Way back in the Fall Semester of 2010, I was contemplating  topic for my undergraduate thesis, a required component of my school’s Technical Communication degree. A mandatory part of the thesis was submitting the finished product to a scholarly journal for publication. I decided at the time that I would aim high and try to publish my thesis in Technical Communication, the peer-reviewed journal published by the Society for Technical Communication. It was almost a throwaway idea; I didn’t think that a professional journal would be interested in undergraduate research.

Well, I guess I was wrong. My original research article, “The Use of Online Collaborative Writing Tools by Technical Communication Practitioners and Students,” has now been published in issue 60.1 of Technical CommunicationI am very proud and humbled to think that my research and my writing were considered a worthy contribution to the field’s body of work. (Note that only STC members or subscribers to the journal will be able to read the article online.)


Technical Communication issue 60.1, February, 2013. My article is that first bullet point!

It is also valuable self-validation at a time when I’m feeling hard on myself. The job hunt has not been going well, and I’m starting to doubt my abilities. Having my work published could not have come at a better time for the sake of my self confidence.

Unfortunately, it seems academia matters little to industry hiring managers, so it won’t help me get a job. In fact, it didn’t help at my last interview. But, I can at least say that my writing skills are publication worthy and I have strong research skills.

All that aside, I’m still very excited. I poured so much work and heart into that article–even after I had graduated and gotten the grade on it! I’m so pleased to see it all come to fruition.

On a slightly humorous note: I’ve always been slightly disgruntled at the sheer wordiness of my article’s title. As it turns out, my article has the shortest title in the issue!

Another approach to approaching recruiters

If you read my last post, then you know that I attended the Chicago Tech Job Fair last week and experienced some mixed results. And now you also know that regardless of whether you read it. As I mentioned in that post, I want to briefly reflect on how I approached the recruiters.

Now, I am no means an expert (quite the opposite, in fact), but hopefully having my thoughts here will help somebody else. Continue reading

“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.


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.

Networking is a four-letter word…

…and those letters are H-A-R-D. I am a very shy introvert, and after yesterday’s (May 22) back-to-back networking events, all I could do was come back and collapse. I was going to blog about it all right away, but I had to spend some time mentally “unpacking” the day’s events.

What were these two events?

The first was the Society for Technical Communication’s (STC) 2012 International Summit. The other was a meetup of local content strategists.

STC Summit 2012 Logo

The STC is one of the largest (if not the largest) professional societies for the field of technical communication. The organization holds a yearly conference that draws technical communicators from all over the US–and internationally, as well. I went to the ’08 Summit in Philadelphia. I hadn’t been to one since then, primarily because it always landed during finals week or “dead week” (the week prior to finals, during which most final projects and papers are due). I did not originally intend to attend this year’s event because I felt the expenses of registration plus the plane ticket wouldn’t have been worth the return on investment (ROI).

Then I moved to Chicago. Suddenly, the price of a plane ticket was no longer an issue. And the ROI would be MUCH higher because I would be meeting with local technical communicators, thereby greatly increasing the value of my network. Attending the Summit was no longer a choice; it was a necessity. I did decide against going for the whole three days, choosing instead to purchase a one-day ticket.

I remember going to the 2008 Summit and being overwhelmed by the information I was getting from the sessions. I spent those three days ultimately learning how much I didn’t know about my own field. My head was so full of new tech comm knowledge that I really didn’t have the energy or inclination to network. Plus, at the time, I had no inkling of the importance of a good network. And even less an idea of how difficult it was to develop one. As overwhelmed as I was after three days of the ’08 Summit, I was far more overwhelmed during my single day of networking at this year’s Summit.

For 2012, my main goal was networking. I did attend two sessions, but they were incidental. However, they both directly contributed to my career goals. The first was about developing and maintaining one’s professional network (“Building Your Professional Network—Beyond the Social Media Maze”), and the other was about maintaining one’s portfolio (“Portfolios for Tech Comm Professionals.” The former was so valuable to me that I plan on writing a blog post or article about it if I can get permission from the presenter, Jenna Moore. I took copious notes, and I’d enjoy sharing what I learned.

