The Art of Standing Out

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Several years ago, I interviewed with Google for a tech comm position. I got as far as a phone interview. Everyone told me that Google only hires people who wrote a book on the subject, or invented something great. It’s not enough to be merely a good writer.

In some ways, that was consoling. But in a more important way, it made me realize that my resume at the time wasn’t ever going to make me a “must hire”. I could get a job, of course, but I certainly wasn’t standing out from all the other “tech writer with x years’ experience” people.

Those people? They’re all tech writers. But where’s the passion? Where’s the thing that the employer is excited about? Where’s the thing that looks impressive on the company’s “welcome aboard” email?

Here’s what I did:

  • I started reading a lot of blogs and research about tech writing. I can’t put that reading on my resume, but it led to some of the stuff below. And I left comments on people’s web sites as well, which sometimes starts really interesting and helpful conversations.
  • I created this web site. Yes, the truth has come out, ladies and gentlemen. Save the Semicolon is nothing more than a callous attempt at proving that I’m serious, passionate, and dedicated to my chosen profession. Of course, this site also helps me connect to people, learn from people, and share what I know. All good reasons to have a website.

What to write about? Write about the research that you’ve read. Write about something that another blog has made you think about. And of course, write about your own experience. If you don’t think you can maintain a web site, then ask to write a guest post on someone else’s site. Lots of people are looking for material, and they’d be happy to publish yours.

Take note: Your experience is valuable, regardless of how much you have. For example, this post about being an intern always gets a lot of interest. There are people out there who want to hear what you’ve learned. Every time I’ve posted something that I thought was too basic, or too obvious, or too personal, someone has told me that it helped them. Sometimes it’s nice for people to read what they already know. Validation is valuable.

  • I created a twitter account and started tweeting about tech comm. I have to admit that my Twitter posts are hit and miss and I’ve slowed down (a LOT) in the last few years. But I can always pick it up again, and I have a body of tweets that show that I’m part of a community of tech writers. I’m not just some guy cashing a paycheck in a field that I fell into or am trying out.

What to tweet about? Tweet about other people’s blog posts. Tweet about experiences that you had. Link to pages that might be interesting to people.

  • I maintained my membership to the professional societies. A person who is a member of a professional society (like STC, for tech writers) is a person who’s taking it seriously.
  • I gave a presentation at the STC annual summit. Suddenly, I’m an expert. And how did I know that they were accepting proposals for presentations? I probably read it on a blog or saw a tweet about it.

The great thing about these things is that they actually make me a better tech writer. For example, doing research for a blog post or tweet forces me to stay up-to-date with what’s happening in tech comm. It’s good for me even when I’m not looking for a job.

I’m sure that there are plenty of other ideas out there, so please let me know if you have one! How can people get noticed?

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4 Responses to “The Art of Standing Out”

  1. Felicity
    May 21, 2014 at 11:56 pm #

    I feel as if you wrote this post for me personally. It came at a time when I really needed it. Thanks so much! I’m off to go and do all those things you said. Now I just have to find my point of difference – there are a lot of Tech Writing blogs out there.

  2. admin-Robert
    May 23, 2014 at 10:36 pm #

    Felicity: thanks for your comment and good luck! Drop me a line if you want to write a guest post here as an entry to blogging.

  3. Olivier Bricaud
    May 27, 2014 at 3:10 pm #

    Thank you very much, Robert, for the timely post as I am in the process of initiating these steps. I am sure I will often refer to your post as a roadmap moving forward.

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