Whether you’re looking for your first job, or you’re a “seasoned” worker, the process for getting a job (writing your resume, packaging your work samples, and then actually interviewing) can be a daunting experience. Times have changed. Resumes are often scanned electronically rather than reviewed by a pair of eyes, and interviews can be done over the phone, in-person, or via WebEx or Skype. To help job seekers become successful job hunters in this new electronic age, The CARA Group and the Society for Technical Communications (STC) recently hosted a workshop designed to provide the tools for success. CARA Recruiters, Jeff Warner and Lisa Vitale, along with STC President Elizabeth Burke, recently spent a Saturday morning with 11 technical writers discussing best practices for writing resumes, organizing a portfolio of work samples, and surviving interviews.
Jeff Warner kicked off the workshop using the tag line “Trust Me Im a Technical Writer” (yes, error included!) and talked about the importance of writing and presenting a strong resume. As the first “deliverable” a potential employer will see, your resume must create a good first impression, one that piques the Recruiter’s interest enough to provide you with the coveted opportunity to interview. If we think of how branding is used in a marketing sense to “package” a product, the same concepts can be applied to the job seeker. Putting careful thought into how you want your resume to represent you and your capabilities allow you to brand yourself and showcase the value you can provide to prospective employers.
Jeff addressed several topics:
Keywords – Resumes that are submitted online are usually filtered electronically for key words, so make sure your resume passes this first level of scrutiny by using words that are key and specific to the job.
Resume Styles – Choosing the right style of resume is important to best showcase your abilities and work history. Recruiters typically don’t like functional resumes, preferring to see work history presented in reverse chronological order. Functional resumes can work, however, for fresh grads or people who are changing careers or fields. A combination of chronological and functional styles is good for people who have experience across diverse areas and want to highlight their skills that can be used in a broader capacity.
Best Practices – Since a technical writer’s primary talent is writing and developing useful documentation, a resume with typos, grammar errors, and unsightly formatting tells the Recruiter you don’t have the expertise, or talent, for the job. Some Best Practices that Jeff highlighted are:
- For each work experience, include project results that are quantifiable, such as size of document, completion within a tight timeframe, advanced tools, etc.
- Include only your recent work experience. Remove or summarize older work, especially if it isn’t relevant to the job.
- Omit irrelevant information, such as “I’m available to interview at your convenience” or “references available upon request.” The employer already assumes these are true.
- Make sure your LinkedIn profile is consistent with your resume, and make sure your Facebook page is “fit for viewing.”
- Highlight any non-working accomplishments or activities that are relevant, such as President of the local PTA (which shows leadership and management experience), or grant-writing volunteer.
Cover Letters – cover letters should be specific, direct and to the point. The objective is to identify the position for which you’re applying . A cover letter should include only an explanation why you’re applying for the job, your unique qualifications and accomplishments, and a short paragraph asking for an interview and providing your contact information where you can be most easily reached.
Reviewing a Resume – Before submitting your resume, have several pairs of eyes review it for clarity, content, format, and validation that it’s presenting you in the best possible light.
Work Samples and Portfolios
STC‘s own Elizabeth Burke introduced the concept of developing a portfolio that showcases your work samples so employers can view the breadth and quality of your work. With more than 20 years of experience as a Technical Writer, and as someone who frequently is in the position herself to interview and hire technical writers, Elizabeth was able to bring both practical and anecdotal experience to her discussion.
What’s the difference between work samples and portfolios? A portfolio is a complete package of your experience. It demonstrates the depth of your experience and includes: your resume, a list of collateral, one or more partial work samples that can be paper-based, online, or multi-media, awards, and references. Work samples, on the other hand, are individual examples of your deliverables that showcase your skills and tool expertise. Each work sample should be accompanied by a short description about the document, i.e., the business reason for the documentation, audience level, tool used, length of complete document, production timeline, and any other relevant or unique information.
Frequently technical writers say the company for which they created the documentation won’t allow them to keep work samples because of confidentially issues. Elizabeth offered the following workarounds to this dilemma:
- Obtain approval from the employer early in the project to retain a copy of the document. If the employer does not provide approval, don’t include the document in your portfolio!
- While highly sensitive material will most likely be denied permission, non-critical documents can be scrubbed of references to the company name, products, and confidential and proprietary content.
- Create your own documentation. Write a procedure that involves a hobby or software tool you frequently use.
Presenting Work Samples
An employer may ask to see work samples prior to the interview. Often times candidates don’t want to relinquish physical control over samples and, when they turn down the request, they lose the opportunity to interview. A better approach would be to ask the employer to participate in a WebEx session. Make sure, however, that you’ve rehearsed your presentation and are fully comfortable with the WebEx controls.
If you’re presenting work samples during the in-person interview, package your work samples so they’re neatly and attractively arranged, and easy to reference. If you intend to show documentation on your laptop or tablet, always have a backup plan in case the hardware doesn’t work or you don’t have internet access.
Lisa Vitale continued the branding concept by noting that once you’ve created a great resume and portfolio, it’s time to market your brand with solid interviewing skills. CARA Recruiter Gina Arinyanontakoon and Service Delivery Manager Susan Schneider provided an Oscar winning performance during a roleplay that revealed an “interview-gone-wrong”. The “candidate”wore inappropriate clothing, arrived late for the interview, and had no clue about the business of the company for which she was interviewing. Workshop participants were able to see how the candidate lost the job the minute she walked through the door.
Lisa provided insight on the following interview topics:
- Preparing for the interview – The biggest mistake a candidate can make is not being fully prepared: it can mean the difference between getting an offer and getting rejected. Some preparation suggestions include:
- Research the company and its core values
- Check LinkedIn for background information on the interviewer
- Know the job description and prepare questions about it
- Organize your work samples and select ones that are appropriate for the position
- Practice interviewing!
- Phone/Skype interviewing – Good communication skills via the phone and Skype can be challenging, but are equally important. To have a successful phone or Skype interview:
- Block out potential distractions such as children and pets
- Ensure the background is uncluttered and shows no personal items
- Make eye contact
- Dress as if you were interviewing in person … you’ll feel more professional
- If you’re using your cell phone, make sure it’s fully charged
- Smile! Even if the interviewer can’t see you, your voice will convey enthusiasm and set a positive tone.
- During the Interview – This is your opportunity to talk about your brand, establish credibility, and sell your abilities and skills. It’s also your opportunity to get answers to your questions.
- Remember the STAR Interviewing Technique – When you’re describing the tasks you accomplished, use the STAR method:
- Situation or Task – Describe a task you needed to accomplish and give enough detail so your interviewer understands
- Action you took – Describe the action you took, explaining the work that you, specifically, performed
- Results – Describe what was accomplished, what goals were met, what you learned
- Close the interview – Let the interviewer know that you’re interested in the position. Ask about the next step in the hiring process, and always send a Thank-You note via email.
Remembering these simple tips will provide a framework for putting your best face forward during the job hunt. Now, did we cover everything? Are there any other examples you can think of that have worked for you? We’re always interested in individual success stories. Let us know what you think.