Gettin' your foot in the door (long)

Subject: Gettin' your foot in the door (long)
From: "Susan W. Gallagher" <sgallagher -at- EXPERSOFT -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 24 Jan 1996 15:27:47 -0800

Deborah Wescott and Alan Roy both asked (essentially)
the same question -- How do I get started??? So...

>1. Would you people consider giving me some pointers for handling the
>or some specific questions to ask? The head hunter said she'd coach me but
>I'd like your perspective.

>Should I put together some sort of "portfolio" to show at interviews? If
>so, what is an acceptable format?

The interviewer may or may not know much about writing. If you're
interviewing with another writer or a writing manager, be prepared
to go into details about the way you tackle the writing process --
how you outline and index, what tools you use, what your writing
weaknesses and strengths are, etc. Yes, a portfolio is a great
idea and it can be as little as a few sample sheets or as extensive
as a couple of books. Just resist the urge to use a wheelbarrow! ;-)
A *few* samples that give the interviewer an overview of your
writing style will suffice. Be prepared to discuss the samples in
detail -- what you did and didn't like about the project and the
finished product. One important question to know the answer to is,
"If you could do it over, what would you do to make it better?"
(Note: It can *always* be better.)

>What skills (besides the obvious) are needed to get hired in the field?
>Are there any platforms or software packages that I really MUST know?

>How about a certificate or degree? Is it necessary? Will it help?

>2. I don't want to be one of those bad writers that you guys always refer to.
>I'm *fairly* well spoken and write just like I speak (I can feel you guys
>cringing...stop it! <grin>), do you think I can hone my skills on the job or do
>you suggest that I invest in some more formal training? (Money is extremely
>tight right now, but I might be able to get a loan to pay for a class or two.)
>If from this small (but growing :) writing sample you determine that I might
>benefit from some training, what would you suggest? A university class?

No, you don't *need* a degree. Yes, it would probably help. There
are lots of classes and certificate programs out there now that
didn't exist when I started TWing (oh, those many long years ago!).
But, besides taking classes, there's reading books and magazines,
subscribing to this list (now, there's a thought), and joining
professional organizations.

Besides the obvious skill of knowing how to write succinctly and
coherently, you'd do well to develop these:

--Organizational skills, a twofold approach, really -- learning
how to organize information so that it makes sense to the reader
and learning how to organize yourself so that your projects come
in on time and within budget.

--Problem solving skills. If you're already adicted to jigsaw or
crossword puzzles, you're halfway home. If you can sit down in front
of a piece of software and start hitting keys to see how it works,
you'll do just fine. If you want all the answers handed to you, run,
don't walk, to the nearest K-Mart and fill out a job application *now*!

--Technical skills. Learn about the field you'll be documenting.
Learn to use your tools -- and learn how to learn your tools
independently. Don't let the process of learning intimidate you.
The learning process is what this occupation is all about, it's
an endless cycle of learning and teaching (see problem solving,

--Interpersonal skills. Getting along with people well enough to
coerce information out of them before they realize that you're
picking their brains (and I absolutely *hate* the mental image
that phrase conjures), well, you see my point...

>Is there a professional association in Ontario or Canada for TWs?

>3. I just filled out my app for STC. Does anyone know if they have a mentoring
>program. How about this list? If not, would anyone be interested in starting
>such a program?

I don't know about Canada, but in the US, the STC is a great place
to start. Meetings will be fun and informational, you'll meet lots
of people who're willing to give you a hand up the ladder, and the
journals and job leads are well worth the price of admission.

Mentoring??? You mean you want more than this??? ;-)
I don't know if STC does anything official, but if you're looking
for a mentor, you're going about it the right way. You probably
won't need a formal mentoring program -- just make the right
friend(s). ;-)

Hope this helps.

-Sue Gallagher
sgallagher -at- expersoft -dot- com

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