Four Common Resume Blunders
—And How You Can Avoid Them
by George Slaughter, Senior Technical Writer, The Integrity Group
In today's economy, people are looking for that winning edge when it comes to landing a job. Yet, many fail to recognize how they can get this edge by mastering how they present themselves to prospective employers. In this article, we'll look at some common blunders that job seekers make when preparing their resumes, and we'll suggest how they could avoid them.
Lack of Summary or Objective
It's been said that the typical resume gets only a few seconds worth of attention. Often, employers focus those few seconds of attention on the summary or objective statement.
“In many situations, a summary is like a newspaper headline,” writes Richard Fein in his book, 100 Quick Tips for a Dynamite Resume. “Your summary provides a chance to achieve two goals quickly: to say some job related things about yourself that are important to the prospective employer, [and] to indicate a professional goal that is consistent with a staffing need of the employer.”
A summary is a one- or two-sentence statement that summarizes your credentials. For instance, “Technical writer with 10 years of experience, including the last 6 in the energy industry.”
An objective , meanwhile, is more focused on where one hopes to land. It's important to remember that when writing an objective statement, one must tailor that statement to the situation. For example, if one applies for a technical writer opening, the objective statement probably should not be talking about finishing needlepoint. One would want the statement to be specific—“Seek a senior-level technical communication position in the energy industry”—and not generic.
When employers sort through resumes, they're often looking for reasons to eliminate candidates from consideration.
For technical writers, one important element to include in a resume is the tools used. Some would argue that tools aren't the most important thing—after all, we writers can learn to use tools, right?—but the reality is that many folks will be eliminated from consideration because they don't include information that the prospective employer needs to know. Think about what information the employer must know, and incorporate it accordingly.
Of course, one can easily go the other way and provide too much information. A former professor of mine has a 36-page curriculum vitae . It lists every article published, every presentation given, as well as the standard items (contact information, education, and references) that one would expect to see on a resume.
In fairness, this professor isn't applying for a technical writing position. If so, she'd have much to cut from her c.v.
Poorly Presented Information
Several years ago, in my journalism days, I was visiting with my managing editor. He was sharing with me resumes of folks who wanted to work for our magazine. He was incredulous over the poor writing, typos, and, in a couple of cases, how the resumes were handwritten, not typed. He shook his head and looked at me.
“There are a lot of unqualified people out there,” he said.
Ask around, and you'll learn that senior-level STC members have plenty of horror stories about bad resumes. Don't let your resume fall into that category.
If you must revamp your resume, this article lists some sources that can help you get started. Another good place to visit is the library, which has numerous resources for people interested in revitalizing their careers.
Finally, STC Houston has held Employment Share-the-Knowledge sessions for the past three years, and they have provided good advice for job seekers.
For the professional writer, a resume is also your first writing sample that a potential employer will review. Your resume, therefore, sells not only your experience and credentials, but also your writing ability. Use your spell-checker to check for typos, but be careful—a spell-checker might get the correct spelling but not the correct meaning of what you wish to say.
Learning how to write effective resumes is a vital part of one's career—and there's much more on the topic than can be summarized here. Yet, by avoiding these blunders, you can sharpen your edge when you apply for your next job.
Who Are the New Construction Specifiers?
by Holly A. Valentine, CSI-I, CCS
The majority of construction specifiers are registered architects who have been pressed into service by their firms to write construction specifications. When students study and decide that they want to become architects, writing specifications is the last thing on their minds. People who dream about becoming architects think about drawing and designing beautiful buildings. Not very many architectural students think about the written documents that go along with the drawings. Construction specifications are considered a “necessary evil,” and architects do everything they can to avoid writing them.
A technical communicator could easily become a construction specifier. According to the Construction Specifications Institute Manual of Practice , an accomplished specifier has:
a thorough understanding of construction materials, systems, and methods
excellent verbal and written communication skills
good research methods
knowledge of computers and word processing software
an understanding of basic construction law, building codes and ordinances
basic knowledge of insurance and bonds as they relate to the construction industry
A technical communicator has many of these skills and uses them daily.
