As promised, I am answering questions and dispensing solicited advice from my readers. The following query comes from a reader who wishes to remain anonymous. However, I will try to include as many of the specifics as possible.
“Dear Mr. Leahy:
“I’m a technical writing newbie in that I have all the skills and technical knowledge but no experience to speak of. I’ve gotten into writing documentation for some projects here and there, but all the tech writing jobs I’ve applied for have told me I distinctly lack the professional experience.
“I recently had a tech writing interview that ended with me being rejected from the job I applied for, but being accepted for a non-tech writing offer from another division in the same company. The hiring managers know that I want to be a tech writer, ultimately, and even went so far as to promise me the opportunity to do some overtime assignments writing and editing proposals while in this new non-tech writing position.
“I received an official email stating that they cancelled the tech writing job instead of hiring someone else, and my family unanimously decided that the company is probably grooming me for the tech writing job instead. Though that’s not certain. Regardless of what the managers’ ultimate plan is, several people within the company have expressed interest in discussing my future with me, and this is where I have a bit of a dilemma.
“I’m only four weeks into this new non-tech writing job. To most people I talk to, it’s clear that I’m here to start a career in tech writing, though my current job has nothing to do with tech writing. My general concern is: how do I go about my business? I say it’s “clear” to most people that I’m not meant to climb the ladder in my current job, that tech writing is the career path for me, but it’s also not something I want to say out loud (for fear of getting the “well, why are you doing this job instead?”).
“I get a lot of worried looks from friends because they don’t know the people I’m dealing with; I really like my managers, and believe they have my best interests at heart. But I also know that I AM toeing a line in letting folks at my job know what I want to do with my career.
“Thanks for taking the time to read my gobbledygook!”
Thank you for writing me. I’ll try to dispense what wisdom I can. I had a similar situation happen to me, so I’m writing more or less from experience.
The first thing I’d say is this: congratulations on getting a job! As you noted in your interview experience, it’s not always easy to get one, especially if you’re new to an industry and lacking professional “street cred.” And whatever the official unemployment rate is, there are still a LOT of people not working.
Given your work situation and the economic situation in general, I’m going to suggest something a little painful, especially if you know there’s somewhere else you’d rather be: forget about technical writing for six months and focus on the job you have right now. It can take six months or longer to really understand any job, and right now you’re in the learning phase. That should be where you focus your energy. Get to know your current job as well as you can. Get to learn your customers’ needs and the ins and outs of the tasks in front of you. Don’t even worry about picking up overtime assignments in your area of interest. You might learn to like what you’re doing now.
If you prove yourself in the place you are in, your leaders will be more inclined to put you on other assignments. Bosses do talk to each other about their employees when we’re not there, and they will compare notes. If you create a favorable impression with Manager A and then Manager B wants to know if s/he should pick you up for an OT assignment, Manager A is much more likely to say yes if you’ve shown yourself to be a hard worker in Manager A’s department. If you’re slacking off because your heart isn’t in it, Manager A might say something like, “He might be a nice guy, but his eye’s on the exit door.” If a manager thinks you’re looking to leave, they will give you less and less work because they’re uncertain whether you’re going to stay or not. An employee looking to leave doesn’t have their head in the game and isn’t as productive.
Is what you’re doing technical writing? Perhaps not. But taking six months to learn and do your current job very well will demonstrate to your employer that you are a serious person, dedicated to working hard, and that you’re willing to give things your best effort (even if that’s not what you want to do, though I wouldn’t say that out loud). And perhaps most importantly, don’t go advertising or making a habit of sharing that you’d rather be doing something else. That’s a quick and easy way to get yourself laid off or flat-out fired. You want to show yourself as vital to the organization, regardless of what role you have.
That medicine dispensed, here’s some sugar to help it go down easier: there is nothing to keep you from speaking with the techies in your preferred department in your free time and ask about what they’re working on. You don’t (or shouldn’t) add “because I’d like to work for you guys” or “because I want to be a technical writer in your department.” They might already know that. For now, it’s just “nice to know” information as you get to learn how the company works. Develop contacts inside your current department and elsewhere and learn how the whole system operates. And, again, cultivate a reputation for hard work by working hard. It won’t get you the job you want NOW, but six months or a year from now, the position you want might open up again, and while you’re in the role you’re in, you’re also filling that professional experience gap.
I hope you find this helpful. Best of luck to you!