Why No One Will Hire You: 40 Professionals Give Advice on Improving a Technical Writer’s Resume [Collaborative Post]

Why No One Will Hire You: 40 Professional Technical Writers Give Advice on a ResumeA reader asks,

Is my resume so awful that no one will hire me? I mean, I’d been laid-off so long it’s pitiful really.

His resume is here.

I opened up this question up to my friends on Twitter and to those who follow my blog. About 40 professional technical writers responded with all kinds of resume advice. The overall trend in the responses is for the writer to add more detail to his resume, to expand on his education, tools, online presence, contribution to the bottom line, samples, and other specifics. They suggested that he fill in gaps with experience, even volunteer projects, that he be more consistent and flawless in his language and grammar, and that he dress up the visual design of his resume. Most of all, they said to never, ever mention poetry.

Thanks for all the feedback. Best of luck Herbert in getting a job. Let us know when you get it!

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I see no impact on the bottom line of the company – he doesn’t talk about how he reduced the support costs by X or improved customer satisfaction by Y or anything that speaks to the business of the company. It’s important to show that you understand the business climate you work in and how what we do impacts that. The world doesn’t need that many shut-up-and-write writers. Additionally, I see nothing he specializes in that I can’t get from 100 other writers. I’m sure he’s got it, I just don’t see it here. [sharon burton]
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It suffers from bulletpoint-itis. From the first sentence onwards, it would be better if it were written as proper English sentences, in active voice: with subject, verb, adjectives even.

[Ellis Pratt]
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“Experienced in writing telecom documentation, survey questions, research reports, and poetry.”

Poetry when mentioned as a hobby = a person who loves writing, would do well in a career in writing. :)

Poetry when mentioned in a list of work skills = nutter :(

If you are applying for a job as a technical writer, then emphasise those skills. The other skills are merely “nice to haves”. You want to be seen as an expert who is also flexible, rather than a jack of all trades.

[Ellis Pratt]
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Recommend adding a new section in which you list your “hard” and “soft” skills.

Hard skills are the computer-based tools you know how to use productively.

Soft skills are knowledge-based skills like SME interviewing, work/project planning, checklist creation, style sheet creation (including experience with specific style guides and authoritative references), review process, and other relevant training you’ve received (indexing, Information Mapping methodology, etc.).

Within each item of your resume’s Work Experience section, mention in a concise way how you used your hard and soft skills to accomplish work having measurable benefits to your publications team and larger organization.

[Paul K. Sholar (@BkwdGreenComet on Twitter)]
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“Well versed in copyediting, transcription/editing of interviews, and proofreading, most recently as assistant editor for a business periodical.
Strong technical command of the English language Competent researcher”

Tell us more! Sell the sizzle, not the sausage.

Give us examples.

You don’t say if you are good at writing, getting a project completed on time, how you get on with people in a team, whether you are reliable, imaginative, a leader, a follower, a pain in the backside etc.

[Ellis Pratt]
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Your work experience

Even if you haven’t had the job title “technical writer” or “copywriter” etc, you need to demonstrate you were doing that task, even if it was only occasionally.

In your most recent role,

Junior Statistician – N.C.C.U., Durham, N.C.
Created website for Student Alcohol Use Surveys
Edited, rewrote, and proofread all survey questions.
Worked with various departments to publish results online.

It tells me you wrote surveys. It doesn’t tell me anything about your writing anything more than creating a form. Did you write a report on the results of the survey?

If you don’t have the right experience, then get it: volunteer to write a document for a local charity or get involved in an Open Source project, if you have to. You won’t get paid, but you will acquire the right experience and skills to add to your Resume.

[Ellis Pratt]
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I echo a few of the sentiments so far. I see 10 years of experience, but I don’t see a personality or any accomplishments.  What has Mr. Thornton done other than filling a seat?  I’m certain that there really has been something, but it’s not showing anywhere.  (When I got to the end of the resume, I said “That’s it?”)

There is nothing about this resume that tells me anything about the person except that they worked for 10 years in the industry.  I’d like to see a resume that sells me on the person’s qualifications and accomplishments, something that answers the question “Why do I want to hire you today?”  I would focus on this.

Yours truly,

John Hedtke
john@hedtke.com
http://tradebookauthor.com

I agree with the following poster, btw: I just revamped my resume and I had a lot of help from an outside source.

