Re: Job Futures for Tech Writing

Subject: Re: Job Futures for Tech Writing
From: Rose Wilcox <RWILC -at- FAST -dot- DOT -dot- STATE -dot- AZ -dot- US>
Date: Thu, 1 Dec 1994 16:58:00 PST

RoMay Sitze wrote:

> I would be interested--and perhaps others would also
>be--in learning more about the experiences of those who are involved in
>contract work.

Are you willing to accept and even thrive on change?
Do you tolerate or even enjoy the process of the job search such as
resume/portfolio creation, cold calls, interviews, and record keeping?
Can you pick up new tools and disciplines easily?
Do you find yourself easily bored by routine?
Are you willing or able to supply your own medical and life insurance
or to do without?
Are you possessed of a good supply of self confidence
in your abilities as a writer?

If you answered "yes" to all these questions --
consider contracting.

>Will it provide steady employment, i.e., can one be
>self-supportive or do you need a second income from some other source to
>make it?

I usually go about one month a year average out of work.
My contracts are an average of 9 months to a year.
I rarely take on free-lance side work -- I often have overtime
on my contracts. I make enough to live on with mere fulltime
hours and do overtime or free-lance work only if I want to
earn extra money or want the challenge of a new subject.

>How do you obtain contracts?

I go through agencies. In Phoenix, the job market for free-lance
is a little skimpy. I also like the benefits of the W2, client
interface, and meeting another group of people.

>I know at least one writer is
>using an online resume to obtain contracts. What about others? Or other
>ways to get the word out? How much time do you spend marketing your
>skills? I'm sure there are numerous other questions that might apply, but
>these are starters.

The vast majority of my jobs have come from newspaper ads!
The others came from mailings and phone calls to agencies.
I market my skills by mailing a ****load
of resumes out, calling all the agencies to make sure they got
the resume, then repeat calling every two weeks until I land the job.
and Doug wrote:

>In jobs I've had, I find that there are some highly-specialized tasks that
>require intimate knowledge of the business or technology and must be done
>by a full-time employee. Bringing a newbie up to speed every time just
>doesn't make sense. On the other hand, there are often some tasks that
>require only general knowledge and widely-available skills; these could be
>done by contract writers.

While it is true that a number of contract jobs
(such as ones in Doug's organization) require "only general
knowledge and widely-available skills", most of my contract jobs
have required me to learn detailed knowledge of the
business and technology, as well as requiring me to learn new tools.
In my career, I've used BookMaster, FrameMaker, Word,
WordPerfect, and a host of other tools (some now defunct!) as
well as RoboHelp and Doc-to-Help.

I've read COBOL, C, and Ingres code. I've written
about everything from press releases and marketing
materials, proposals, presentations, requirements, specifications,
on-line help, to end user guides and references, database
admin and programmer manuals, and methodology documents.
I've also created standards and procedures for documentation
departments and done documentation needs analysis, as well
as software evaluations.

I've obtained detailed knowledge of such diverse industries
and technologies as accounting, banking, petroleum and
polyethylene manufacturing, highways construction, CASE
tools, voter registration, telecommunications, health insurance,
specialty insurance, and databases.

I just wanted to correct the impression that contracted only have
general knowledge. What I offer to any employer is not just my
specific skills -- although those have gained me many of my contracts --
but an ability to learn quickly. I don't know if I am representative
of the field of tech writing contracting, but that's my experience.


"Craft is perfected attention."
Robert Kelly

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