job negotiation for beginner

Subject: job negotiation for beginner
From: Su-Laine Yeo <syeo -at- LIGHTSPEED -dot- BC -dot- CA>
Date: Fri, 18 Oct 1996 11:13:29 -0700

I think this is both an excellent learning opportunity, and way over my head...

I've never written professionally before, but I recently had an interview
with a new, tiny (2.5 employees) environmental engineering firm. Everyone
else is an engineer, and the boss says engineers cannot write, so they have
a lot of stuff to document and rewrite. They're interested in me because
I have a chemistry degree and promised to be inexpensive, as I need work

Their overwhelming focus right now is just increasing sales. They sell
water treatment products which were designed and sold in Europe, but they
manufacture everything here. The materials and environmental laws are
different here, so they have to fix design bugs, evaluate effectiveness,
and provide customer service.

They need help with diverse things - instruction manuals, promotional
material, desktop publishing, stuff for customers, stuff for engineers and
scientists, and grant proposals. I'm not really interested in doing
promotional material or desktop publishing. I took home some of their
literature, and I agree it all needs work! They are "curious about what I
have to say." It's up to me to come up with a proposal, and there isn't
any pressure on me.

I imagine that at best, this is a chance to gain experience and a variety
of skills, learn about an exciting field, take on lots of responsibility,
and add to my portfolio.

At worst, I could spend a few weeks with little or no pay, learning details
about the products and bumbling around without guidance or mentoring from
another technical writer or editor. I could slowly come up with some awful
documents for my portfolio. They have no style guides, and I have the
impression they want someone to advise them on what kinds of documentation
they need. I have basic writing and thinking skills, but I certainly don't
feel capable of solving all the writing problems of a company.

I'd appreciate any and all advice. I plan to ask to be paid, as I can
think of more worthy causes which could use some writing help. Is this a
workable situation, or should I concentrate on getting a more conventional
entry into the field? Should I insist they hire an experienced tech
writer at the same time to keep me on track (if I had skilled mentoring and
feedback, I wouldn't mind working for free)? Turn the whole thing over to
a contracting company and let them handle it? Draw up a contract for the
least possible commitment and see how it goes?

Thank you all for listening.

syeo -at- lightspeed -dot- bc -dot- ca
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