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As we have a recruitment agency service for technical authors in the UK, we get to see a lot of Resumes. These days, people tend to read Resumes on screen rather than on paper, so I think the old advice of 2 pages and no more, is less relevant. I think you can go to 3, even 4 pages if pushed.

It’s really hard to write your own Resume, and you may need help in getting it written. That doesn’t necessarily mean paying for a Resume writer to write it for you, but you might see if you can look at examples of good Resumes and take ideas from those … and ask someone you trust to help you to write your Resume.

Recruiters are looking for evidence of, in this order:
1. Good writing skills
2. Good time management skills (you can deliver on time)
3. You can fit in with the culture of the business
4. Good domain knowledge
5. Knowledge of particular software tools

This is their checklist, so make sure you cover all of these on your Resume. State you have each one.
[Ellis Pratt]
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This is probably not a Resume of someone who has no skills or experience, it’s more one of someone who is hiding their light under a bushel.
[Ellis Pratt]
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//Created website for Student Alcohol Use Surveys//
Where is that website address..? An online reference is always appreciated. Your works will speak for you. I agree with Ellis’ detailed comments.
- [Rengaraman]

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The larger agencies tend to search for candidates using computers – key word search of their database. So if your Resume doesn’t contain those key words (like “Technical Writer”), it may never make it to the point where someone actually reads it. Don’t go mad on key words, though – they can make it hard for a human being to read a Resume.
[Ellis Pratt]
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- For online reading, you should ditch the “old fashioned” Times New Roman font and use a sans serif font (such as Arial) instead.
- You should make your email address a hyperlink, so with one click the reader can email you. :)
- If you have a LinkedIn profile, you should list it. Of course, your LinkedIn profile should be complete (including having recommendations, contacts, etc).
- I’d put the Education section after the Professional Experience, since it is secondary in importance at this stage of your career (not to mention being not so relevant to your focus).
- Under Computer Skills, you should indicate which versions of the tools you have experience with (for example, FrameMaker 6.0 or 9.0).
- Under Professional Experience, you should have hyperlinks to the organizations’ websites.
Also in this section, be consistent with your punctuation. Some lines end with periods, while some do not. Technical writers notice these sort of things! ;)
[Gil Vinokoor > @vinokoor on Twitter]
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Fonts and layout are often a matter of personal taste. They also differ between countries. There’s more than one way to present a Resume. Personally, I prefer Times New Roman (or Georgia) to Arial. We’re not talking about a huge document, and most other Resumes are in a serif font.
[Ellis Pratt]
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Please excuse my bad English, I’m Swiss:
I’m in a Management Position in Technical Documentation since 10 years, so I saw many CVs and hired a few people. So, here are my thoughts to this CV:

  • First thought: Not enough “Meat on the Bone”. Means, there must be more to say after 10 years of work
  • In the summary, you are not specialized enough. What I mean is, that you need to rewrite this part for every job you apply for and adapt it to the exact demands of the job. For example, if I look for a Technical Writer, I don’t want to have a Poet! It’s not same kind of writing.
  • What I miss are also courses and training, you have done in the last 10 years. If the only education you have is a B.A. and since then nothing more, I would not even invite you to an interview! Technical writers have to learn new stuff all the time.
  • Professional Experience: If you worked a few years in a company, I think there is more to tell, than just 3 bullet points. Write it in two, three sentences.
  • Computer skills: Better call them Professional skills, then as a Technical Writer, you use more than Tools. Personally I don’t care, what version of a software you know. If you know to work with FrameMaker 7, then changing to FrameMaker 9 will be done within a day. What is more important, is how good you know the tool. Let’s take FrameMaker as an example: You can just be familiar with the unstructured version as a “normal” author or you can be the expert who can write EDDs. This is why this is important to me.
    Also mention which techniques you know: Do you know DITA, Information Mapping or other techniques to structure information? That’s important stuff to know. And the other guy who gets invited to the interview writes all that stuff down.
  • Soft skills are missing: Bring them.
  • Hobbies: I don’t know how it is in the US, but I like to know a bit more about the person. And telling me about your hobbies will help me to “feel” if you will fit into the team. It also tells me, if this person is likely to have a good life-work-balance.

I hope this helps you.

