Re: expectations of an entry-level writer

Subject: Re: expectations of an entry-level writer
From: Bill Burns <BillDB -at- ILE -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 28 Oct 1997 08:32:35 -0700

Anne Halsey writes:

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

Consider me frustrated as well. Perhaps these conditions change from
market to market (which I suspect is the case), but the reasoning you
provide doesn't wash with me.

> We hired recent grads at several former companies - IF they had
> shown the initiative to get internship experience while in school.
Initiative can be expressed in many ways--taking a double major, working
full time while going to school, supporting a family while attending
classes and working, running a business on the side. This focus on
internships as the only indicator of initiative seems pretty typical of
the corporate myopia that affects far too many businesses.

> 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.
Or it might indicate a lack of opportunities. The market for technical
writers here in Boise is not exactly burgeoning with jobs, and interns
have to compete with those of us who have been in the field for a while.
Some of us have made attempts to develop internships in our companies,
but the financial backing has not been available (yeah, even for "free"
internships--they still require resources). Does that mean the students
at the local university's technical communications program aren't
finding or shouldn't be hired for entry-level work? Hardly. I know a few
of these students, and what they don't know, they pick up much more
quickly than some employed technical writers I've known.

> 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
> situation.
You don't have to have corporate experience to know any of this. Any
good writing program (technical communication or not) should expose
students to these concepts.

> 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)
> document,
> 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.
I don't consider these the sort of higher order capabilities that I need
in a technical writer. And they don't take long to teach. Since networks
and operating systems vary in the way that they handle some of these
operations, are you saying that a technical communicator should know how
to log in to a network running NetWare 3.0 or 4.0, and Windows NT? How
about VMS or AS 400? Entry-level skills really include such specific
details as this? Or copying files between directories on one of these
platforms? Or creating a new file on the publishing tool du jour? A
business won't allow an entry-level person the five minutes necessary to
learn each of these tasks on the job?

> 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
> means
> 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).
Overall, my sense is that the business you're describing doesn't want to
take the time to develop its own resources. If they require internship
(or other) experience as a qualification for entry-level technical
communications, then they should consider offering TC internships and
hire from the pool of candidates they develop--the same way many
manufacturing and engineering firms do. Eventually, someone has to pay
for this training, whether it's the person sponsoring an internship or
the person hiring for an entry-level position. There's nothing wrong
with giving preference to people with experience, but requiring it for
entry-level jobs seems like more of an excuse to pay entry-level wages
than a legitimate gauge of a candidate's capabilities.

Bill Burns
Senior Technical Writer
ILE Communications Group
billdb -at- ile -dot- com

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