Category “Career Advice”

So you’re thinking of starting your own technical writing or content writing business?

Monday, 3 December, 2018

I recently had the opportunity to talk about my STEM career path in two different spheres – one was an article on the BCIT website and another was at a recent BC Tech and Discovery Foundation Aspire to Tech workshop. These opportunities really got me thinking about what a journey it’s been and how much I’ve learned along the way (through definite trial and many an error), and I realised that there are lot of things I can share now that I had no clue about when I was starting out, and that may help you if you’re  just getting started in a career as a technical writer or content developer. Read on…

Tip #1: Think About What Sets You Apart

We all have something that can shape what we offer to our clients and our audience. Think about your background, your studies, what you excel at. If you’re a career changer, how can what you did before this change work to your advantage? I often have students in my Writing for the Web class (part of BCIT’s Technical Writing program) who have degrees and experience in other fields, so I encourage them to look at what subject matter expertise and transferable skills they have, along with their writing skills. For example, you may have worked in the finance or medical fields, so these would be excellent areas to look for clients in, because you’ll bring not just the writing talent, but the industry knowledge with you.

Tip #2: See What’s Already Out There

If you’re not sure what kinds of contracts are out there, what client you might suit, or specifically what skills you might need to take on clients, then do your research! Google Technical Writing jobs or Content Writer jobs (+ your area). Look at job descriptions, the type of companies and industries hiring, and get an idea of salaries to figure out what you should charge as a contractor/freelancer (you can also use PayScale to help you with this). You can get a sense of whether you need to take a course, brush up on a skill, etc. Also take a look at your competition. What are they doing well? What can you do differently or better? And see Tip #1 🙂 

Tip #3: Build a Portfolio and Self-Market

You may be working in a technical (or other kind of) workplace currently that needs better writing – for their website, their general documentation, marketing, etc. Offer to do some of this (but try to get it to be within your job, not as unpaid extra work on top it) so that you can build up portfolio pieces. Look for websites that may be looking for articles (just be sure you aren’t under valuing yourself, but doing some articles for free at the beginning can be good for building your online presence). Set up a blog and write, write, write!

Use all the free online marketing tools you can – namely LinkedIn and Twitter. These have great search engine rankings, so they will help get your name out there. LinkedIn also has a publishing tool, so you can write and contribute articles there (also don’t be afraid to use the same content across these – use Twitter to promote your blog posts or online articles; post your blog posts or articles on LinkedIn as posts on your profile – saves you time and drives readers to your writing). LinkedIn Jobs is also very useful for looking for clients, as you can often find contract work this way. There are also other sites like Upwork that allow you to find freelance jobs. 

If you can’t afford to set up your own website yet, then at the very least, put together a PDF of your services, with your contact information. This was a highly valuable piece of advice that a career coach and friend gave me. That way, you can email your PDF to potential clients without feeling embarrassed that you don’t have a website**. I also found that when I sat down to do this, it actually motivated me to set up my website, so I ended up not having to use the PDF and instead got my website done. 

** That said, get a website ASAP 🙂 (see Tip #5).

Tip #4: Volunteer (and Network)

I know that everyone always says that you need to network when you’re looking for a job, but I believe there are more creative ways to do it than just attending networking events. Try volunteering. You don’t have to give all your time up for this, but this is an excellent way to build relationships and, in so doing, build your networks. Talk to people. Tell them what you do and what you’re looking for. Print up a cheap business card with your name, LinkedIn URL (if you don’t have your own website), and your email and phone number. Attend events that include people that aren’t just your competition. My volunteer efforts helped me meet people who became or referred me to my first clients. I didn’t have the budget to join a formal networking group, and when I was starting out, something like a BNI group didn’t make sense, because I didn’t have a network to refer others to, but do what feels right and what makes sense for you. 

Tip #5: Do Trades

When you’re starting out running your own business, see who you know that you can do trades with for services (often referred to as “contras”). Make sure that you know the value of what you offer, and draw up a proper letter of agreement (you can find templates online). For example, a friend of mine who is a talented graphic designer created my business cards for me, and in return, I rewrote and reworked her resume. Another friend of mine generously helped with set up my website and designed my logo (and didn’t even ask for anything in return!). Think about what you need and what you can do in exchange. 

Tip #5: Build Partnerships

Something that was invaluable for me what I was starting out was to build a relationship with a graphic designer who ran her own business. It was a completely logical fit, as she was able to advertise “full service” offerings to her clients, and then sub-contract the writing work to me. This way, I built my client list and portfolio, earned money, and built a great relationship with a talented designer. It was win-win! 