Pascal Kesselmark
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This is a minor point, but possibly a deal breaker for someone looking for an experienced writer. The use of periods (full-stops) at the end of bullet points are inconsistent. So is the spacing between the listed computer skills. I have no hiring experience myself, but I do know that a lot of managers in India might see this as a lack of attention to detail.

[Anagha Chandratrey]
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I have to agree with some of the other commenters about the lack of impact his work had on the company or the department. Also the idea of hyperlinks in the resume is a good idea, although I find that many hiring managers print resumes off before reading them. And he’ll need to beef up the section on his technical skills.

One piece of advice: think about paying a little money to have a resume coach redo the resume. There’s no shame in admitting that your resume writing skills aren’t great (even if you’re a writer), and the money spent on a coach is well worth it.


You know what you are? You’re a technical writer with a strong background in user research! Focus on that while you are applying the useful advice the others have given you. Hang in there :-)

Mike Hughes michaelhughesua@gmail.com
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I’m going through the process of reading and interviewing right now (sorry, not for a technical writer). I’ve seen a wide variety of resume in the last month.

It seems to me that the resume is distilled to such a high level it feels ethereal. You get no sense of personal history — accomplishments, responsibilities and the like. To me it doesn’t feel like a person. It feels more like I’m looking at a grocery list.

[Fred Hennige]
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Some ideas I just jotted as I reviewed your resume::

  • Think about expanding your search. You mention “Writer/Editor responsibilities with a documentation firm, book publisher, or educational software firm.” in your career focus, which is very concrete, but is also very narrow. Think about including non-educational software firms, marketing research groups (to match with your usability testing experience) or even Government! Being more open to other industries will open more doors. Look in unexpected places.
  • I would move the authoring tools further up in your resume. Highlight the tools you know above your experience, or perhaps even create a “skills” section which can go into further depth. For example, create a list of your documentation and editing skills. Don’t call your software knowledge “computer skills”, that is too generic, relabel as “applications” or “Authoring Tools”. I also noticed you created a website at your last job. What did you use to create it? Dreamweaver? FrontPage? Make sure you cover even the software you have limited use of. Put the software you know in hierarchical order. Most used/knowledge to least.
  • What education have you had since your degree? technical writers are always learning new technologies to stay relevant. List courses, seminars, even online courses you have done. They can be on the job or on your own, it doesn’t matter. It also shows you know how to continuously learn. This is so important for a tech writer as he learns a new software package to document.
  • Think about learning some new applications so you can add into your current skillset. Do you have a grasp of Illustrator to create diagrams, or Publisher to create glossy copy? Think about learning smaller tools like SnagIt or other useful mini-apps for technical writers (WinZip? SendIt? Adobe Acrobat?). If the interviewer doesn’t know what it is, it can be a conversation starter, and you can explain how it works, pique their interest. It has worked for me a couple of times!
  • This is just a summary, I assume you have a CV that is more in depth to your roles, responsibilities and achievements? However, you may want to think about expanding your experience section on your short resume to explain more of your achievements where you worked. Make them see how valuable you were while you sat in the chair!
  • Get rid of the “poetry” in your experience summary.   Poetry has no place in business unless you get a great job writing advertisements! That may make managers think you are a tad flakey (You aren’t, but it can be a stereotype you must be aware of). Put your poetry and other hobbies at the end in an Interests section where you give hints about who you are outside of work. Employers do want to see their employees actively pursue stress-relieving extra curricular interests, and again, these are conversation starters.
  • Pizzaz up that resume! You know how to use FrameMaker, so perhaps put in a vertical sidebar with your name, do some really smart formatting to make it stand out from the crowd! Always provide PDF copy of your resume when applying to technical writer jobs, and advise you can also submit in .doc. This shows you know your way around tools. Perhaps think about other formats. Resume on a CD? Resume in a pamphlet form if you are applying for a job creating marketing materials? Remember to have .TXT for submitting to online resume gatherers too.
  • Think about what font you use. Online reading should be sans-serif. Printed should be serif. Think Verdana, Arial, or MS Sans Serif for online, and Times New Roman for print.

Best of luck!

Caroline A. Robbins
Technical Writer – Environment Canada – Canadian Ice Services

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Herbert, you don’t appear to have any kind of online presence (unless “Herbert Thornton” is a pseudonym). Sign up for LinkedIn. Set up a web site for your portfolio. Get on Twitter.

