These are tough economic times. Many of my colleagues are now without jobs or are scouting openings because they feel insecure about the jobs that they have. What can we technical communicators do? Put our writing skills to work for us.
One thing that I learned during my job search in 2007 is that you should always keep your resume up to date, regardless of how secure you feel in your current position. I also learned the value of creating and maintaining a marketing plan, which focuses your time and effort when you are searching for employment. Whether you are out of work or employed and pondering your next career move, both documents are critical to landing a rewarding job.
Your resume sells you to prospective employers. You want to tell hiring managers about your career to date, but want them to be eager to learn more. As you write or revise it, think about how you want it to direct an interview. Some tips I’ve picked up for writing an effective resume include:
- For every accomplishment that you list, be sure that you actively did or delivered something. On many resumes that I have seen, including my own at one time, there were bullets that described being a “member of a team” that did something. That’s fine, but a hiring manager is not considering your team, she is considering you. What was your specific role on the team? What did you contribute or deliver? Did you bring the team together? Did you lead it? Did you organize meetings and take minutes? Did you facilitate brainstorming? Were you the key presenter?
- For every way that you describe yourself, whether as a team player, a goal-oriented project leader, and so on, be prepared to tell an anecdote that illustrates that quality. If you do not have such a story, replace the item with one that allows you to tell such a story. You get bonus points if your accomplishments tie to your qualities. For example, if you say you are a goal-oriented project leader, it helps if you follow that up by reporting that you led a team to deliver a large and complex documentation set on an aggressive deadline.
- Focus on deliverables and accomplishments that clearly contribute to the trajectory of your career. If you point out that you were a volunteer for the United Way, do not list it on your resume unless you can clearly explain how that experience prepared you for the position for which you are applying. Did working for the United Way help you develop fund-raising skills? Did you solicit contributions by phone or in person? That might not be a bad item if you are looking to fill a sales position. If you report that you were on the Citizens Advisory for Cable TV, ask yourself, “so what?” How does that accomplishment lead you to where you are now? If you don’t have a clear answer, drop the accomplishment. If the answer is, “that experience gave me insight into understanding customer media preferences, and that insight informs my skill in writing clear material for specific audiences,” keep it.
- Use strong verbs in your resume. In your summary, you can say that you have “experience producing materials that facilitate understanding and clarity for internal and external users” or that you “write and edit clear, direct content that helps users get work done quickly.” The second phrase is more powerful and persuasive than the first, because you can picture someone getting work done by reading content, whereas it is tougher to imagine someone having their understanding facilitated by whatever it is you do with materials.
A resume tells a prospective employer what you have done and how your experience makes you the best candidate for an open position. A marketing plan, on the other hand, guides you in selecting the best position for your skills and experience. A resume explains what you did – a marketing plan captures what you want. You want to precisely define the target market for your job search so that you do not waste time – yours or your interviewer’s.
A few simple steps can help you get started developing your marketing plan.
- Identify the industry or type of organization for which you want to work. If you have spent nearly all your career in the computer industry, it is logical to target that industry. But will you limit your search to that industry, or will you consider others? What about pharmaceuticals, health-care, or energy? Going to a new industry may mean that you would have to consider a less senior position, but if hiring in the computer industry is tight, a less senior position might be better than none at all. By expanding your range of target industries, you may find a job that exercises your talent and skill better than you had ever imagined.
- Do you want to work for a big or small company? Would you prefer a Fortune 500 company or an up-and-coming firm? Do you feel more productive in a large or small workgroup? Give some thought to these questions.
- Identify the geographical area where you want to work. Are you rooted to where you now live? Would you be willing to relocate? If so, what locations interest you? Would you be just as willing to move to Maine as to Maui? In tough times, the answer may be “wherever there is a paying job,” but consider the expenses of moving, both in terms of money and spirit, before accepting a position purely because of pay.
- Also think hard about your personal preferences in terms of work/life balance and career aspirations. Think about the kinds of tasks that you like to do, day in and day out. In a tough job market like the one we are in, we cannot let personal preferences rule our decision-making, but we cannot ignore them either. A workplace is where you spend the better part of your life. Is it important to you to work in a supportive environment where ongoing learning is encouraged? Can you sit alone at a desk and not say a word to anyone all day, or do you need to interact with others? Ask questions during the interview to give you a sense of these things.
When you finish your marketing plan, it will look something like this:
- Professional objective with preferred function: for example,”Technical communicator who wants to lead projects and communicate complex technical material to a variety of audiences. Preferred functions include writing and editing, project management, and making technical presentations.”
- Competencies: for example, “writing and editing, project management, team building, motivating others, mentoring, budgeting.”
- Target market characteristics: these will include all your personal preferences, such as “within 25 miles of Raleigh, NC” and “a large, diverse workgroup.”
- Provide a list of specific industries and companies that appeal to you.
Your marketing plan helps you focus the conversation whenever you discuss the kinds of jobs that you prefer with your network of contacts. Your contacts will have an easier time referring you to others because they clearly understand your target position. And sooner or later, one of those referrals will result in a hiring manager perusing your resume. That well-written resume will guide a successful interview. That interview could lead to you landing the job that you want and deserve.
As tough as these times are, you owe it to yourself to be prepared for job loss. Use your writing skills to create a marketing plan and resume now, so that you can put them to best use for an employer later.