Being Prepared in an Uncertain Job Market
by Jeff Staples, Information Developer, BindView Development
Earlier this year, I was laid off when my company had another round of staff
reductions. Fortunately, three weeks to the day, I was able to accept another
position. This article conveys my thoughts on my job search, and I hope it provides
insights helpful to you, should you find yourself in a similar situation because
of the uncertain job market.
Hindsight versus Foresight
The layoff came as a surprise to me, because I was one of the ones laid
off. However, it shouldn’t have been a surprise. Anyone is a possible layoff
candidate, and we employees knew that something was coming. Yet knowing that,
I did nothing to prepare, should I be let go. Or didn’t I?
My resume and portfolio were not updated. I had not kept up-to-date with the
job market, other than what I heard from others or read in the newspaper, which
was generally bleak news. However, I have cultivated a large network of contacts
over the years. So, I could congratulate myself on some preparation: maintaining
my network of contacts.
Day One and Beyond
The day after the layoff, I set up a personal e-mail account and began contacting
everyone I knew, both personally and professionally. Over the next few weeks,
that formed my workday: sending e-mail messages to contacts and responding to
job postings, and then replying to responses I received. It might not sound
like much, but it can easily fill your time. I kept the same schedule as when
I was employed, but my work and focus were on finding a job.
Connection Waiting to Happen
You never know where the right connection might come from. I learned about
STC in late ’92, when I was out of a job after my employer closed the office.
I mentioned STC to my neighbor, and she knew of it through a relative. She gave
me the person’s name and said to mention that she was my neighbor. A couple
of months later, I met the relative at an STC meeting and she put me in touch
with a contact that would eventually give me my first tech writing job.
Contacts Come Through
My current employment came about by trying to forward a lead to someone else.
In the process, I got the e-mail address of a former coworker that I had forgotten
about. I sent her a message to touch base. She requested my resume, and submitted
it to HR at her company. The company wasn’t hiring at that time, but my resume
was on the desk of the HR representative when a position suddenly became available.
From this recent experience, I learned to
- Create a personal e-mail account. You can get one for free. (After you
are employed, consider using this account for all of your personal email.
It will help keep personal items out of the company’s e-mail system.)
- Tell everyone you know about your availability. You never know who can make
the right connection for you, or you for them.
- Create a spreadsheet with your contacts’ information and record when you
contact them, whether you attached a resume, and whether they made any response.
- Visit online job services such as Hotjobs on Yahoo. You can post your resume
there, search their job database, and get useful information, such as tips
on phone interviews. And update your resume weekly. Update notices are sent
to all agencies and firms each time you update your resume.
- Maintain your work schedule. Having a routine helps you maintain your focus,
confidence, and a positive attitude.
- Attend job networking activities frequently, such as professional meetings.
I learned of job network ministries operated by various churches. One contact
mentioned that she attended a weekly meeting where she usually got good leads
and good support.
Before You Get Escorted Out
In the past, I focused on a job search only when I needed a job. Now, I have
learned to keep my job search current by keeping up with the job market and
keeping my resume and portfolio up to date. Also, I try to be a contact for
others. As I find job leads that are not right for me, I try to send them to
others in my network.
In today’s economy, who knows when you might find yourself in the unemployed
pool. When you are the last one hired, it’s hard not to wonder if you will be
the first one fired. You can reassure yourself that if you are let go, you have
made preparations to soften the impact.
Jeff develops print and online documentation for a local software company
and serves as managing editor of the STC Quality SIG newsletter, Doc-Qment.
Best $5 Deal Around
By Lori Buffum, Senior Marketing Coordinator, Carter & Burgess Houston
Special Interest Groups (SIGs) are composed of STC members with common experiences
and interests who share their skills and knowledge with each other and with
other STC members. Most SIGs host web sites, many publish newsletters, and several
sponsor e-mail discussion forums. For an extra $5, STC members can join a SIG
and benefit from some of the best networking around. Which SIG should you choose?
How can you join one? Take a look at the summaries we’ve provided, then visit
This SIG fosters communication among Canadian members of STC to allow them
to exchange information and to discuss issues within STC that are of particular
concern to Canadian
members or that arise by reason of political, socioeconomic, and geographical
constraints because the members reside in Canada.
Consulting and Independent Contracting
This SIG serves as a focal point for information about practicing technical
communication as an independent consultant. The SIG helps new and seasoned consultants
alike to practice their trade more effectively. Activities include publishing
The Independent Perspective, surveying members on business practices,
and conducting seminars and workshops.
Education and Research
This SIG provides a link between technical communication practitioners and
educators. Much research exists to justify the interest in developing effective
user guides and manuals, and much more needs to be done. Activities include
publishing Link, operating a dissertation/thesis database, and developing
This SIG monitors the ever-expanding uses of technology in technical communication.
New tools such as hypermedia, online editing, and multimedia systems are changing
the way technical communicators work.
Environmental, Safety, and Health Communication
This SIG allows technical communicators to stay current on developments in
this growing area of the profession. Activities include publishing ES&H
News, reaching out to members of related professional organizations, compiling
and publishing lists of related courses and curricula, and
developing an anthology of relevant articles.
Illustrators and Visual Designers
This SIG assists technical communicators involved in the production of illustrations,
video, multimedia, and other visual forms of technical communication. The SIG
provides opportunities to network, practice skills, and learn new tools.
This SIG enhances members’ analytical skills, promotes quality and usability
concepts, encourages retrievability techniques that increase customer satisfaction,
and promotes communication between members and the indexing community. The SIG
gives members access to information and resources to help them improve indexing
skills and the usability of products.