Hiring managers today are going to be searching the web to learn more about you.

(Actually, Caroline’s last bullet point is a common myth among technical writers. Karen Schriver did extensive studies on readability of fonts and found no conclusive evidence of sans serif being more readable online. Note that the New York Times uses serif fonts on its online pages.)

Holly Harkness
Technical Communications Manager

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Herbert, I agree with previous opinions that your resume should reflect both the tasks that you accomplished and a characterization of the impact to the business of those accomplishments.

Also, as the previous poster mentioned, your networking efforts are particularly important in this climate of high unemployment.  With 5 people searching for every available job out there, you will need connections that can provide introductions or offer job leads to you.  LinkedIn is a great tool for on-line networking.  Hopefully, you already have a LinkedIn account.  Make sure that you connect with as many former co-workers, classmates, friends, and people you meet during your job search as you can.  More connections gives you a broader reach as you used LinkedIn for searches to find contacts inside companies you’re interested in.  Also, more and more recruiters are looking for viable candidates online, particularly through LinkedIn searches.  So, make sure that your summary is strong and contains keywords that match jobs you are looking for.

Get out and network in person, too.  Are you a member of your local STC chapter?  Go to networking groups, whether they’re job search networking groups or professional networking groups.  You never know who you’ll meet, and people who know ‘something’ about you often become your allies.

[Gayle Werner, Technical Writer]
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You say that you want to be a “Writer/Editor” but I’m looking for how you can help my business: Can you improve the way that I connect with my customers through documentation? Can you help me improve the customer experience — and the bottom line — using existing technologies as well as the new collaborative technologies that are on the horizon?

Right now it looks like you’re an editor and proofreader. I’m sorry, but those are skills that I can purchase very cheaply.

Someone else suggested that you delete “poetry.” I agree. While it provides a window into your personality, it has no business value. You don’t want anything on your resume that’s irrelevant.

Finally, have you participated in any professional societies? Attended conferences or received training in the field? I need to see that you’re serious about learning this profession.

Hope this helps,
Larry Kunz

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Make the job you want *obvious*. Sure, you have the trendy little “Career Focus” statement — but, and I say this as someone who has hired a lot of people over the past ten years — I don’t even read that fluff (it was the last thing I read, because I couldn’t work out what you wanted from the sections *that count*).

Stop being vague! “…Authored (sic) router software” means what?

Tell me what you can do. “Strong technical command of the English language”. So you can recognize a verb (but can’t write a sentence?) — what does that phrase mean?

And last but not least: “poetry” = trashcan

You’ve got some skills, buddy. So tell me what they are and how they can help me.

Gary Franceschini

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Hi Herbert!

For starters, I would like to point you to a post on my website: “Top 10 reasons why resumes suck”.

Basically, your current resume is a list of previous employers, and doesn’t make one single argument about why anyone should give it a second look. In addition, while your resume tells the reader *what* you’ve done in the past, it neither tells them *how* you did it (in other words, you could be making it all up, or taking credit for someone else’s accomplishments) nor does it tell the reader anything about the value you might bring to their business. That’s what should be on the first page, and the employment history and education info can safely go to the second page (since no-one will read it anyway, unless you grab their attention on the first page).

There is a difference between “eligibility” for a job, and “suitability”. The latter is about your interpersonal skills, your ability to work well with a team, and/or unsupervised, how your personality fits with the existing team and with the corporate culture. In other words: the resume has to be more about you, and less about “what you do”. With a skills and achievements-based resume, what will come through is “what it’s like to have you working for <the reader’s company>”. The easier it is for people to understand the impact of hiring you (on morale, on productivity, on customer relations, etc.) the more likely it is you’ll get invited in for an interview.

And — with the other posters — I agree: lose the “poetry” in the listing of the types of writing you can handle.

Best of luck! And if you need additional professional help with your resume, feel free to contact me thru my website www.hamer-associates.ca

Emma C. Hamer, Career and Performance Coach (BC, Canada)

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Hello, a few suggestions:

– Replace the sections “career focus” and “experience summary” with a stronger statement about what you can offer and what your particular strengths are.

–  Emphasize domain knowledge and strengths of skills. For example:

– What does your telecomm experience entail? Would you say you are an expert?

