Getting a job as a technical writer?
November 14, 2005 9:37 PM   Subscribe

How can I get an entry level technical writer position?

I have a degree in journalism, more than a year of experience in professional writing, and some background (a year of engineering courses) in engineering. Is it possible for me to break into technical writing with these qualifications? If so, what steps should I take to get a position?
posted by drezdn to Work & Money (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
Go to a small company where you will be writing and doing other work. Bring a portfolio of written work that looks well-designed and has flawless language. Maybe get a certificate at a local community college.

Build up experience, get better at it, upgrade your job, and then after about 10 years realize there's nothing new for you, that you don't want to go into management, and get a job teaching tech wriiting. happened to a friend of mine.
posted by mecran01 at 10:18 PM on November 14, 2005


Long-time TW here. I've even seen posts for entry-level TWs in SE Wisconsin on Monster. Not many, not recently, but I've seen 'em. And the ones I've seen were for engineering TW (as opposed to software, for example).

Your quals sound sufficient to get you at least to an interview. Dunno what's in your portfolio, but "writing" per se isn't all of it -- you should be able to explain procedures, using illustrations if possible. Maybe you could make up a short procedure on how to assemble something or perform maintenance on something? For example, if I didn't have anything in a portfolio, I might make up a procedure, with some simple schematic illustrations, on how to clear a stuck English muffin from a toaster. It sounds pretty humble, but a pubs manager would be looking for clarity, consistency; some prior thought about audience, scope, and purpose; format, usability (just off the top of my head).

Have you tried the local STC chapter? Do you follow discussions on the TECHWR-L mailing list or archives?
posted by alumshubby at 7:14 AM on November 15, 2005


I second alumshubby's advice. Put together a simple 3 or 4 page document. Illustrate it with simple line drawings. Another good type of document is the "mechanism description". Take an everday object like a cassette tape and try to fully describe it in words and pictures. What does it look like, what does it do, and how does it work?

Using a mechanism description I'd written and illustrated, I got an internship that rapidly became a full time tech writing job. It's interesting work, and I'd still be doing it if the bottom hadn't fallen out of the supercomputer market.

Watch the Dice.com job listings....tech writing gigs pop up there quite frequently.
posted by cosmicbandito at 7:27 AM on November 15, 2005


What type of tech writing are you looking to get into? My experience (~9 years) is in software and hardware, so I'm approaching your question from that angle...

In addition to what the others have said, you might want to develop some familiarity with commonly-used software tools. I'd recommend Macromedia RoboHelp for creating online help systems, MSWord and Adobe Framemaker for print/PDF documentation, and some sort of graphics tool (Visio, Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Photoshop, Corel Paint Shop Pro).

Download a 30-day trial of each just so you can say that you have some familiarity with them. You might even be able to use them to generate pieces for your portfolio.
posted by 27 at 8:44 AM on November 15, 2005


Another tech writer here, and I have to take some exception to mecran01's advice. Try to get a position with a firm that has at least one other (experienced) tech writer. Early in my career, I was hired by a company with two other tech writers, and without their mentoring, I would not have progressed as quickly, nor would I have the technical writing "smarts" that I do today.
As usual, ymmv.
posted by dbmcd at 9:27 AM on November 15, 2005


Wow. I didn't realize we had this many TWs on MeFi...represent, yo!

I agree with dbmcd; I broke into the profession as the lone TW in a company that had never had one before -- the mgmt & I were learning as we went w/r/t deadlines and productivity, and even though they were happy with me overall and sorry to see me move on, it would've been nice to have had another TW to get some perspective and suggestions from and air ideas to (this was well before the Internet). Even if the other person has only a year's worth of experience, he/she could make the transition much easier for you.
posted by alumshubby at 11:14 AM on November 15, 2005


I'm leaving tech writing. Alas, my hole is filled.

Goodness, that sounds naughty.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:34 AM on November 15, 2005


Will going through a staffing agency help? I'm thinking more towards engineering-style technical writing. There seems to be a decent-sized demand for it in Wisconsin.
posted by drezdn at 12:44 PM on November 15, 2005


It would help to get a TW certificate. Try to learn FrameMaker; most decent TW jobs use it, and it is a selling point. There are some places that use Word, but it's definitely second-rate.

You may have to work cheap, just to get the job title on your resume.

Agencies can help, but I've noticed lately that all the jobs agencies call me up about show up on the job boards a couple of days later, as direct postings from the hiring company. If you let an agency present you to the hiring company, it's going to cost them 25% more to hire you than some equally-qualified writer who answers the direct post.

Don't just check dice.com. Set up a search agent and RSS feed with indeed.com. That site searches every job site I ever heard of, and some I haven't; then gives you a list of the most recent ones that match your criteria. Monster, dice, craigslist, it's all there.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 1:00 PM on November 15, 2005


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