Looking for work (new vs. experienced writer)

  • Content strategist
  • Technical writer
  • UX writer
  • Information developer

Over time, the title evolves. The role evolves. Yet, at its core, the job is to write content targeted to the correct audience that is easy for them to understand.

I have been on an interesting journey recently. On one hand, I have mentored people who want to start their career as a Technical Writer. I have also talked with those who are considering a career change to one of these roles. These people all lack portfolios. To build their portfolios, I recommend the following:

  • Volunteer to write for a local business or organization.
  • Find an open-source project that needs documentation.
  • Look at an existing application and describe how you would optimize their writing.

I give these folks interviewing tips as well. For example, when I interviewed someone who likes to hire junior writers, she looks for people who are curious, excited, and driven.

However, I have been looking at potential job opportunities for myself. I have an expansive portfolio. I have a great deal of experience in technical writing, UX writing, and this thing we now call “content strategy.” I have noticed that many hiring managers want to see specialization in one of these areas. When your career is 20+ years long (ok, closer to 30), you have specialized in these areas! But you have gained so much experience over this time that it becomes nonsensical to try to put it all in a portfolio.

I come from a time when hiring managers read resumes and looked at portfolios. If they thought you looked like a viable candidate, they had a conversation with you. Today, machines are screening resumes, so if you are missing keywords, you get the dreaded auto-rejection email.

If you make it past the machine screening, but your portfolio doesn’t match exactly with what the hiring manager wants to see, you likely won’t make it in for an interview.

Then, there are the requests for assignments! If you talk with people like me, we are leery of these. We don’t trust that our work won’t be used by the company; we have heard all the horror stories from our friends and colleagues. We want to be paid for our time. I understand that people will disagree with this. But, when I applied for a writing job, I was given two assignments. One was like the following:

You work for company ABC, and you are responsible for a new group of Technical Writers. This group is working on a new product that will launch soon.

  1. How would you onboard the new hires to get them up and running efficiently?
  2. What processes would you put in place?
  3. Describe the processes you’d use to create documentation for the product from start to finish.
  4. How would you scale the team’s production capacity?
  5. What metrics would you use to determine the success of the documentation?
  6. How would you maintain the documentation?

I refused this assignment and did not move forward with this company. I was applying for a writing job! They were asking me to do an enormous amount of work (which I could do), but I wasn’t applying for a management position, and I wasn’t willing to give my services away for free.

So, this makes me wonder, how should I advise those that I mentor? New hires must have a portfolio, a well-written resume, and good interviewing skills. But, for those who have been around the block, I think we might have to be a bit more patient and find those organizations that see our experience as a whole. They want to get to know us and understand our longer histories. They will understand that although we might not fit into their box for their UX writing role if they talk to us for a little while, they will realize that we might just be the best candidate they will ever meet. This is my hope, at least.

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