Tuesday, August 2, 2011

In which my search for a technical writer continues and I drill down on some things

My search for a technical writer continues and I’m familiar territory where my view of what makes a good writer is completely different from the view of the recruiter I’m working with.

My recruiter is cute and camp. And British. All recruiters are British. It’s part of the conspiracy, in my head anyway. It may not be part of the conspiracy (and it’s hard to tell because I don’t actually have a definition for the conspiracy as such). It may be due to some weird tendency to recruit a lot in Great Britain. I don’t know. All I know is that in the land Down Under the matchmakers of the corporate realm are, without fail, British. It’s fabulous because that’s my recruiter’s most favourite word. Fabulous!

There are three important things in my mind that I look at when I recruit and they are:

#1 Cover letters
A cover letter can be a really good way to introduce yourself to a potential employer but you have to be careful with what you write.

One candidate sent his resume through with what the recruiter thought was a sterling cover letter. I couldn’t get over how little it actually told me even though it was a full page. It was full of corporate jargon and the first paragraph (four full lines) was made up of one poorly constructed sentence. I was not impressed.

If you can’t get the cover letter perfect it’s best to leave it out. It’s the first impression I’ll get of you as a writer and if you’re looking for a job as a technical writer I need to know that you can simplify while not making people feel stupid. You have to hit the mark somewhere between impressing the people who like to see you talk corporate bull (recruiters and managers) and people who like to see you be able to translate things into simple easy to understand language (technical writers and users).

#2 Resumes
Layout. This is where you show me your awesome skills and your attention to detail when it comes to presenting information.

Yesterday I looked at one resume where the applicant had used Word to make a table with four columns. The dates were in the left column, the roles were in the next, the company names (together with helpful little explanations like “IBM is a leading computer company” – like HELLO! I’m not stupid) and the key achievements in the right column. The result was too little space to fit in long words so they got cut off sometimes leaving only the last letter of a word on the next line.

I’m not letting this person near my documents, thank you very much. If it doesn’t come naturally and you still want to be a technical writer make a point out of learning what is good layout and what is not. It will get you jobs that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to get.

#3 Interviews
I have no clue what the recruiters ask potential candidates when they first make contact with them. I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t really care.

One of things I really find hard to deal with when I interview people is when they try to present themselves as something they think you want them to be. That registers immediately with me as if they’re trying to hide something, as if they’re being deceptive.

Not every person you meet will know how to read body language but you can bet it registers subconsciously. In my opinion, you’re far better off being too honest, being too passionate about something and get too talkative than trying to second guess me and what I want to see. Be honest. Be yourself. Most people prefer it. Most people don’t like trying to figure what game you’re playing.

3 comments:

  1. I'd apply, but that commute would be a killer.

    Interesting... I was just reading a blog that claimed 'Cover letters were dead... nobody reads them...' Mind you, she also claimed a lot of other things that sounded like complete tosh, e.g. 'Don't tell people that you're looking for a job; it makes you look desperate.'

    One thing I keep being told is that everyone who is looking for an employee is using Twitter and LinkedIn to find them. Out of curiosity, are those tools that you use?

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  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  3. Hi Merry,
    The recruiter is trawling Linked in for people and he's actually trying to head hunt using it. The result hasn't been fabulous because most of the people he's contacted are contractors/freelance writers. We're offering permanent and our budget is too limited to go after the big players.

    From my point of view Linked in is a tool I use to find out more about the candidates.

    Twitter is a bit of dark horse but who knows, it may actually work. I heard of someone finding a kidney donor using Twitter so why not a job?

    I've also used forums to advertise that the job is out there.

    We've had appalling response for some reason.

    Not telling people that you're looking for a job? Could there be a thin line in being interested in getting a job and making yourself look desperate. I think I prefer knowing that you're keen to get the job to be honest.

    Good luck with the job search Merry!

    (And I really mustn't try type sensible things at this time of day - I had to delete my previous comment it was all over the place. LOL!)

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