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Alumni Advice to Undergraduates

As part of an ongoing effort to prepare undergraduate students for the workforce, the 2002-2003 office members organized a "Technical Communication Careers Night" in the spring of 2003. Students from MSU--as well as other area colleges--were invited to attend a panel of graduate students, who had a variety of post-college experiences relating to technical communication

The panel consisted of the following speakers who chose one piece of advice to give to students:

Adrianna Greenwald

"Take advantage of every opportunity you have to learn software while you are still in school."

Susan (Mueller) Hamen

"Don't underestimate the importance of the interview--your resume is only the first step. The real selling of yourself comes when you have the chance to dazzle them face to face!"

Patricia Stockland

"Try to get experience in your field while you are still working on your degree. In the new job market, things are tight, and having some experience under your belt is nearly essential. Also, diversify yourself. Don't know just one thing really well. Know a number of things really well, and be familiar with as many more as your brain can hold.

Editing is great, but opinions are vast and everyone's background is different. Compromise, correctness, and quality are keys. In academia, the bottom line often gets forgotten; in business, it is seldom not the top priority. So, be willing to swallow some pride, and from time to time, some "standards."

Kate Molitor

"Be open to the possibilities that life has to offer. Use your time in school to learn and practice as much as you can. After graduation, be willing to be surprised by exactly where and how your knowledge, skills, and efforts can be put to good use. "

Amy Lachinski

"One of the best skills you can have is flexibility. It seems as though the market today is working with fewer people than it has in the past. Businesses need people who have a blend of skills and who can do a variety of different types of jobs. From what I've seen, those who can fit into a variety of roles are more often hired or retained over those who specialize in only  areas."

Tami Jackson

Tami was not able to attend as a speaker, but she also offered her advice students:

  • Make sure your resume highlights your professional skills (editor, web designer, lists of computer programs you know) in a prominent place. Employers scanning through lots of resumes want a quick snapshot of your skills before they look at your specific employment/extracurricular experience. Highlight the communication experience that each job has provided. Chances are that you have more experience than you think. Have someone look over your resume critically. Have them ask questions; frequently you will hear yourself filling in the holes in your resume as you answer (when you find holes, go back and revise; remember an employer's only impression of you comes from your resume and they won't be calling you to ask for clarification, especially if they've got 100 other resumes to look through). A sad reality is that frequently campus experience and graduate school experience does not necessarily count as job experience to most employers. Work with what you have. It's ugly out there. You have experience, but you may need to help employers see it that way.
  • Keep track of extracurricular activities that have anything to do with writing and design and translate it into experience on a resume. Many jobs want people that have experience creating training programs, Tutoring, Undergraduate Research Conference experience, positions like Community Advisors, writing instructions, can beef up experience on a resume. If you've edited someone's thesis or designed a poster campaign take credit for it.
  • Be as flexible as you can. Convince potential employers that technical writing is more than just writing instructions. It's important to have wide variety of background. Most employers want a candidate that has it all (editing skills, web design, marketing, report writing, etc.). I've run into very few positions that want writers that are specialized (the few positions that are like this also want at least 5 years experience). You may find that your qualifications match positions that are not classified as technical writing. Apply, if you get the job you have that much more experience to put on your resume.
  • Maintain a portfolio of all of your work. It's important to have a selection of projects to choose from as you go into interviews. Take some time to select the right projects for the interview; read the position description to figure out what the employer is looking for and then deliver it to them before they ask.
  • Networking works if you've already had a job in the field. If you've made connections at conferences or with employers that you've worked with before, then follow up. Networking does not mean inundating human resource professionals with calls (this may have the opposite effect you want it to in terms of getting a job). If you went to an interview and came in number 2 (i.e. didn't get the job), don't ask why just move on. The position has been filled, focus your efforts on jobs that have not been filled.
  • Be patient. Job searching takes a lot of time if done right. The better your application presentation, the more likely you will get an interview. Better to tailor each cover letter to the specifics in the job listing and send out fewer quality applications than to send out the same cover letter in a mass mailing. You will send out a lot of applications and get a lot of rejections. Employers are rude. You may never hear if your application was received, or the job was filled. I've been sent e-mail rejections after face to face interviews. It may take you a while to land an interview. You may need to take an interim job (like through a temporary agency). Better to fill in with something than to look unemployable because of a gap in your resume. Remember, if you land your ideal job straight out of college you are one of the blessed few.
  • And finally, it is never to early to get prepared. Start writing your resume and make sure to keep updating it, build your portfolio, get involved in extracurricular activities that will help you. Practice interviews. Look through newspapers and the internet and get a sense of what types of job titles you should be looking for. And take comfort that you are not alone in the job hunting process.

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Last Updated: 10/20/2005