This post was contributed by Kelly Kilpatrick, who writes on the subject of online colleges and universities. She invites your feedback at kellykilpatrick24 at gmail dot com.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 49,000 technical writers in the United States last year. They also say job prospects are best for technical writers over all other types of writers. So, why are so many people just coming out of college with technical communications degrees having a tough time landing that first job? It can be completely frustrating for both new graduates and prospective employers who have vacancies and feel the talent just isn’t there.
Let’s look at some of the skills and education required for technical writers and then examine why entry-level technical writing jobs are few and far between.
Some of these include:
A degree or certification in technical communications.
Often a background in another technical field such as engineering or science and may specialize in a technical area where they have expertise.
An ability to create, assimilate and convey technical material in a concise and effective manner.
In technical writing, even more than in other fields and industries, you need experience to get the job. A technical communications degree is a very good start but many companies (often led by engineers) doing this sort of hiring see writers as ill-equipped for the job and seek a more technical background to “prove” they can handle the job. Writing skills aren’t enough and even knowing the lingo and the software used are often not enough. So, what’s a new technical writer to do?
Here are some ideas:
If you can, take some engineering or computer science classes. If you’ve already graduated, take some continuing education classes to bolster your knowledge.
Offer to do a small project on spec (unpaid) for a company, or seek out volunteer work, such as documentation for an open source software project. You get a portfolio piece if nothing else and the company or organization for whom you did it may be willing to keep you around if they like what you’ve done.
If you’re a more creative type, learn how engineers work and think. They are very linear, literal and see few gray areas in anything. If you can learn how to talk to them in their language, you’ll be more successful.
Like anyone starting a new profession, you’ll need to take smaller or lower-paying jobs in the beginning as you build your portfolio and gain experience. This takes time, but if you decide you can stick it out, you’ll find a wealth of opportunities in a field that’s got nowhere to go but up.