Although there is no formal training for construction specifiers, the Construction Specifications Institute offers certification examinations. A person must first take the Construction Documents Technology (CDT) examination. After passing the CDT examination, a candidate for the Certified Construction Specifier (CCS) exam must have five years' experience in preparing construction documents. A person does not have to be a CCS to be a specification writer, but it is a recognized credential that says that a person has more than general knowledge about construction specifications and their application. Along with the certification exams, there are many resources for learning about writing construction specifications, such as the Construction Specifications Institute's Project Resource Manual or other books written by experienced construction specifiers.
According to the Construction Specifications Institute, “there is no single education program designed to train a professional specifier,” and some would say that the preparation of construction specifications is a technical service and not the practice of architecture. Some state that architectural licensing offices call specification writing a technical service (or technical writing) and not the practice of architecture and engineering. Almost all degree programs accredited by the National Architectural Accreditation Board say that some exposure to construction specifications is a required part of their programs, but this requirement is usually satisfied through no more than one week of lectures within a semester course on professional architectural practice, which is given by someone who may not be experienced in generating construction specifications.
Some of the best specifiers in Houston are technical writers who started their specification writing careers by editing and formatting specifications for architectural firms and gained knowledge and experience in this way. There are plenty of opportunities in the architectural and engineering industry for people who are interested in becoming construction specifiers. For more information about becoming a Certified Construction Specifier, contact the Construction Specifications Institute at www.csinet.org , or call 800-689-2900.
The Construction Specifications Institute Manual of Practice, 1995 Edition
Holly Valentine is a member of the Houston Chapter of the Construction Specifications Institute and a Certified Construction Specifier. Holly is currently working on a bachelor's degree in English and Professional Writing at the University of Houston-Downtown.
Factors That Can Cause Confusion in an International Virtual Office
by Jeff Staples, Sr. Information Developer, Valley Forge/Kitba Consulting
In today's global society, it is not uncommon for a company to have employees in different locations around the country and around the world. To link all these employees, management may consider creating a virtual office. In evaluating such a venture, management is wise to consider the cultural diversity among its employees and the confusion and problems that this cultural diversity can create.
Part one of this two-part article discusses the following types of cultural factors that could cause confusion and/or problems in an international virtual office:
The typical office environment has potential for conflict and confusion, due to the various people and their various personalities, traits, and characteristics. Now add people from other cultures into the mix (potentially in a virtual office environment) and it is easy to expect that challenges will arise.
Look for and consider the following factors when evaluating and assembling an international virtual office.
With an international mix of people in a virtual office, the team members “face significant, immediate challenges in organizing and communicating” (Suchan and Hayzak 2001, p. 177). The members of the team may speak different languages or may speak the same language, such as English. However, English may be a second language and the team members may not know or understand it well. Team members who are using a language other than their native language generally “favor their native culture's format for presenting information, even when that information is presented in a different language” (St. Amant 2004, p. 149).
In addition, all members speaking English does not mean that they are speaking the same English. For example, one person may have different meanings for the same English words or expressions than another person.
The interactions between virtual team members is “closely linked to the concept of translation, or how different linguistic and cultural groups prefer to present ideas in a given situation” (St. Amant 2004, p. 146). Translation, and especially good translation, is not just converting a text word-for-word.
Translation involves converting words and meanings into another form such as another language. For example, recently one of the news networks had a story about bootleg translations of books being sold in China and how the text in many passages had no connection with the original text from the published book.
These various linguistic factors alone can cause confusion but are also compounded because the “linguistic limitations of individuals who are interacting online might not be realized until problems related to comprehension occur” (St. Amant 2004, p. 151).
In creating a virtual office, technology restrictions “may be so great that [people] either cannot access information or cannot view it as is intended” (St. Amant 2004, p. 161). Therefore, it is important that management evaluate the access capabilities of each member of the office team and ensure that everyone has the same technical capabilities, such as the same software system so that files can be easily exchanged.
In addition, other technical factors that can create problems include the “reliability and the carrying capacity of telephone lines, the speed of microprocessors, and the resolution of monitors” (St. Amant 2004, p. 157). For example, if individuals have slow online connections, they may rely on printing all materials. However, the printing process can be affected if individuals do not have a reliable printer or if the materials such as online information do not print well.
