Re: Breaking into our profession

Subject: Re: Breaking into our profession
From: Maurice King <Maurice -dot- King -at- PER-SE -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 10 Dec 1998 08:58:30 -0500

I think many people in our profession "entered through the back door." When
I began, I was working in import-export in a plastic packging manufacturing
plant. It began when I had to provide localized documentation for the use
of the machinery, because the available documentation was in Italian and,
therefore, was of no use to the factory workers, who were Hebrew-speakers.
I ended up writing manuals in Hebrew and English, and one person got the
idea to send my English manual to the office of the company that
manufactured the machines in Italy. To my surprise, the company bought the
documentation and turned to me to do more! That was, in effect, the first
real technical documentation I wrote for which I was paid.

However, the truth is that documenting procedures is nothing new for me.
I've been doing it since childhood. Sometimes life puts us in a situation
in which we have to do something that we happen to have a knack for doing.
For that reason, when I attended a technical writing course, it was after I
was already working as a technical writer, and I found that it taught me
little new. Almost without expecting or planning it, I jumped directly into
advanced intermediate status, and my third job was already as a lead

Finding work is another story. Paradoxically, senior writers often have a
harder time finding suitable employment than beginners, who cost less to
their employers. Finding a job that pays well and that offers room for
advancement is often not available to a beginner; it is often necessary to
move from one job to another after acquiring the initial experience. But it
IS possible!

I enjoy working in technical communications. I regret that in many
organizations, technical communications are given low priority, but I never
seek work in such places. A beginner might be able to suffer through one or
two years in such a place, but then he/she would be well advised to move

One of the most difficult issues I've found is submitting writing samples.
Few of us write documentation for the fun of it, and much of what we write
is protected under confidentiality agreements. As a result, we may face a
lot of problems when asked to present samples. I have three samples that I
prepared in the past that were actually released and, therefore, can be
used as samples, but they do not necessarily meet the requirements of every
company for which I would be a candidate. The novice writer should know
that nothing deters a potential employer more than receiving a writing
sample of a document clearly under a confidentiality agreement; that
already indicates a lot about how trustworthy the candidate really is!

It is possible to break in. Let nobody tell you otherwise.

- Maury

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