This post started off as an email to an upcoming college graduate with a major in English. As someone who also graduated with an English degree, this is advice I would have loved to get as a student. So, if you’re a current student or if you’re simply interested in technical writing as a career, this post is for you.
Technical writing is a great career choice if you love to learn, teach, collaborate, and—most importantly—write. There are so many opportunities for this role in various industries that you can pursue virtually anything you’re interested in!
Below is a list of tips that I wish I received as a college student. It’s not an all-inclusive list and I’m sure I’ll add more in the future.
1. Think about what field/industry interests you.
Are you interested in digital technology? Science? Engineering? Try searching “Technical Writer” on job board sites like Glassdoor, Indeed, or LinkedIn to see which companies are looking for technical writers. These roles may involve:
- Writing end-user documentation
- Producing standard operating procedures (SOP)
- Writing content within a product (e.g., UX writing)
- A blend of the above
Each role depends on the industry as well as the individual company, so do your research and pay attention to the reviews on job boards.
2. Think about your process as a technical writer.
The number one habit that I developed during my time as an English student was record my interviews. This allows me to pay close attention to my interviewee—typically the subject matter expert (SME)—without missing any important details.
At at glance, my writing process looks like this:
- Gather information and requirements.
- Schedule an interview/demonstration (and record it).
- Write a draft.
- Ask the SME to review the draft.
- Seek peer review (if possible).
What does your technical writing process look like? Be prepared to discuss this at a job interview. If the hiring manager is also a writer, feel free to ask them about their process too!
3. Diversify your skill set.
A diversified skill set will mean different skills for different industries. For me, knowledge of graphic design and web development helped get my foot in the door as a writer in the tech sector. What kind of skills could be useful for your chosen industry? While you don’t need industry-specific skills, it’s a definite plus.
If you want to expand your skills, there are plenty of free resources to sharpen your non-writing skills. For example, if you’re interested in writing for a software company, I recommend these websites to get some working knowledge on how to code:
4. There is bad writing in the professional world.
This is more of a reality check than advice, but good writing skills are not the norm at most companies. And whatever you do, don’t police anyone’s writing in the workplace if you want your teammates to actually like you. Please note this is different from someone soliciting feedback.
Here is the silver lining: this is a sign that there is an absolute need for good writers in every company (i.e., you).
5. Put together a good resume and, more importantly, a great cover letter!
Bookmark this blog post by Clay Spinuzzi. I’ve used it for every single job hunt.
If you don’t feel like clicking that link, I can sum it up for you: write a thoughtful cover letter for each job. Don’t just copy, paste, and change the company name—it’s obvious when you do this.
6. Job hunting sucks.
This is a universal truth, so don’t get too discouraged if you don’t get the results you’re looking for. The best way to get good results is to be intentional with every single application you care about (see #5 above).
If you’re a new graduate, congratulations! At the same time, just know that the job market is wonky right now with the current state of the world. Please feel free to reach out if you would like any assistance in your job hunt. It’s hard enough to find a job despite these crazy circumstances. The least I can do is help out a fellow writer.
In case you were wondering, the title of this post is based on a book series I loved as a kid: So You Want to Be a Wizard.