This SIG assists members interested in acquiring the necessary skills to practice
information design. Activities include publishing Design Matters, encouraging
and making available information design research findings, success stories,
and educational programs.
Instructional Design and Learning
This SIG helps members design, develop, and implement technical instruction
in electronic and classroom settings. The SIG promotes sound design practices
and educates members about instructional theory, research, and tools. It provides
resources to members interested in the intersection of technical communication
and instructional design.
International Technical Communication
This SIG helps members exchange information and learn more about how to communicate
technical information to worldwide audiences effectively. It serves its members
by exchanging information about globalization and localization projects, international
standards, and the development of product information for international audiences.
This SIG provides an avenue of professional education, monitoring, and support
to writers who are the sole technical writers for their organizations, particularly
those that lack inhouse resources and assistance on issues concerning their
This SIG works to inform publication managers of trends and issues related
to managing publications projects, educate them in practices that will result
in high-quality technical materials, and provide a forum for the exchange of
management information. Activities include publishing Management, offering
information to current and aspiring publication managers, and presenting conference
This SIG is designed to help its members network, exchange information, and
receive education on marketing and public relations writing for technical products.
Activities include publishing Impact!, sharing information and techniques,
conducting member surveys, and presenting sessions at conferences.
This SIG provides opportunities for members to exchange information about online
help and documentation development and encourages them to participate in Society
programs related to online development. Activities include publishing HyperViews,
presenting conference sessions, and promoting participation in the STC International
Online Communication Competition.
Policies and Procedures
This SIG assists members in developing, implementing, and managing policies
and procedures related to communication through education and networking opportunities
and interaction with other related professional organizations. Activities include
publishing Steps & Specs, presenting conference sessions, and developing
This SIG provides a focus for members concerned with enhancing the overall
quality of technical communication. Organized to establish a dynamic resource
to discuss and apply the various aspects of quality to our work as technical
This SIG provides a forum in which members can exchange information about publications
and presentations related to science or scientific research for a variety of
audiences. Activities include publishing The Exchange, promoting sessions
on scientific communication, and developing articles.
This SIG helps STC members develop knowledge and practical skills for researching,
developing, and implementing single-sourcing solutions. The SIG provides information
on the following topics: information models, cost justification, tools, XML,
strategic planning, collaborative authoring, structured writing, and low-cost
By researching and publishing information about products, services, and literature,
this SIG assists technical communicators with disabilities in their career activities
and assists all technical communicators in developing products that are fully
accessible to users with disabilities. Activities include publishing Achieve!,
maintaining a discussion list, and conducting a chapter-level outreach initiative.
This SIG provides opportunities for members to expand their editing and proofreading
expertise by serving as a forum for information exchange, professional support,
and interaction among the SIG, STC, and the editing community at large. Activities
include publishing Corrigo, sponsoring a very active listserv, and maintaining
a web site.
This SIG focuses on issues related to the usability and usability assessment
of technical communication, providing a forum in which members can share information
and experience. Activities include planning and conducting presentations on
usability and usability testing and compiling a bibliography of usability-related
books and articles.
In the Next Issue
Stay tuned next month for testimonials on the benefits of SIG membership.
Technical Writing as a Second Career
Life Begins at 60
by Cathy Bettoney, Technical Writer, Millar Instruments, Inc.
What kept me in the public school classroom (teaching geometry) for so long
was not love of education but lack of a viable alternative. So my career change
had to await my retirement from public education at the earliest moment I could
do so without financial penalties.
I can’t remember now how I happened to read Peter Kent’s Making Money in
Technical Writing, but that was the catalyst. This was something I felt
I could do. Other than what information I could glean from this book, I knew
nothing about the field. I did know how to change jobs.
First, I did some networking. My older daughter was at the time an electrical
engineer in Silicon Valley and fairly high up in her
company. I asked her to give me an e-mail introduction to her technical writing
department, which she did. I then corresponded with one of the writers, who
told me that it would be a good idea to have a technical writing certificate,
since many more writers were beginning to enter the field and this would give
me instant credentials.
Second, I joined STC and began attending the local chapter meetings in Houston.
Being an experienced employee, I knew the value of belonging to a professional
organization. STC was very helpful in getting me oriented to what technical
writers do and what skills are needed.
Third, I investigated technical writing certificate courses. Houston
Community College had a two-year
program that seemed just what I needed. As I told my teaching colleagues, I
didn’t need degrees—I had degrees—what I needed was knowledge! Secure in my
choice and my minuscule pension, I enrolled.
Then came the revelation: technical writing nowadays requires computer skills!
Heavy-duty computer skills! I felt as though I were drinking not from
the fountain of learning but from the fire hose. Four semesters later, mentally
bruised but still standing, certificate in hand, I applied for jobs.
I was advised that finding a job would take at least three months. It was nearly
that long before Kitba Consulting hired me. I enjoyed the job and then had that
priceless treasure: experience! Six weeks later, when the project I was working
on ended, came a call from an employment agency asking if I knew someone who
needed a job. Yes, I did; I was available. Great, they replied, because you
were the one we wanted anyway.
So, last June I began work at Millar Instruments, Inc. to write government
grants for their research and development efforts. The job has expanded to include
a number of typical technical writing tasks, such as research and proofreading,
and many non-typical ones, drawing on my lifetime of experience in the workforce
and breadth of knowledge. It’s great. It’s so much better than teaching.
Thank you, my colleagues in STC Houston, Kitba Consulting, and Millar Instruments!
And to those who hesitate to start over at an advanced age, I say go for