Numeric systems can vary based on culture. Individuals in one country or culture might use dates, time, and magnitude in a form that is misinterpreted by someone in another country who uses a different form. For example, the United States conveys a date in the form of month, day, and year, while Europe uses day, month, and year. A date such as 6/4/04 could be read as June 4, 2004 , or 6 April 2004 . This type of misinterpretation can lead to embarrassing, confusing, and/or costly mistakes.
Confusion can also arise with the use of different numeric systems. For example, one culture may use the English system while another uses metric, and the cultures do not understand each other's system.
Copyright issues related to online interactions can cause concern and is something that anyone posting to the Web should be aware of and give consideration to (although I expect that most of us probably do not).
With international communication in a virtual office, more concern is warranted because one country's copyright standards may be different from (and less or more restrictive than) standards used by the countries of other office members.
People from a variety of cultures/countries may bring a variety of copyright policies and procedures into the office environment. In addition, the different team members are probably familiar with and use their own country's copyright guidelines but are probably not familiar with copyright guidelines that the other members may be using or be familiar with.
International outsourcing can create more issues for the virtual office if it brings in even more people/cultures and thus different copyrights and laws. Each country may have specific laws governing production practices, employee work schedules/rates/benefits, and so on. These items could affect the office's production schedules, delivery times, and contract obligations.
Another factor is that, unlike country borders that determine law jurisdiction, online communication is without borders and boundaries. Therefore, it will be hard to determine which law is in effect for a given transaction. Online communication also raises issues related to the disclosure of information and an individual's privacy when communicating via online connections.
Next month : Ideas for avoiding confusion in an international virtual office.
St. Amant, Kirk. “Legal and Ethical Aspects of Globalization.” 2004.
St. Amant, Kirk. “International Online Workplaces: A Perspective for Management Education.” The Cutting Edge of International Management Education . Information Age Publishing. 2004.
Suchan, Jim and Greg Hayzak. “The Communication Characteristics of Virtual Teams: A Case Study.” IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication 44, no. 3:174–186.
Technical Communicators and Knowledge Management
by Alan Breacher, AB Writing Services & Consulting
According to a recent article by Michael Skapinker in The Financial Times , the kinds of work opportunities that are “most likely to survive the export of jobs to lower-wage countries” are to be found in skilled manual labor. This includes electricians and plumbers (and in Houston, no doubt, air conditioning technicians) because it is difficult to outsource these kinds of jobs and there is a high demand for people with the associated skills.
Skapinker notes that a second category of secure careers consists of professionals who can provide “skilled services to the rich.” Knowledge management (KM) may qualify as one of these types of services and may provide an opportunity for technical communicators to realize an increase in the demand for our services.
A Growing Trend
Technical communicators' increased involvement in KM activities has been identified as one of the growing trends in our field. For example, Elizabeth Frick, writing in the July/August 2000 edition of Intercom , identifies the need for employees within organizations to share information through “plain language” as part of the KM process. Technical communicators have a role to play in KM efforts by helping subject specialists develop content that employees with different expertise will be able to understand and use. I can imagine an example of this being marketers who need product information that is technical enough to demonstrate an understanding of how the product will benefit customers, but without marketers and customers getting confused!
Definitions of KM can be found at numerous websites. For example, the Knowledge Management Resource Center ( www.kmresource.com ) includes many white papers on the subject and links to related sites. A couple of definitions that I liked are:
“KM is the process through which organizations generate value from their intellectual and knowledge-based assets. Most often, generating value from such assets involves sharing them among employees, departments and even with other companies in an effort to devise best practices” ( www.cio.com/research/knowledge/edit/kmabcs.html ).
“[KM is] identifying and mapping intellectual assets within the organization, generating new knowledge for competitive advantage within the organization, making vast amounts of corporate information accessible, sharing of best practices, and technology that enables all of the above—including groupware and intranets” ( www.media-access.com/whatis.html ).
