Why are companies now requiring techical writer candidates to be SMEs?

Subject: Why are companies now requiring techical writer candidates to be SMEs?
From: "Chuck Martin" <twriter -at- sonic -dot- net>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Sun, 20 Apr 2003 00:05:39 -0700


I am seeing what appears to be a current trend, at least here in Silicon
Valley, and it bothers me on a number of levels, not the least of which
because it shuts the door on many opportunities. While I haven't done
extensive, rigorous research on this, it is still my ever-stronger
impression.

It seems that many job postings for technical writers are listing as job
requirements (not desired skills) that the candidate be an SME in that
company's particular application. Or at least an SME in the specific field
in which that company's application competes. For example:
http://www.craigslist.org/sfo/pen/wri/10449773.html.

For those who don't want to follow the link, the first sentence of the ad
reads they want an " individual with demonstrated experience in creating
documentation for voice self-service applications and visual configuration
software," and in the job requirements, a "Mandatory" bullet item is " Voice
self-service application documentation (1 year)."

(For those not in the area, craigslist is probably a better source of
high-tech (and other) job listings posted directly from companies than any
other online source in the Bay Area.)

This isn't the first ad I've seen in recent months with job requirements as
specific as these. There are 2 primary things that bother me about this
trend:

- It limits my opportunities to companies that create software or hardware
similar to what I've documented before.
- Other fields do not seem to have similar requirements.

Job posts I've seen for various types of programmers, QA folk, and so on,
seem to simply require industry-specific knowledge, such as specific
programming knowledge, certain platform knowledge, and so on. What I fail to
understand is: why the difference in treatment?

Rather that bleat on how unfair it all seems (and allow certain list
denizens to seize on that and have a field day), I'm looking for strategies
to compete with limits such as these. In the example I cited above, I know
I'd be an excellent match, skills-wise and tools-wise, but I've never
documented voice self-service applications.

For example, what would hiring managers who posted a job such as the one
above think of a cover letter asserting that subject matter expertise in the
particular product or product type may in fact be detrimental to developing
better and more useful documentation? That a certain unfamiliarity of a
product will actually elicit areas in which the resulting documentation
needs to focus (and also provide information for future improvements in
product design)? It seems awfully presumptuous to make such assertions, yet
this has been my experience many times over.

I am sure there is more to this dynamic, more that could be brought into
further discussion, but I'll leave this at this point and look to continue
later. I'm interested to see if others have observed the same issue, and
looking for ways to overcome this particular hurdle.

--
--
"I don't entirely understand it but it is true: Highly skilled carpenters
don't get insulted when told they are not architects, but highly skilled
programmers do get insulted when told they are not UI designers."
- anonymous programmer quoted in "GUI Bloopers"

Chuck Martin
User Assistance & Experience Engineer
twriter "at" sonic "dot" net www.writeforyou.com



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