expectations of an entry-level writer

Subject: expectations of an entry-level writer
From: Anne Halsey <JMH42 -at- AOL -dot- COM>
Date: Mon, 27 Oct 1997 20:28:43 -0500

Bruce Byfield was frustrated by my presentation of what a
former employer of mine required of an entry level tech writer.

Bruce ... I understand that many students are frustrated by the
catch-22 nature of the TC workplace in the 90s. I'm afraid,
however, that this is indicative of at least part of the reality
of today's workplace (requiring a minimum skill set and experience
level for entry-level positions).

Much as you and others may wish it otherwise, the reality of
corporate life today is that many, if not most, companies do not
hire until they have a screaming need for a warm body. Consequently,
companies are more and more resorting to skilled contractors
to fill open positions.

But if this is the reality of environment, you may ask, how can a
student ever expect to get a job?

Internships. Apply for 'em. Take 'em even if they pay low wages,
or no wage at all. Soak up knowledge. Find a mentor. Find out what
the most hated writer task is, and volunteer to help with it.

We hired recent grads at several former companies - IF they had
shown the initiative to get internship experience while in school.
I've worked for firms (including my current one) where we had formal
or informal internship programs; I've also worked at firms where
establishing an internship policy was as simple as defining a need
and finding a school or program that sponsored internships.

However - if a recent grad could not point to internship or coop
experience, we usually would not consider hiring. Why?
Because taking that extra step to pursue an internship showed
my colleagues and I that a student was serious about the
profession, and virtually guaranteed that the candidate had at
least a rudimentary exposure to the corporate environment.
Failing to take it indicated the lack of those qualities.

Now I'll throw in a little generalization. As I stated above, many
companies do not hire until they have a screaming need for a warm body.
The reality is that most companies need someone who can hit the
ground running - or at least walking briskly. Comapnies don't have the
time to teach someone how to use a styleguide, or WHY to use one ...
employers want to be able to tell someone what styleguide they use,
and assume the candidate can figure out how to find her/his own answers.
Employers don't have the time to teach someone the difference between first,
second, and third person; passive versus active voice; or past/present/future

tense. Employers expect a candidate to know what those things are, and
to be able to write in the voice/tense/person appropriate for the

Employers don't have the time to teach someone what a hierarchical
procedure is; nor do they have the time to teach the basics of logging on
to a PC, copying files, creating a new (insert your favorite publisher)
how to import graphics into a file, what a component callout is. Someone
who has a year of experience (even internship experience) under his/her
belt shouldn't need to be taught those things.

Employers should be able to expect an entry-level communicator to have
at least having a passing familiarity with the tools of the trade. This
not only the publishing tools (DTP programs, screen capture programs,
draw programs, and conversion programs like Acrobat) but the office tools
as well (conference calling, voice messaging, copy machines, FAX
machines, and the like).

Anne Halsey
jmh42 -at- aol -dot- com

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