The first definition points out that KM is about getting as much value as possible from an organization's knowledge assets. This includes the ability to share information so that, for example, best practices can be developed. The second definition focuses on identifying and cataloging information assets so that they can be used to generate knowledge that can be applied in practical ways. It also emphasizes the role of technology in allowing this to happen.
Saul Carliner has also written, “Knowledge management involves capturing, storing, transforming, and disseminating information within an organization and tapping into organizational expertise to retain a competitive advantage. It involves systems, procedures, policies, collaborations, mentoring, and other activities.”
What seems to be a common thread among discussions of KM is that how an organization defines its KM practice, and what it expects to get out of this practice, will depend on the specific goals of the organization.
To ensure that technical communicators are involved in KM activities, we need to be able to articulate—and perhaps provide hard evidence for—the value that we bring to KM processes.
Intercom has published a number of articles on the value-adding skills that are provided by technical communicators. Mark Edelman's article, published in April 2001, identifies a number of value-adding skills that technical communicators provide for organizations' products and services. For example, technical communicators:
Develop information products that aid the communication of useful information between specialized professionals. Technical communicators do this by using language that the intended audience understands and by designing documents that allow information to be located easily. These factors increase the audience's productivity. Because “information products” can include a wide variety of items, including manuals, notices, specifications, analytical reports, and status reports, technical communicators can have a far-reaching impact on an organization's activities.
Develop documents that conform to standards (or even establish standards) that help communicate the content to the audience.
Develop documentation that makes users more productive by reducing the number of calls to a help desk they need to make. If an organization determines that a new release of a software product requires less support time than was required for previous versions, some of this benefit may be attributable to improvements in product documentation.
Keep design and function specifications and other documentation up to date. This ensures that everyone on a project team is working with the most recent and accurate information. It is important to get this documentation as accurate as possible early on because the largest proportion of product costs come from support, maintenance, changes, and training .
Understanding the value that we bring to the development of information products, and understanding what an organization hopes to gain from KM, allows us to highlight the roles that we can play in KM activities. For example:
Technical communicators can contribute to an organization's KM effort by adding quality to the design and content of documents with a wide audience. Ensuring that documents which allow employees with different knowledge backgrounds and organizational goals to work together will clearly have a significant effect on an organization. Knowledge represents organizations' key asset in today's economy, and technical communicators have an essential role to play in ensuring that this asset is of the highest quality.
Technical communicators can develop good-quality technical information that helps reduce the need for some training and the associated costs. For example, good-quality manuals should at least be able to show the audience how to perform basic functions. This means that training courses can focus on more advanced tasks or tasks that require more specialized knowledge.
Technical communicators can work with subject matter experts to develop information such as technical summaries for an organization's decision makers. Ensuring that such information is accurate and focused will help speed the decision-making process within organizations and make them more responsive to changing conditions.
Technical communicators can be involved in editing mission-critical documents for other professionals and organizations. For example, As Bill Fiora of the Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals has noted, “one of the most under-appreciated skills in the intelligence profession is the ability to write clear and concise reports” ( www.scip.org/news/cimcomp/v5i1article1.asp ). The SCIP website lists “competitor profiles”—reports that can be researched, written, and edited by technical communicators—as the tool most commonly used by CI professionals.
A recent posting on the STC Houston jobs bulletin board provides clues as to the kind of tasks that a technical communicator may be asked to perform to meet an organization's KM requirements. The posting states that the position “will ensure Knowledge Management content is complete and accurate by creating, revising, testing, conducting quality assurance, and maintaining content….make recommendations regarding the content, layout, templates, and other functionality and [be] responsible for reviewing the design, context, and content for others. Writers will also be responsible for facilitating the audit and update of current content in conjunction with SME groups, and may also be responsible for coaching others.” Do you see many differences here from the activities that you perform as part of your “normal” technical communication activities?
From a technical communicator's perspective, it seems that current KM needs are pretty similar to what we have been doing for years. But to be involved in KM activities we must demonstrate to our customers that we understand their KM goals and we must have a good idea of how we can help them achieve those goals.