Tip #6: Ask for Help

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Do informational interviews. Get advice from experts like the fabulous folks at Small Business BC. Start following people who might be potential clients or partners on social media (but keep it professional). 

And finally…

Trust that you can do this! Keep learning, keep writing, and know that although it will take time to build up a client list (I didn’t want to believe it but it’s true what they say about it being about 5 years to build up a business), you will. Running your own technical writing business or content writing company can be incredibly rewarding – terrifying at times – but I can safely say that I love what I do. 

How Long Should Your Resume Be?

Monday, 12 August, 2013

Cartoon about resumesSomewhere along the line, we were convinced that there is a set length to a resume.  I remember how adamant a student of mine was once about keeping her 1-page resume format, despite it looking cramped and sounding incomplete. Others have shuddered at the thought of condensing their 3-page resume. Some recruiters insist two is the magic number. So what’s the ideal length? I would say it depends, much like the resume as a whole, on your preferences and what you’re applying for.

Length ∝ Job

One of the biggest mistakes people make with resumes is not to customize to the job, and length is part of this. I would argue that the length of your resume can be directly proportional (∝) to the job you’re applying for. If you’re fresh out of college and applying for an entry level position, then 1-page works well. If you have more experience, and it’s all relevant, then make it 1 1/2 or 2. If it’s executive level, then 3 could work.

However, I would also argue that it depends on the industry and the company. Perhaps, even for a high level position, a 1-pager would make more impact – it states the highlight of your career  and it guarantees the reader will absorb more information more quickly. After all, with a wealth of experience, what could you give other than core benefits your skills would bring to the employer? I think that if you’re applying for an unsolicited job (i.e. there is no ad, but you’re submitting your resume to a company you really want to work at), then perhaps a 1-pager also makes the most impact;  a teaser that says “call me if you want to know more”. 

Philip Berne, in his blog post titled The Zero Page Resume, discusses how we may be heading towards online resumes – no pages at all, but formats like LinkedIn to replace the traditional version. If you’re running a smart self-marketing campaign through social media, then much of your resume should be online already (think LinkedIn). Personally, I feel like a combination is ideal. Again, you have to look at the industry expectations, the information preferences of the reader, and what type of job you are applying for.

You vs. “They”

Regardless of what “they” say (including me 🙂 ), I think you have to decide what best represents you and what you think your readers will expect and need to see. And above all, follow the job ad guidelines to the letter – they’re telling you what they want, so give it to them. Don’t include every single job you’ve had; include the most relevant and get around the date gaps by using “Related Word Experience” or “Relevant Work Experience” as your work section heading. Tailor to the ad, the company, the industry. Highlight measurables. And edit, edit, edit.

Remember that these days recruiters scan through resumes very quickly (and they may be scanned by machine beforehand or after to look for keywords), so don’t overwhelm the reader with reams of information. Choose your highlights. And go with the length that works for you.

Geraldine

Outdated Career Advice & Other Tips

Tuesday, 26 July, 2011

One of the exciting though sometimes frustrating aspects of language is how it is ever changing. As business, too, is shaped and changed by globalization, technology, flattened management structures, and an increasingly diverse workforce, so is how we communicate in that realm.

I came across an interesting article, via LinkedIn, about the top 10 things to ignore in career searches, including for interviews, resumes, and cover letters. I was interested (and pleased) to note that many of these items are exactly what I tell my students and my clients when talking about career packages. You can read the full article here. I’m especially please to see that the article warns against the Career Objective on the resume. It has always been a pet peeve of mine, because very few people do them correctly, and I feel that they waste valuable real estate on the resume.

I disagree somewhat with Point 9: “Your resume and cover letter [not] should be written in formal language.” While it is important to keep your tone friendly, and add your own personality, by avoiding formal language, you can err on the side of chatty, casual, slangy writing. I would suggest that you don’t try and sound overly formal by using big words that end up coming across as robotic or pompous, or that you fall into trite, cliche business language e.g. Please do not hesitateThank you in advance for…. Enclosed please find etc., but you do need to keep it professional and polished.

You need to remember that business is about relationships and if you hide behind jargon or cliches, then the audience will never get a sense of who you are, or feel invited to build a relationship with you, whether he or she is a prospective client or that elusive future employer.

Geraldine