– How do you feel your research skills can add value for an employer? What makes your research skills stand out, and how can they add value for an employer? Can you think of examples of how your research saved time, clarified something, or improved quality?

– Do a thorough proofread of all content.

– Make punctuation consistent in all bulleted items.

– Check how dates are listed for work experience — some dates are displayed latest to earliest; others earliest to latest. Make these listings consistent.

– Check use of capitalization.

– Under computer skills, note any specific tools that you might have specialized expertise in (for example, creating time-saving macros or alerting colleagues to a valuable but little-used feature in a tool.)

– Remove the reference to poetry…as wonderful as poetry can be, on a resume it will be distractor from the critical information that can help you get hired.

I’m sure it wasn’t easy to post your resume, but I admire your effort to be open to feedback from your colleagues. It’s a tough market out there, so the more you can highlight the strengths that can bring value to potential employers — and the more you can show how your contributions have made a difference — the better. Best wishes to you.

– Lori Meyer

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Herbert, I was struck by the fact that you’ve got FrameMaker and PageMaker experience, but VISIO is the only graphics program you list. Tech Comm departments who use Adobe products are looking for experience in Illustrator and Photoshop. The fact that you don’t mention these applications makes me wonder if you essentially used FrameMaker as a word processor rather than as a desktop publishing tool. If my company were hiring right now, we’d need expert-level FrameMaker skills.  Your resume doesn’t tell me you’ve got that.

I hope that you’ll consider coming out to some STC Carolina Chapter events to network with other technical communicators in the area.  Here’s a link to our website: http://www.stc-carolina.org/tiki-view_articles.php

Our annual membership drive picnic is in on Thursday, September 16, and we’d love to see you there!
http://www.stc-carolina.org/2010-09-16+Picnic

- Andrea Wenger, VP, STC Carolina Chapter

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After all the extensive advice, here’s a smaller thing: give your employment dates in a format like “June 2005–June 2008.” I look at “6/05-6/08” and have to think to decipher what it’s saying. Don’t make me think. (Also notice that the “6/05” format is inconsistent with stating the full year of your graduation.)

—Ben Minson
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Remove the ‘poetry’ line! And don’t use ‘/’ as a substitute for ‘or’—that drives me nuts!
–Chris Ninkovich
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Good advice generally, especially the bit about hiding your light under a bushel. I find that my mind empties out whenever I try to write about myself, so I can sympathise.

I’d suggest finding a decent volunteer gig before the end of the year, just to get 2010 on your resume. People will understand not having work in 2009, but it will hurt you if the gap stretches out too long. There always online projects looking for help, and I’d also suggest local non-profits – in any case, something you can put all your research, interviewing, and writing skills into.

–Christopher Burd
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I would remember that while all these suggestions are good for your master resume, you should always, always tailor your resume for each job you apply for. If applying for an editing role, emphasise your editing experience; for a software tech writing role, emphasise your experience in writing in that space.

And try to get in a volunteer job, as suggested above. A HR rep suggested to me once that gaps on resumes could be anything from a gap year (travelling OS) or being in jail. I now have that in the back of my mind everytime I see an unexplained gap in a resume.

[Kirsty Taylor]
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As a hiring manager, I wouldn’t give this resume a second look. It is so brief that absolutely nothing grabs my interest.

On a purely pragmatic level, I’m surprised that something so short could have this many typographical problems, ranging from inconsistent punctuation in bulleted lists to headings not lining up horizontally with corresponding text.

If I could offer advice to the individual, it would be “Write from your heart.” This applies to resume writing as well as it does to poetry. I’d want to see passion for, commitment to, and pride in what you do. And then, when you’ve conveyed all that, have an editor proofread it. Everyone needs an editor. The best writers know that better than anyone.

[Anne Sandstrom]
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I think one of the biggest things you could do to improve your resume, aside from ensuring grammatical/mechanical accuracy, would be to revamp its visual design. As a technical writer, you need to demonstrate your document design skills in your resume. Think outside the typical cookie-cutter resume format that you find on every career website and design your resume to catch someone’s attention.