Have you been involved in work that is explicitly directed at an organization's KM efforts? Please send me brief descriptions of the kind of work you have been doing, and I will write them up as case studies to be published in an STC publication (company and employee names excluded as necessary). Please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Saul Carliner, “Intellectual Capital: Placing a Value on Technical Communication,” Intercom , September/October 2000
Mark Edelman, “The Value Added by Technical Communicators,” Intercom , April 2001
Elizabeth Frick, “Trends in Technical Communication: An Independent's View,” Intercom , July/August 2000
Cindy Pao, Information Developer, BMC Software, Inc.
Did you know that STC Houston has a Strategic Plan?
Completed last year by the Administrative Council, the strategic plan contains objectives, strategies, and tactics.
Now that this living document is alive, it's time to start carrying out what those leaders envisioned.
The Strategic Plan
The STC Houston 5-Year Strategic Plan contains four objectives:
To promote ethical and professional behavior
To encourage and facilitate professional growth
To project a positive image to ourselves and others
To foster valued personal relationships
Each objective has its own strategies. For example, the objective “To encourage and facilitate professional growth” is assigned the following strategies:
Provide educational and training opportunities to members.
Foster career development.
Publish and maintain technical communication resources lists.
Increase networking opportunities through interaction with other groups.
Strive for attaining member and chapter distinction.
Improve member recruitment and retention, including planning for succession.
For each strategy, we identified tactics to employ to live up to our strategic plan:
Provide reports about conferences and meetings for members.
Hold an annual employment share-the-knowledge ( STK )meeting.
Establish a resource structure and delivery mechanism.
Identify compatible groups.
Nominate STC Houston members for Society-level awards and offices.
Develop a chapter succession plan.
Making It Happen
As this year progresses, you will see some of the tactics from the strategic plan being implemented in the chapter. For example, Gary Foster is currently planning the annual Employment STK for January. This tactic will help fulfill the “Foster career development” strategy.
At the same time, we're implementing one set of tactics, we'll be planning another set of tactics for next year.
Get involved with your chapter's present and future:
Read through the strategic plan. It's available on the chapter's web site.
See whether one of the tactics interests you.
Find out whether that tactic is going to happen this year.
If it is, get involved by planning, executing, or attending.
If it isn't, find out if it's being planned for next year. You could get in on the ground floor and be one of the decision makers.
I want each and every one of you to do this.
Distinguished or Bust!
I hope you know that STC Houston won the Chapter of Excellence award at the annual conference.
This year, we want more. We want to win Distinguished.
Only with your participation can we be successful. From making a few phone calls each month to planning and managing a project, the chapter has every sort of position open.
This is your chapter—help make it ROCK ! And don't ya know, I love hearing from you! You can send me an e-mail message at email@example.com .
STC Houston Updates Chapter Bylaws
by Pat Bishop, Independent Contractor
Keeping our chapter bylaws current is an important STC Houston goal. Over time, STC Houston must update its bylaws to reflect changes in chapter policies and operations and changes in policies and operations at the Society level.
The STC Houston Administrative Council will soon propose bylaw changes to chapter members for approval. You will have an opportunity to review and comment on the proposed changes before they are submitted to members for a vote at the April 2005 general meeting.
Major changes affect the following articles of the STC Houston bylaws. Throughout the bylaws, editorial changes have also been made for clarity and consistency. To review the specific proposed changes to the bylaws, click here .
Article VI – Administrative Council
A proposed change to this article involves adopting new titles for certain STC Houston Administrative Council members. New titles vice president and senior vice president will replace the existing titles director and vice president .
This change eliminates the potential for any conflict between the administrative authority and roles of the STC Houston Administrative Council and the legal authority of the Society, which resides in its Board of Directors. Similarities between the director titles now being used by STC Houston and those being used by the Society could cause an unintended legal liability for the chapter. The new chapter titles will refer to the same administrative authority and roles now being exercised by chapter directors and the chapter vice president.
Article VIII – Elections
Proposed changes to this article clarify STC Houston administrative policies and procedures for organizing and selecting a nominating committee for chapter elections and presenting a slate of nominees for chapter offices to chapter members.
These changes also define the policies and procedures that STC Houston will observe in conducting chapter elections and in tabulating votes.
