5 Things to Look for in a Tech Writing Job

It does not matter where the job market is holding, a job is still simply a two way relationship between you and an employer. While some people reading this might be desperate for work and feel willing to take anything, others will I know be struggling to determine which contract or offer they should turn down.

So how do you decide who to work for and which position is right for you?

The same way that HR or Human Resources within a company should look at the whole candidate and not just a list of skills or experience, a candidate should do the same and look at the whole company to understand their potential employers. As a technical writing company, we apply the same criteria when looking at potential customers. Not to say we haven’t been burned a time or two, but for the most part, this list is our go to check list when evaluating a new potential customer for a long term relationship. I even made an acronym so it would be easy for you to remember. M.A.T.E.R.

1. MATURITY

This DOES NOT mean you should ask people’s ages. This does mean you should ask during the interview about the skills and experience of the people who would be directly managing you.

Maturity

Now how to do this is tricky, as you don’t want to insult someone’s lack of experience in this domain, but it is critical that you know what a potential manager might know or not know about your job function, your role in the company and how they intend to manage you. A great example would be someone right out of college with a tech writing degree. Sending them straight to a start-up with a 25 year old manager who is planning to have a sole writer run the whole program for them and be hands off, might not be a great idea, or the best way to build your career.

2. AGILITY

As much as I think it would be great, this has nothing to do with your future boss or coworkers and office yoga. 

Office Yoga

Instead, try to determine how much flexibility and agility your company or future boss can or will show towards employees, new ideas and market changes. If you want a 9-5 job in a big team with no thrills, no changing variables and no deadline stress, seek out big companies that can offer that. If you want dynamism, explosive change and non stop drama, look for a company where that seems to be how they work and where change is the game. Just make sure their mode of work is in line with where you are in your life, or plan to be for the next 6-12 months.

If you are trying to have kids, or want to take a month off to backpack in India and find yourself, or have an ailing parent you might have to care for lingering in the back of your mind, try to find a company suitable for that situation. Nothing worse than being in work environment you can’t stand, or that can’t permit you to do what you have always intended/planned to do. It is disappointing for both sides, and will burn bridges you might need later on in your career. 

3. TEAM

Tech-Tav Team Building

Tech-Tav Team Building
 

Does it really matter? Just get the job and you’ll make nice with everyone? -Right?
 

It sounds simple, but find out everything you can via LinkedIn, community gossip or people you know at the company about your potential co-workers. We have all heard the story of the dream job that turned out to be horrible because of a known co-worker who made the lives of any office newbie into pure torture, or the great team with the terrible boss who treats their employees like personal slaves or is verbally abusive. At the same time, there are some great opportunities out there with companies where the boss or the coworkers might make a lower salary, but good conditions transform the opportunity into a dream. Trust me, knowing more about potential coworkers and managers is NEVER a bad thing.

 4. EXPERTISE

Work Experience

We all like to think we know everything about everything. I know I do. Ha!

No I don’t. Just like every other job candidate out there, there are so many things I don’t know and need to learn. 

What can this company or your new team offer you in terms of professional growth, guidance, skills, advancement, training? Do they see you as someone to throw dirty work on until you prove yourself? How long will that process take? Or do they see you as a partner in their success and plan to give you the tools you need to succeed? Having said that, if you will be a sole writer or join a young team, are the opportunities or experience you want going to present themselves? Is there anyone to serve as your mentor or will you be thrown in the deep end to swim on your own? 

I always suggest making a list of the skills or experience you have and those you want to gain and then try to determine if you can acquire them in the potential job or not. 

5. RESOURCES

   Resources   

Does your potential employer have the funds to pay you for 3 months, 6 months or a year? Is it all just a deck of cards about to implode? Have they budgeted through your position and the software they will need to buy and training you need? Too often, I am asked to pitch projects and attend sales meetings where there is NO budget for our services. I chalk this up to very poor management and bad decision making. While I don’t mind a trip to Tel Aviv or Herzliya, it is a waste of my time, my gas and the company/employee time that is meeting with me. The same is true for interviewing for positions that have not been budgeted yet. Volunteering is fine(but it won’t pay your bills),so I recommend trying to find out about the funding status of the company, looking to see any past payment grievances by old employees, or general market scoop about the state of their finances.

Almost 16 months before Better Place collapsed we were asked to pitch on a multi-million dollar documentation project. We walked away after hearing and looking and smelling what to us seemed like a company on the road to implosion. At the time, people thought we were crazy and questioned my leadership and judgment. Had we been staffing 4-5 full-time writers and not gotten paid for months of their work after the company suddenly shuttered leaving unpaid bills and angry suppliers, who would have been considered crazy? 

It is true that I live and work in Silicon Alley and other job markets might be different,  but there is little protection for loss of income when a company goes belly up. You also don’t want to be self-funding your documentation software if you company hasn’t budgeted properly for your needs (I know writers who have bought their own when their company said “no, maybe next year”).

So in today's socially connected world and in the relatively small world of technical writing, we are nothing but irresponsible
if we don’t do some due diligence about the company we are about to work for and protect the value of our time and our career. 

 It goes without saying that I didn’t list things like job description, interest, commute time etc. For me, those items should be evaluated before you get to this list to determine basic job compatibility. This list is for the next stage, when you have to make a career move and thing about your future and where you want to be. 
 
If you need help deciding whether or not to accept an offer or join a specific team, feel free to drop me a line and I’ll be happy to help you make a decision.
 
Happy Job Hunting!

ShareThis

Search