A few specific suggestions:

- Treat your name like the title of the document: it should be the largest thing on the page.
- Treat the sections like level-one headings, the job titles as level-two headings, etc.
- Try just using typography and white space to distinguish the different sections instead of using horizontal lines. That many lines draw the eye across the page unnecessarily and cause readers to sort of hold their breath. White space, on the other hand, gives both the document and the reader a chance to breathe.
- Try breaking away from the traditional three-column format. Not only does it change the look and feel, but it can also improve readability. Example:

Professional Experience
Junior Statistician, N.C.C.U. (June 2005 – June 2008)
Durham, North Carolina
- Experience detail 1
- Experience detail 2

– Erin SanGregory
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Kudos for being bold enough to put this out there. I think the biggest issue with your resume is, it does not speak to your breadth of experience. Be sure to really flesh out your bullet points to show how your work has benefited the company; use numbers and percentages when at all possible.

Consider a paragraph summary. Maybe something like:

Technical Writer with X years experience translating complex technical information into XYZ for XYZ audience. Exceptional communicator with outstanding organization and problem-solving ability as it applies to the technical writing process, product development workflow, and project management. Specialist in XYZ.

Also swap your Computer Skills and Education sections. And, as others have suggested, set up a LinkedIn and be sure to add your URL to the header section.

– Hänni Wickline
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I echo most other folks thoughts and comments.  I look at this resume and I see a resume that looks like it was a fill in the blanks template from Office.  If I am looking for a tech writer, I want to see something that shows that you know how to use Word, i.e, a resume that is custom to you and not a boring template.  Remember that a resume is a sales document.  If it is boring and blends in with the rest of the resumes that come across my desk, I am not going to give it more than a passing look.  That said, remember that you cannot get too creative with a resume.

The writing poetry thing is interesting.  Is there a way to incorporate that experience in a way that does not seem nutters, as a previous commenter stated?  Maybe include a section that shows a list of your publications and extracurricular activities.  Also, be specific about the documents you have written, particularly in the most current experience.  Give examples.

I, personally, hate the generic career focus summary on a resume.  I would suggest that this is more effective in a cover letter that is specific to the job and company you are applying with.

I might also suggest moving the education from the top of the resume to under the experience section, as your education does not directly relate to the types of positions for which you are applying.

For gosh sake, include your references in the resume!  I know there are different schools of thought on this, but to me, when I see available on request, I think to myself that the owner of the resume is lazy, or needs to have time to cherry pick references, thus making me question if I should waste my time in interviewing.

I really think that it would be more helpful for the community to see the boilerplate cover letter you are utilizing, as this is going to be far more important to your job search than the resume itself, as your most current experience is not really in a technical writing role.  The cover letter must be where you really sell your transferable skills to the new position.

Hope this helps.  If you have specific questions, mail me: blockphi@gmail.com

Thanks.

Phil
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I’m pretty surprised at how short this resume is for someone with ten years of experience. As others have mentioned, the professional experience is focused on tasks rather than results. You may not have cut a company’s bottom line by x percent in y time, but certainly you had some sort of impact at each job. Figure out at least one statement of impact and add that to the tasks to illustrate what you did and how that made a difference.

When interviewing writers and editors for past projects, I always looked closely at the resume for the details. In this case, I was already thrown by the lack of detail with periods at the end of bullet points. Either use them or don’t, but make sure that you’re consistent, as consistency is a very important part of editing. It just demonstrates that you either aren’t careful in your own work, or don’t value editing enough to have someone else edit your work, which is a big no-no for such an important document that serves as your first impression.

Also, since you’ve been out of school for 12 years, your educational experience can go to the bottom of the resume, near the computer skills section. Your work experience is (or should be) the focus for you now unless you had recent training or education in the field that you want to highlight.

Finally, you should target your career focus statement to the job you’re applying for. Perhaps you already are and just wrote it this way for the example, but make sure that you’re more specific when you submit it for an actual position. There is a big difference between book publishing and software documentation online, so make sure you tailor your statement accordingly.

Good luck!

–Reagan Templin (Technical Writer)
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The poetry thing has been beaten to death, but I’ll pile on. If you are applying for a job where it is relevant (literary journal?), definitely include it. For a tech writing job, delete it because the implied message is, “I need a tech writing job to support my true love—writing poetry.” Even if this is true (*especially* if this is true), it’s not a message your want to convey.

There’s a lot (a LOT) of good advice in this document already. I’ll add this: Your current resume feels slightly plastic. With the exception of the poetry reference (!), there’s no sense of the person behind the resume. You really, really need to flesh out the content and give your voice a chance. Keep the content professional, but use your skills as a poet to make the bullet points more interesting than the average resume.

