Re: Anyone tried this in tech writing?

Subject: Re: Anyone tried this in tech writing?
From: Tony Chung <tonyc -at- tonychung -dot- ca>
To: techwr-l <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 22 Apr 2014 15:54:15 -0700

I think we all have our heads in the wrong place by focusing on the
specific examples of the "Pain Letter" article, rather than the global
concept of how technical communicators are problem solvers. The most
important difference between writing for fun and writing as a profession is
that the professional tailors their work to meet their audience's needs. In
no way does this suggest that we lack technical understanding equivalent to
a SME, nor does it reduce the need to have that level of technical
understanding.

Because of this audience focus, I would even argue that a good technical
writer does one better than the SME. Where the SME wants to be known as the
expert, the technical writer wants to make more experts by converting the
SME's concepts into digestible chunks that others can understand.

The article discussed taking a different slant on our our job hunt from a
blanket, "Please hire meâwhy won't you hire me?!" Focus on the company's
concerns and needs, and then speak to them from a point of coming alongside
as a solution provider. Sure, you weed out the companies who want to fill
seats from those who want to grow good people. But you probably would have
found that information out in the initial research stage anyway.

Of course, the final compensation must outweigh the expended effort.
Steven's example of going through all the work of creating a 14-page
novella, only to be refused an intermediate level job, goes to show that
maybe there's a middle ground we need to explore.

The key takeaways for me from the article itself:

1) Do your homework on the company to get the name of the actual person who
will have the power to hire you. Don't just address your submission to
"Hiring Manager." Companies don't hire people: People do. Use the person's
name, for crying out loud. If they don't like their name used, then you
probably won't have a good relationship with them if you got the job anyway.

2) Speculate and anticipate company's needs based on your research.
Understanding the company's product line better then the one who would be
your boss only works against you if the boss is threatened by your
initiative. And if the boss is threatened during the hiring process, you
can bet it would be a bowl of pickles working under that person for any
length of time.

3) Write about how you can solve their problems. Don't just cite how
awesomely incredible you are. They don't care. So you started a company
three years ago that you sold to Facebook for $1B. Why are you applying for
a job here? One of the best questions I have ever been asked in interviews
is, "Why do you want to work HERE?" I read that as, of all the myriad
companies who desire my experience, qualifications,and insight, why did I
choose this company? What do they do that excites me? And likewise, if the
answer is, "Nothing," then why are you bothering to apply?

For goodness sake, even if you need the money, find something to like that
really turns your crank. Life's too short to work at jobs with zero
redeeming value.

4) I agree with the point "Don't mention the job ad," but I believe that
it's important to include the information from the ad that pertains to how
you match the successful candidate profiled in the ad. In HR speak, this is
called "Past performance is a good predictor of future performance."
There's an old story of a business owner who had three slaves. When
reviewing the work of two slaves, each of whom doubled his investment, he
offered, "You have shown yourself faithful with little; you shall be given
more responsibility." The name of the game is transferable skills. I
believe that a competent person is capable of learning to excel at any work
thrown their way, purely because they are of that ilk.

How many of you have walked into a job where you knew everything that had
to be done, and encountered no snags that you had to work around? Any hands
raised? Didn't think so.


I do have to say that the article itself is primarily filler writing. The
author Liz Ryan tries to be so inclusive that her examples are full of
unrealistic hyperbole that would not be effective in the real world. Her
article would be better received had she taken the time to dissect and
obfuscate an actual job posting, sample of company research, and craft a
well-written cover letter that highlighted problem solving rather than
sales. However, she got paid her $X/word for the post, and I just shared
close to 800 for free.

Anyway, I'll be using these tips when it comes time to look for another
job, or wrangle my way into a promotion. I have more luck with a T-Letter,
though.

Cheers,
-Tony
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Follow-Ups:

References:
Re: Anyone tried this in tech writing?: From: Lois Patterson
Re: Anyone tried this in tech writing?: From: Peter Neilson
Re: Anyone tried this in tech writing?: From: Gene Kim-Eng
Re: Anyone tried this in tech writing?: From: Lois Patterson

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