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Introduction to getting a job in technical writing (TW Job)

How to get a job in technical writing

by Tom Johnson on Sep 22, 2009 •
categories: beginners

If you're a college student looking to become a technical writer after you graduate, you face a formidable challenge: you can't get a job without experience, and you can't get experience without a job. Especially in a competitive job market, getting a job as a technical writer directly after you graduate -- without a foundation of previous jobs, experience with a handful of tools, and an impressive portfolio -- can be especially difficult. However, if you follow these seven steps, which are not easy, not something you can do overnight, you will find a job.

Note: In a couple of weeks I'm giving a presentation to Brigham Young University Idaho students with this post's topic (getting a job as a technical writer). My presentation is part of their annual professional writing conference. Oct 09 update: Here's a recording of the presentation.

Last week on Twitter I asked my followers what advice they would give to students on finding a job in technical writing. Here are the responses:

plaindocs: Show that you are interested in learning about everything!

seeb: don't know if i would advise students on a job on technical writing - would be technical communication..more encompassing!

floldun: Advice: emphasize what you can do for the company, and know what they need (read and ask around), instead of what you want.

AndreaJWenger: Students: identify your one greatest strength (writing, tools, tech, or whatever) and promote yourself as an expert. #techcomm

mleeuw: Networking gives job seekers the best chance of finding jobs with the proviso that one needs to be in the right location.

kirstyt: Network. Meet tech comm managers. Got both my gigs through meeting the mgr elsewhere/knowing other tech comm staff.

FeliciaRenee: Do as many internships as you can before graduating.

heidilhansen: A tip for students is to apply at Tyler Technologies, but seriously online portfolios w/samples is best & knowledge of TC field.

larry_kunz: One piece of advice for #techcommstudents: Always be curious, like a reporter or a detective.

altmilan: start by asking yourself "how do people get hired?", and then asking yourself how one goes about finding this out.

jaycie622: Advice to students: Persevere! Keep putting out resumes and don't give up hope.

Wordtree: Take an existing guide and rewrite it so you have something for your portfolio.

skry: I began tech writing via science journalism. Built a writing portfolio there. Offered to write software doc for coders.

All good advice on how to get a job. Some of the advice is reflected in my recommendations below. Here are my seven steps for college students to get a job in technical writing.

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About Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson

I'm a technical writer / API doc specialist based in the Seattle area. In this blog, I write about topics related to technical writing and communication — such as software documentation, API documentation, visual communication, information architecture, writing techniques, plain language, tech comm careers, and more. Check out simplifying complexity and API documentation for some deep dives into these topics. If you're a technical writer and want to keep on top of the latest trends in the field, be sure to subscribe to email updates. You can also learn more about me or contact me.