With your background in sociology and RTP location, I would take a look at Research Triangle Institute. If you have an interest in statistics that goes beyond basic surveys, SAS is an obvious contender.

Usability is a big asset; flesh out your discussion of what you did there.

-Sarah O’Keefe, tech comm consultant, scriptorium.com

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I’m pretty much echoing everyone else…

I would recommend losing the objective. It’s the first thing a hiring manager reads and it limits your possibilities within the company (I heard this from an HR staffer who reviews thousands of resumes).

Also add more to your experience summary. Right now, you sound very inexperienced. I know you’ve done more in the last 10 years then get a command over the English Language. HR departments and hiring managers alike, are looking through 100’s of resumes for one job! They “skim” resumes looking for keywords, job titles, and accomplishments to match the job description.  Fill your resume by telling them what you’ve done in 10 years.

After all this…. A resume is only a knock at the door. To get your foot in the door these days, you need great references.

Monique Bradshaw – Documentation Specialist
White Plains, NY
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Two thoughts:

1. Your resume needs to be one page, but it needs to look like you had to work to get it down to one page–not like you had to work to get it up to one page. A short resume communicates too little experience.  Beef it up (see #2).

2. Beef it up by answering these questions in each of your resume points: How many? How much? How often?

For example, “Edited survey questions” isn’t as strong as “Edited hundreds of survey questions over a three-month period for errors in grammar, punctuation, and tone.” The first statement is vague. The second (while not perfect) is better because it communicates specific information and tells of proficiency in proofreading.  Even if the details and numbers you can give are small ones, small numbers are better than no numbers.  (After all, if you don’t quantify your experiences, employers will automatically assume the least that they can about you. They necessarily approach your resume from a position of cynicism.)

[Josh Allen - English Professor, Rexburg, Idaho]
___________________________________________________________

I’m not trying to be the master of the obvious but for a ‘writer’ this resume doesn’t show off the writing skills. Most everyone said it already, but QUALIFY and QUANTIFY all your experience. Sometimes short and sweet is the way to go! This resume is not one of those times.

Also, this resume doesn’t show any online references or indication of ‘samples’ of your work. In the information age, people like to see the information!

[Greg Woolf - Programmer, Mesa, AZ]

___________________________________________________________

The points above are excellent, so I’ll just focus on giving you some examples of how you can say more for every point of your resume. Think paragraphs instead of single sentence bullets.

  • I’d want to know more about the companies you worked for. Were they small, medium, large? Did you work as part of a team or as a lone writer? For example, “XYZ company is a startup in the networking and storage industry. Their customers are large public-sector enterprises, and their end users are system administrators. I worked here as part of the corporate communications team, which looks after both internal and external communication.”
  • Something like “Documented support for WAN connectivity” can be incomprehensible for someone from a different industry. For example, I don’t understand how you can “document” “support”. Tell us more about what you actually did, in Plain English. For example, it might be something like: “Wrote 50 support documents for administrators who used our WAN software. The documents covered everything from simple workarounds to more technical configuration. I worked with subject matter experts to research and test each solution, and did a lot of self-study on networking protocols.”
  • Similarly, “Created website for Student Alcohol Use Surveys” has so much scope. Use it. Tell us what software you used. Did you have to learn any new tools? What skills were involved? How many users did the website have? For example, “Created a 20-page website for Student Alcohol Use Surveys. This involved learning WordPress, setting up templates and stylesheets, and working with a usability expert to design usable forms. I also administered the site and set up analytics software. The survey was used by over 200 users and has contributed greatly to a large study on alcohol usage.”
  • Are there are other projects you contributed to that you’ve left out? I would imagine so, going by your years of experience in each job. These may be internal projects or even intangible work–such as coming up with a better working relationship with a different department. It doesn’t matter if you were just a small part of a team. State what you worked on and your role in it.

[Suchitra Govindarajan, Technical Writer with experience in recruiting other writers]

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By Tom Johnson

I'm a technical writer working for The 41st Parameter in San Jose, California. I'm primarily interested in topics related to technical writing, such as visual communication (video tutorials, illustrations), findability (organization, information architecture), API documentation (code examples, programming), and web publishing (web platforms, interactivity) -- pretty much everything related to technical writing. If you're trying to keep up to date about the field of technical communication, subscribe to my blog either by RSS or by email. To learn more about me, see my About page. You can also contact me if you have questions.

