TechWhirl (TECHWR-L) is a resource for technical writing and technical communications professionals of all experience levels and in all industries to share their experiences and acquire information.
For two decades, technical communicators have turned to TechWhirl to ask and answer questions about the always-changing world of technical communications, such as tools, skills, career paths, methodologies, and emerging industries. The TechWhirl Archives and magazine, created for, by and about technical writers, offer a wealth of knowledge to everyone with an interest in any aspect of technical communications.
I appreciated Guy McDonald's post on the certification issue:
>After discussing this several years ago with my "damn lawyer",
>it was decided that I would only provide:
>1. individual employment data (i.e., his/her length of employment)
>2. method of departure by the individual (terminated or quit)
>3. whether I would:
> a. hire the individual again
> b. not hire the individual again
I've been caught in that crunch as an employee. Several times I've been
told: "I'd love to give you a terrific reference, but all I'm allowed to
say is that you worked here from date-x to date-y." Many corporate clients
are even forbidden to tell anyone that an employee was terminated rather
than resigned or reached the agreed end of a contract. And most are not
allowed to comment on whether or not they would re-hire an individual.
References are now so useless that some employers aren't bothering to check
them directly anymore. At least one firm I've been told about (by a
disgruntled and recently-retired HR staffer during an online chat) asks for
the names of at least one manager and one colleague at a senior applicant's
last three places of employment. The HR department then hires a private
security firm to do undercover interviews with these former coworkers ---
off company property --- in the hopes that they will get truly useful
information. They feel that the expense is justified for any permanent
position over a certain minimum salary level. It cost about as much as the
agency fee they pay to the job-shop that supplies their lower level
employees, and their success rate has been better than their results from
the search firm they used to use. So far, they haven't been successfully
For a couple of years, I've been getting around this problem in a couple of
(1) Most of my contracts now come from word-of-mouth referrals by
satisfied clients. Finally. These folks don't ask for references.
They've already gotten an earful from the person who recommended me.
(2) Some of my freelance clients allow me to put my company logo and name
on the document --- usually in teeny-tiny print buried somewhere
inconspicuous. I've gotten calls from folks who see this ID and liked my
work well enough to track me down. They occasionally ask to see other
samples of my work, but rarely ask for references.
(3) Occasionally I go cold-calling on a completely new client (not a
word-of-mouth referral; not an STC contact; I just saw a newspaper article
that said they were starting a project that looked interesting and I
-know- they will need documentation). I take my portfolio, which labels
each sample with a company name and contact information. I also take along
a short list of names and home phone numbers of clients (and senior
colleagues from team projects) who have agreed to talk honestly with total
strangers who call and ask about my work. I don't offer it, but it is
tucked away in my briefcase and available if needed. **This is a very
touchy issue.** In one case, the former client made me sign a letter
promising not to sue if I didn't get the contract I was applying for. I
signed it gladly.
(SOAPBOX MODE = ON)
NOBODY should be that afraid of giving an honest
opinion. Damn the lawyers, INDEED. And damn
the lazy/greedy employees and vindictive employers
that made those lawyers necessary!
(SOAPBOX MODE = OFF)
Certification won't completely solve the problem. No certificate or test
or even personal reference can guarentee that a particular writer is
competent for a particular job. And I resent the feeling that some
non-involved committee of bureaucratic critters can pass judgement on
But certification --- if it is structured and marketed properly --- can be
a useful tool for employers -and- for writers who are trying to get
hired. I'm in favor of -any- tool that eases that painful process.
@Kat_____ Kat Nagel
MasterWork Consulting Services Rochester, NY
LIFE1 (techwriting/docdesign) katnagel -at- eznet -dot- net
LIFE2 (vocal chamber music) PlaynSong -at- aol -dot- com