“Sorry, we’re only looking for….”

Like many universities, my school held a job fair every semester. Because it was a science/engineering university, said fairs were extremely technology oriented. Most of the companies present were in the software, biotech, or petroleum industries.

Every semester, I (and my colleagues in the Technical Communication program) would show up bright eyed and hopeful, clutching our expertly crafted resumes and the portfolios that cost a mint in color printing fees. And every semester we left disheartened–heads bowed and feet shuffling–after wasting an hour or more hearing, over and over, “Sorry, we’re only looking for software developers… engineers… science majors….”

Or worse: “Sorry, I don’t know what technical communication is.”

Or even worse: “Well I’m sure we have a call center position open–that’s what you mean by ‘technical communication,’ right?”

We got used to it. It was a miracle and a thing to be celebrated when somebody did know our field. Further, in those incredibly rare instances when somebody actually had a tech writing position available, jaws could be heard hitting the floor clear across campus.

Surely, I thought, things would be different in the Real World. Technology and software companies these days almost always have customer-facing help, or at least some sort of documentation.

So imagine my horror when I attended the Chicago Tech Job Fair (sponsored by techfetch and the Illinois Technology Association) on February 7th and experienced a horrible feeling of deja vu. I walked into the room, and it looked almost exactly like those dreaded college job fairs: two rows of tables in the middle, and tables lining the walls, each boasting giant foam board or poster board displays about the company in question. The tables all had pamphlets, business cards, sheets with job descriptions, or other propaganda. The companies were even giving out free branded junk, such as pens or staplers. The free swag was often the highlight of my university job fair experience.

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Chicago Tech Job Fair

I almost walked out on the spot. After all, as a shy introvert, I have a hard enough time approaching strangers and trying to convince them I’m worth hiring. If it was going to be anything like my college experience, why deal with the stress of talking to recruiters who don’t care about my field–only to leave with disappointment and no prospects?

I decided to give it a shot anyway, mainly because I recognized one of the companies. A company I knew hired technical writers, because some STC Chicago members work there. That gave me some hope as well as a starting place. I figured, if nothing else, I would have some practice talking to recruiters. I was very bad at it in college, so I could use all the practice I could get. (And here I apologize for having no photos in this post. I was too stressed from being perky and employable and forcing myself to make eye contact with the recruiters, so I totally forgot to take pictures.)

In a later post, I’ll discuss how I used this fair to experiment with my approach and how the recruiters reacted to how I introduced my field.

I forced myself to approach all of the companies. Many of them gave me the ol’ “Sorry but we’re only looking for…” line. Even now I’m not sure if it was comical or just sad. I think it would have been sad if I didn’t hear this from another company: “Actually, we have a tech writing position open! I’m surprised somebody actually asked about it.”

My jaw didn’t hit the floor, but I couldn’t contain my shock. To be fair, the recruiter seemed almost as shocked as I was. As a result, I actually came away from the job fair with one solid lead.

I also managed to find several less concrete leads. They mostly amounted to, “Well, we have a tech writing department, but we’re not hiring right now.” Still better than being told my degree–for which I suffered through calculus–was useless. I have some companies to watch and some recruiters whom I can stalk. (Which is evidently totally acceptable if my job hunt books are to be believed.)

More importantly, I came away from the Chicago Tech Job Fair with increased confidence and practice talking to recruiters. Also a rubber ball that flashes blue and red when you bounce it.

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5 thoughts on ““Sorry, we’re only looking for….”

    • From what I’ve heard speaking to the TCers out here, the vast majority were originally engineers or developers that also happened to be able to write. When the need for documentation came up, they came to the dark side. For others it was a case of knowing somebody who happened to have a position available. A smaller number work through several of the consulting firms that serve tech writers.

      Precious few have gotten jobs through applying or from job fairs. This is why it’s vital for technical communicators to keep an large and active network even while they’re employed (something I’m working on right now). The best bet for a new job seems to be leveraging the network.

  1. I second your comment, Jessica: From the little experience I have with job fairs, they simply “don’t work” for tech comm’ers. And seeing what “meat markets” they can be, I’m almost glad I’m not expected to use them in our field, even if it counts out one of the channels to get a job. Anyway, I think you’ve got the right idea to focus on your network, not on job fairs. Best of luck to you!

    • Yeah, the main reason I went to this one at all was that the venue was on my block. Can’t beat convenience. I doubt I’ll cut out job fairs entirely–I don’t think I should cut out any possible avenue at this point.

  2. Pingback: Another approach to approaching recruiters | Second City Odyssey

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