mail about a
week later, and found a polite "we'll keep you on file for 6 months" letter
from their HR department; loosely translated, that means "don't call us--we
surely won't call you". No sooner had I finished filing this in my rejection
letters file, then the phone rang. Apparently, HR hadn't filed my letter
after all, and had circulated it internally minus the cover letter. One
manager who looked at my resume wondered, in a friendly manner, (paraphrase)
just what I thought I was doing wasting their time when I obviously had no
techwhirling experience. I explained to him just what I thought I was doing
wasting his time, had an interview with him an hour later, and a job the
next day. True story, right down to closing the filing cabinet door and
rushing to pick up the phone.

The moral of this story? HR departments have a terrible reputation for
understanding who managers really need to hire, often because the managers
themselves don't understand the name of the game. That being the case, you
need to work with the managers themselves, not the HR people; if you can't
get access to the managers, try networking with the writers they supervise,
and getting the writers to put you in touch with the manager. Once a manager
knows you can do the job, they can often (but by no means "always") work
with or around HR to get you hired; sometimes, proposing a short-term
contract gets you in the door, and once you've proven yourself, you can stay
on permanently. And if not, then you've at least got a line on your resume.
Add a few more lines and you've got enough experience to get and stay hired.

--Geoff Hart, FERIC, Pointe-Claire, Quebec
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
"User's advocate" online monthly at

"I vowed [that] if I complained about things more than three times, I had to
do something about it."--Jon Shear

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