Re: Certification -- what's in it for writers

Subject: Re: Certification -- what's in it for writers
From: Jerry Franklin <jerryfranklin -at- alumni -dot- northwestern -dot- edu>
To: Kari Gulbrandsen <kkgulbrandsen -at- gmail -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 28 Oct 2011 21:20:06 -0700

I love this robust discussion.

No toes to be stepped on, nor offense taken -- we're all in this together,
one way or another.

Funny -- I'm 53, also, but I intend to jump through those certification
hoops. And my wife was in her mid-50s when she jumped through hers (and,
take my word for it, the STC's young certification program is a two-minute
survey compared to what public education makes you go through). And in any
case, don't CPAs and MDs and LLDs and what-have-yous have to undergo
continuing professional education to remain certified/licensed/etc.?

Of course there's no guarantee there's an upside to certification. In fact,
I think the likelihood it will make a tangible difference in the job
interview process is small. But I simply cannot see any downside. I just
can't help but think that those of us who are saying it doesn't count are
simply over-estimating the knowledge, experience, and spare time of the
average hiring manager. I'm sorry -- it's totally irrelevant whether
certification *should* matter -- it just does matter. It's totally
irrelevant that certification is not an accurate measure of our current or
future worth. It's a checkbox, it's a concept, it's an indicator of
commitment (not of ability) and it has merit on its face, even if underneath
the hood it is 100% meaningless. That's really what I'm trying to convey.
Sure, some -- perhaps many -- hiring managers understand this. But do you
really think all, or even most, of them do?

Of course it's no substitute for years of experience and demonstrated
success (if in my earlier missive I implied that I think most hiring
managers would value certification that highly, then I was unclear and in
error). No sane hiring manager would prefer a certified writer with two
years of experience over an uncertified one with 10 years of experience.
But not every hiring manager is sane (seriously). Further, I've been on
both sides of the interview table. It's not unusual for two (or three)
candidates to be close, and frankly their experience is usually not the
deciding factor -- usually it's a cultural decision, or even a gut
decision. And those of you who've never been hiring managers would be
amazed at how many candidates fail to demonstrate a long-term commitment to,
or passion for, their craft. They have the credits and the experience and
the skills -- they can do the job just fine. But I don't want someone who
can do the job just fine. I want someone who'll add value I can't foresee,
who'll keep up with technology, who's committed not just to quality work but
to growth. Certification is simply one more indicator that that's who you
are -- not that you *can* do it, but that you'll *want* to do it -- so much
so that you'll spend your own resources to do it.

Again, it's not what certification is -- it's what it represents. It has
nothing to do with actual skills or abilities or experience. Zero.

There. On my soapbox again, and I thought I'd put it away.



On Fri, Oct 28, 2011 at 5:22 PM, Kari Gulbrandsen
<kkgulbrandsen -at- gmail -dot- com>wrote:

> Hi all,
> Back when I was first on this list maybe 10 years ago, people were arguing
> about certification. And now that I'm back, I find that you all still are.
> What goes around comes around, or comes full circle, or some such. <grin>
> I am dead set against certification. At age 53, I have gone though all the
> hoops that I want to go through to get a job. And by that, I mean running
> around trying to get something to prove my worth to people who don't really
> know what it is that I do or can do for them. I haven't been tech writing in
> years, and I recently just got back into it. I am working for a small
> company -- their recruiter contacted me (he saw my resume on Monster), I
> sent him writing samples, he distributed them among the team that I would be
> working with, the team followed that up with a phone interview, and that was
> followed by a face-to-face interview. I got the job.
> My company had no tech writers in the interview process -- they told me
> that it was a new position for them. Now that I have been there for a month,
> I find that odd, because they do have tech writers (just not in the office I
> was in). They didn't even have the tech writer (who is also PMI certified)
> give questions for my team to ask me. Odd. Anyway, I though it was a normal
> enough interview -- nothing too off the wall where I was like ehh?. I was
> interviewed by the team leader, a tech editor, and the project manager also
> popped his head in. They looked at my writing samples (which were not tech
> writing, they were feature articles, but they liked them), they wanted to
> know whether I would understand technical complex information (so they loved
> that I have a master's in engineering), they wanted to know how I would
> approach a project, they wanted to know how I would address my audience, and
> deal with differences in my audience, and so on.
> I thought they were good questions, but they really didn't know if I could
> write or not on the basis of my answers. And I guess my point is is that
> even with certification, they still wouldn't have known, because two weeks
> after I started, my position in the group that I was with was eliminated.
> They transferred me to another project (the CMMI nightmare that I am
> currently dealing with). I have no experience in this kind of documentation,
> and it is throwing me for a loop. Does that mean that I am not a tech
> writer? No, it doesn't. It means that I didn't have experience with this
> kind of material. I had enough other experience and enough other qualities
> that they liked that they took a chance with me.
> I think that our field is so varied -- what we do and what is being asked
> of us, that I don't see how certification can cover it. If your future
> employer can't trust your education, your references, your experience, your
> samples, your background check, and everything else you need to do to get a
> job these days, why are they going to trust a certificate? And why should a
> certificate be the end all to getting a job?
> I dunno if I'm being very clear -- it's been a long week, and I'm still not
> home. Maybe if 10 years from now, and certification is the norm for our
> field, I'll rethink it. I just don't want one more obstacle being placed in
> my way to get a job. One more hurdle that I have to cross, or one place
> where I have to prove that I know what I am doing to do what it is that I
> do. By the way, I do have a certificate in tech writing -- but I gather from
> the discussion, that because it's from a university, it's not a valid
> measure of my ability, because it's not a "real-world" certificate. If I'm
> wrong about that perception, I apologize.
> As for being passionate about my craft -- I think that came through loud
> and clear in my interview. If you aren't able to get that message across
> then you might need to rethink your interview style. There are a lot of ways
> to a job -- I guess you need to explore all the options that feel right for
> you.
> I've also worked with a lot of engineers, and they have always been
> grateful for my red pen. It really surprises me when I hear some of your
> horror stories. Their attitude has always been that I am there to make them
> look and sound good, and they look at me as the expert and give me pretty
> much free rein to do what I want. In fact, I get nervous because I sometimes
> think that they let me change *too* much, and they're not going to check my
> revisions to make sure I didn't misinterpret anything.
> Hope I didn't step on any toes ... I certainly didn't mean to.
> Happy Friday all!
> Kari.
> On Fri, Oct 28, 2011 at 1:15 PM, Jerry Franklin <
> jerryfranklin -at- alumni -dot- northwestern -dot- edu> wrote:
>> Greetings, all.
>> <reply snipped> I'm absolutely going to get at least one certification.
>> It's not going to
>> make me a better tech writer, though I do expect to pick up a few good
>> tips. And it's not going to represent in any way how successful I am in
>> my
>> job now, or how successful I can be at another job. And it's not going to
>> get me a raise (or, at least, I don't expect it to). But the next time
>> I'm
>> in the job market, you bet it's going on my resume, because, while it may
>> not be the deciding factor, it will help the hiring manager justify her
>> decision to *her* manager. Do not underestimate how much this is worth.
>> Regards,
>> Jerry
> --
> Kari Kristine Gulbrandsen
> Reflective Editing | Enlightening Sciences

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Certification -- what's in it for writers: From: Jerry Franklin
Re: Certification -- what's in it for writers: From: Kari Gulbrandsen

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