Re: Ye Olde Tarheel State...not hiring?

Subject: Re: Ye Olde Tarheel State...not hiring?
From: byfield -at- DIRECT -dot- CA
Date: Sun, 24 Nov 1996 13:32:29 -0800


Hunting for your first job can be discouraging. I know, because
six months of searching just ended for me two days ago with my
first substantial contract. As hard as it is, you just have to
keep trying.

And, yes, the barriers you describe are very real. The fact is,
many employers have very little idea of how to hire a writer (or
to hire anyone, for that matter; some studies suggest that interviews
hire a suitable person for a job only 5% more often than if the hiring
was done randomly). In my case, one company subjected me to three hours
of interviews (during which I lost my voice), only to decide I didn't
have enough experience--a fact they should have seen from my resume.
Another seemed to think that a project that mainly involved describing
entry fields in an HR database was too difficult for me. But, when you're
looking for work, you have little choice except to endure these kinds of

I think the reason that employers like to stress workplace experience
is that it seems a concrete measurement. Of course, unaided, they
may have very little way of knowing how well you did on any of your
previous experiences, but they do cling to that illusion.

The only thing to do is to play along, and convince employers that
you do have workplace experience--or, at the very least, expertise.
You say that you don't have workplace experience, but your brochure
and email manual ARE workplace experience, and you shouldn't hesitate
to define them as such. Whatever other small pieces of experience you
could pick up, even volunteering your services or working for less than
you'd like for a couple of weeks, would help, too.

But having the experience isn't enough--you also have to help the
interviewers to see it. If you don't have a portfolio of samples,
then you need one; include your brochure and parts of your manual,
as well as classroom exercises. You might also include a makeover of
a manual, with before and after pages. Then, when you go to interviews,
make sure you have a chance to talk about your samples and display
your expertise. And, when you leave, make sure you leave copies
of your samples behind. Personally, I always bring my portfolio,
asked to or not, and always try to leave samples behind.

Another tactic I've found useful is to volunteer to do half a dozen
pages from the company's manuals. This tactic does two things: it
gives the interviewers a way of judging you based on material that
they're familiar with, and, if worst comes to worst, it gives you
another piece for your portfolio. It also gives you an excuse for meeting
with the interviewers at least once more to discuss your sample. This
tactic has got me several small contracts.

Your wish to start your career in an apprenticeship makes good sense
in terms of professional development. However, I think you will be
extremely lucky to walk into that sort of experience. Based on what
I've gone through and what others have said, I suspect that it is
far more common to endure a series of small jobs, then work your way
up to longer contracts before finding a full-time position. You never
know, but you might want to diversify your job-search, and look for
some small contracts at the same time that you're looking for full-
time work.

As for the ads that require 3-5 years' experience, remember that they
describe the ideal candidate. If you have at least 70% of the
qualifications, it wouldn't hurt to apply. You might get lucky, and
at worst you might make a contact who can help you later on.

You might check out the STC web pages to see what the going salaries

Finally, I doubt that the exact nature of your degree makes a difference
to your overall chances. I know people who have found writing work without
a Master's, and there's many people like me with degrees in literature
who can find work.

Probably, it's just a matter of time and tactics before you
find work. In the meantime, you might contact your local STC chapter.
It's not only another source of contacts, but a place where you can
find other people who are in your position or who have been there--
people who can give you advice and support when you need it.

Oh, and one last thing: if you're like many writers, the skills needed
for job-searching may be foreign to your nature. But they're the kind
of people skills you'll probably need when you do find long-time work;
unfortunately, technical writers can't just sit in their cubicles all
day and ignore the rest of the office. So, by developing your job
search skills, you may find yourself better able to cope when you
are employed.

I hope these suggestions are useful. Good luck in your search!

Bruce Byfield (byfield -at- direct -dot- ca)
Burnaby, BC, Canada
(604) 421-7189

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