How to conduct an effective job search in technical writing

Note: Although this post is intended for technical writing students who are about to begin the job search process,  the techniques here might be useful for experienced professionals as well.

If you have recently graduated or are about to graduate with a technical writing degree – Congratulations! You’ve made it and you have the paper to prove it! It’s now time to enter the professional world.

There are many resources out on the Internet about how to search for a technical writing job. But in my experience, those resources are quite generic, and as a result, ineffective. In this post, I want to discuss the techniques I used to get my job at Cockroach Labs, and the tips I used to share with my tech writing students.

Learn how the job search process works on the company’s side

To conduct an effective job search, you first need to understand the system.

First audience – The job portal algorithm:

When you submit your resume to a company’s job portal, it might not directly reach a human. Especially at big companies, your first barrier is a machine – an algorithm that parses resumes, matches the keywords in the job ad to the words in your resume,  and decides if your resume is relevant to the job posting. So the first step in the job search process is to study each job advertisement carefully, identify the keywords, and customize your resume and cover letter to match those keywords. Don’t stash the keywords in your application materials – after all, a human will eventually read it. However, do pay attention to relevant keywords and strategically use them throughout your résumé and cover letter. Once the algorithm finds the relevant keywords in your application materials, increases your chances of being put in touch with a human.

Second audience – Human resources:

The second level of the recruitment process is the Human Resources folks. Again, they are not the final audience for your job application materials, but they are the gatekeepers. If you stuff your materials with industry jargon that they do not understand, chances of your materials not being forwarded increase. Don’t dumb down your résumé; include an easy to understand summary of what you’re describing and then follow-up with industry jargon if necessary.

Final audience – Hiring manager:

The hiring manager is your main audience. This person is your primary audience and knows what is required for the position. These requirements are specified in the job ad.  Your task is to ensure that your résumé and cover letter clearly explain why you are a good fit for the position based on the stated requirements.

Find the Right Job

A common mistake I’ve observed people making is sending out mass applications. Some people visit LinkedIn or Glassdoor, or some other popular online job search site, and apply for all possible jobs they can find. This one-size-fits-all approach ultimately leads to frustration and anxiety when companies don’t respond. A better approach is to identify your niche and target jobs specifically relating to that niche.

My own job search experience demonstrates the effectiveness of targeted job search. My niche is startups and developer documentation. When I began my job search in Spring 2017, I applied to general technical writing jobs on LinkedIn and startup developer docs jobs at startups on AngelList. I got no interview calls from LinkedIn. However, I got 7 interview calls from the 8 companies I applied to on AngelList. Find your niche and focus your job search in that area. Casting too wide a net causes you to lose focus and use too general an approach for applying for jobs.

Caveat: If you are just starting out in the technical writing field, this advice might not apply to you. At the beginning of your career, you do want to cast a wider net, try out different jobs, and along the way, find your niche.

Consider academic jobs

If you’ve completed a graduate program in technical communication, you can also consider applying to academia.

Portals for academic jobs:

Update: As Dr. Northcut for pointed out of Facebook, “It’s hard to get a really good academic position without a PhD.”

Considerations for International Students

Students in non-STEM university programs can get a one-year OPT after graduation. You have 3 choices:

  • Apply to companies that you know will sponsor your H1B. This pool is very limited and, therefore, extremely competitive.
  • Apply for academic jobs. These jobs don’t have an H1B cap.
  • Decide if you’re okay with having only one year of work experience in the US. This means that you would apply to all jobs knowing that you will probably only be able to work for a year. You can still talk to HR about it during final negotiations.

Prepare Your Application Materials

In the upcoming blog posts, we will discuss how to tailor your résumé, cover letter, and portfolio to reflect the requirements of each job to apply to:

  • Crafting your technical writing resume (Scheduled for 01/17/18)
  • Writing a cover letter for a technical writing job (Scheduled for 01/24/18)
  • Building your technical writing portfolio (Scheduled for 01/31/18)

If you have questions, suggestions, or blog post requests, drop me a line at: hello@amrutaranade.com

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