The rest of my too-short day up in Rosemont (where the conference was held) was mostly spent at the event’s Hospitality Desk, which was manned by members of Chicago’s STC chapter. I managed to suppress my shyness for the day and chat, quite comfortably, with 8 or 10 locals. They were all super friendly and got me even more excited about continuing my career in Chicago. I really want to become involved with the chapter, and these folks were so welcoming, outgoing, and enthusiastic that I think it will be easy to motivate myself to contribute. For instance, now that I’ve decided I like blogging, I’ve already reached out to the person in charge of STC Chicago’s blog. Because I feel like I have something to contribute, I feel much more comfortable among their ranks.

On one hand, I’m glad I only went for one day. I felt so emotionally exhausted after that I don’t think I could have handled two more days. On the other hand, I wish I’d had more time to network and possibly attend more of the sessions. I spent the whole day feeling like I was behind the rest of the class: everyone already knew their way around the conference venue and had already established connections with each other. I felt like I was the new kid  in town a month into the school year. Everyone already had their playmates figured out, and I had to introduce myself or play alone on the swings.

Fortunately, I was dealing with professionals, not school children, so it was much easier to get into the flow of things. In fact, once I got in the groove of this whole networking thing, I found it got easier and easier as the day wore on. Which is good, because I still had a second networking event to attend, and it was even further from my comfort zone.

Content Strategists' Meetup

Chris Hester was the first STC Chicago member I “met”–via LinkedIn (we spoke for about 30 seconds at the Summit). She suggested I attend a meetup of local content strategists, which took place downtown. Unfortunately, this meant I had to leave the Summit a little early, but I think it was worth it. At the event, I found myself approaching total strangers and striking up conversations–unusual for a wallflower like me, to say the least.

I learned a lot about content strategy, which I can see myself getting involved with down the road once I have some more content creation experience under my belt. The presentation, “Connecting the Dots between Business, Brand, and Benefits with Content Strategy,” reinvigorated my enthusiasm for content creation. Then again, anyone could be inspired to creativity in that atmosphere.

The event was hosted by Manifest Digital–a company specializing in content creation, user experience, and content strategy–at its downtown location (see photo). The walls are painted with chalkboard and whiteboard paint, so employees can scribble and take notes any time creativity strikes. Since starting this blog, I’ve taken to hauling a notebook everywhere with me to jot down post ideas and outlines, so it’s easy for me to see the utility of writing down an idea as soon as it occurs. Those walls stood out to me as an indication of a place that fosters creativity and talent. The event as a whole indicated that Manifest Digital was interested investing in its community. It’s definitely the sort of place I hope I end up working.

Manifest Digital's Office Building

The riverfront office building of Manifest Digital, just across the river from Marina City. Everything about this location inspires creativity.

I was tired, but I did find the time to chat with the presenter, Rahel Bailie, about something she said that was so meaningful to me I wrote it down in my phone. She said, “All content is marketing content.” She specifically included technical communication and user-generated content. It was so poignant because my personal philosophy is, “Everything’s an argument.” It’s a very similar idea. Both statements imply that persuasion a necessary element in everything produced, even if the intention to persuade isn’t conscious. It’s pretty exciting to see my philosophy line up so closely with that of a successful professional.

I also spent some time speaking with one of the event’s organizers. We had a nice conversation about the kinds of work Manifest Digital produces and, of course, about the awesome office. About then, the day started to catch up with me, so I thanked her for opening up her workplace for the gathering and grabbed the train back home.

Despite the anxiety and exhaustion, the day was immensely successful. It was a success because I managed to paper the Summit bulletin boards with resumes, give out (and collect) impressive quantities of business cards, and  make some great local contacts in the field. But I feel my biggest accomplishment during these two events was overcoming my shyness enough to not only approach strangers and speak with them, but to feel comfortable doing so. I’m taking that as a sign that I really am ready for my career in the Second City.