13 thoughts on “Why No One Will Hire You: 40 Professionals Give Advice on Improving a Technical Writer’s Resume [Collaborative Post]

  1. charlie

    I’m a writing professor who regularly works on resume design with students interested in getting jobs in writing. Unfortunately, the link to the resume in question is broken. The advice here is much less useful without the context of the resume itself. I suspect that would be true for others trying to apply what is said here.

    If the resume author requested it be taken down, it would be worth reposting it, with their permission, with the name and contact information removed.

  2. Scott Abel

    There are many reasons people are not getting hired. Lack of marketable skills is the number one reason, in my book. Additionally, the approach is often part of the problem….getting hired means selling yourself to other humans. You need to make them desire you. You need to make yourself ‘sexy’ enough to be ‘the’ choice. You need to be a better choice than someone else and often that means being more aware of marketing and psychology than of technical communication skills.

    I personally know of jobs available right now at both the writing, management and strategy levels that are unfilled. They are unfilled because we can’t find the right candidates. Usually, the ‘right’ ones have jobs.

    When we do find candidates that have the skills and appear to be a good fit, we have to ask, ‘Why is it that they are not currently employed?’ Sometimes this is because they are difficult to work with, stuck in old paradigms, addicted to over-focusing on low value benefits, and unaware of how business works. The best candidates — from a perception point of view) are often currently employed. Unfair? Perhaps. Perhaps not.

    My advice for tech comm pros seeking work. Stop focusing on the job title and sell your strengths. Kick some ass in the interview process by demonstrating that you know what is important (clue: it’s not semi-colon mastery, grammar, creative use of synonyms, tool mastery, or what you did in the past). No one cares about these things but it her tech writers. Instead, show that you have a mastery of the world around you, that you can work with limited supervision, you are a quick study, that you are an inquisitive problem-solver who is efficient and effective, that you will work to be as productive asvpossible and that you are the best candidate for the job….the only one they should hire.

    If you don’t believe this yourself, you are screwed.

    My two cents,

    Scott Abel
    The Content Wrangler

    1. Tom Johnson

      Thanks for adding your insights here, Scott. I agree that many tech writers often focus on less important matters such as grammar and style instead of knowledge of the world around them.

    2. Jack Shasha

      These resume bashing posts, including Scott’s, has burst my hot air balloon and brought me down to earth. I have had over 20 years of technical writing experience and I thought it was my resume that brought me all that success. Now that I look at it after your comments, I am ashamed to show it anymore. Back to the drawing board and thanks for the wake up call, all of you.
      Jack

  3. Scott Abel

    Oh, and one more thing….do not tell the interviewer there are typos in their employment ad. This is a surefire way NOT to get hired.

  4. Laura Johnson

    I’m always looking to see if there’s a way I can sharpen up my resume, so this post is great. I’m particularly interested because I’m not currently employed as a technical writer and the comments highlight some points (i.e. continuing education) that would not be mentioned in more generic resume advice articles. Now I just need to get more experience and go after the few lower-level techinical writing positions in my area.

  5. rory

    I think its important to keep improving your resume. Simply because you have a job doesn’t mean you should forgot about up dating it. Every month I try to ‘add’ points I have learnt over the previous month. My resume may be up to date but I know the covering letter can let me down. This is a great article for improving the first point of contact with future employees.

  6. Mel (Melanie)

    This is a **great post,** and the comments are really helpful, too. I’ll read it in detail the next time I update my resume, which should be soon.

    Someone suggested complete sentences in the job descriptions; at least in the US, that does not seem to be the standard. Someone else suggested making your email address a hyperlink. Seems like a great idea to me, but I remember reading somewhere that you shouldn’t do this. Does anyone know why you wouldn’t want to do this?

    Scott Abel – you make some terrific points, but I think the details of mastery over grammar and punctuation are still very important…. :)

    Melanie

  7. Dynan

    [MARKED AS SPAM BY ANTISPAM BEE | CSS Hack]
    Excellent read, I just passed this onto a colleague who was doing a modest analysis on that. And he in fact bought me lunch due to the fact I identified it for him .So let me rephrase that: Thanks a lot for lunch!

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