Article IX – Meetings
A proposed change to this article states that STC Houston shall hold at least the minimum number of meetings that are required by Society bylaws. This change will help keep chapter bylaws current with any changes in the number of required meetings that may be made at the Society level.
Article X – Finances
Proposed changes to this article strengthen and clarify guidelines for managing STC Houston funds and the financial responsibilities of STC Houston Administrative Council members in the selection of a financial institution in which to deposit chapter funds and in the authorization of budgets, expenses, and disbursements.
These changes also clarify the duties and requirements of the chapter treasurer and council members in maintaining financial records and issuing financial reports. In keeping with sound financial practices, t hese changes also require that a non-chapter-affiliated auditor perform an annual audit of chapter funds.
Article XI – Annual Report
Proposed changes to this article provide more flexibility in STC Houston reporting requirements, to enable chapter bylaws to remain current with any changes in requirements that occur at the Society level.
Chapter Plans Employment, Contractor STKs
by Gary Foster, Employment Committee Manager
An Employment STK will be held from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Saturday, January 15 at the Tomball Church of Christ. Jocelyn Williams will hold a Contractor STK from 1:00 to 5:00. Come prepared to spend the day with us and learn how to keep your job through “adding value,” how to market yourself, how to reply to Internet job listings, and more.
Although November and December are typically flat hiring months because of the holiday season, the market for technical communicators has been above average this year. Companies typically wait until the new year to hire someone.
The page you are looking for no longer exists. Perhaps you can return back to the site's homepage and see if you can find what you are looking for. Or, you can try finding it with the information below.
The page you are looking for no longer exists. Perhaps you can return back to the site's homepage and see if you can find what you are looking for. Or, you can try finding it with the information below.
The 2004–2005 seminar series is the Society's most ambitious to date. Among the scheduled presenters are members who have published widely, served at high levels in the Society, and received outstanding scores for their conference presentations. Following is a list of seminars scheduled for December and January. To view the complete 2004–2005 seminar schedule, visit stc.webex.com . Please note that registration closes 24 hours before each event.
›December 8 : Highlighting Hazards: Mastering Warnings and Error Messages
Presenter Leah Guren entered the field of technical communication in 1980. She used her experience as a writer, editor, technical publications manager, and consultant to develop a variety of specialized training programs in the field. Leah currently trains new writers through the course she developed for In Other WORDS, Israel 's leading technical communication company. She also conducts seminars and in-house training for technical communicators and engineers internationally. Her clients include many of the top high-tech companies in Israel .
Leah brings dry theory to life, illustrating rules with real-life examples and providing clear, practical guidelines that writers of all levels and experience can apply. A senior STC member, Leah is a popular speaker at STC and other international technical communication conferences.
›January 12: Preemptive Project Planning
Presenter John Hedtke is the award-winning author of 23 books, the most recent being RoboHelp for the Web (book and CD, with Brenda Huettner). He has more than 25 years of experience in software and technical communications, including 7 years in technical publications management. He has developed and written documentation and books for many leading products and does consulting in writing, business, and processes for a variety of clients. A complete list of his books, articles, and projects can be found at http://www.hedtke.com . John frequently travels for lectures and guest appearances at conferences and seminars. A member of the Mid-Valley chapter, he is a fellow of the Society.
›January 26: A Pound of Salt, A Pint of Blood – Getting the Most Out of Your Contractors to Ensure Project Success
Presenter Tom White is president of TJW Associates, Inc. in Beaverton , Oregon . For the past 20 years, he has developed information for technical audiences—writing software manuals, creating online documentation, designing training courses, and managing Web sites.
Having worked both sides of contracting—as a contractor and as a hiring manager—Tom knows first-hand the pitfalls of ill-conceived client and contractor relationships. Through successful contract management, Tom has also learned productive ways to get the most out of contract resources.
Tom is active in the Willamette Valley chapter of STC , and he has shared his experience about contracting in his popular Declaration of Independence TM seminars with those aspiring to become independent contractors. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Each seminar costs $99 for STC members (the nonmember rate is $149). In addition to offering high-quality training at an affordable price, STC 's seminar series features a quick and simple online registration process. Members can sign up for seminars and view detailed descriptions at stc.webex.com .