Viewing post categorized under: Corporate Musings

My Experience with Career Counseling

I had never been to any form of counseling until October of last year. Some people still view going to counseling as a negative thing, like you can’t handle your life on your own or you have big, dark problems. That’s really not true, and I think our culture’s perspective on counseling is changing for the better. My best friend of 10 years is a mental health therapist, and she says even therapists have therapists. Counseling is great for anyone because it provides you an outside perspective and expert guidance.

After I realized how helpful it could be, I knew I needed to start adding it to my own life. One of the areas I felt I could gain some wise counsel for is my career, so last year, I sought  a career counselor, someone who could give me pointers on how to navigate and make the most of my career. I finished the career counseling program in March. It’s been a great season of growth for me, and I want to share with you some of the tips I’ve learned, which might motivate you to see out your own career counseling professional.

Knowing Yourself

Before you can know what you should DO at any step in your career, you have to know YOURSELF. What is your personality? What are your strengths? What are your dominant cognitive functions? If you can’t answer those questions in depth, a career counselor will be really helpful to you.

There are many tests out there that can help with that. Myers Briggs is the famous one everyone has heard of, but some other tests that have been truly eye-opening for me are the Career Fit test, the Clifton Strength Finders test, and the Enneagram. I am an ESTJ borderline ESFJ. My dominant strengths are Achiever, Discipline, Woo, Communication, and Connectedness. I’m an Enneagram Type 8. These tests I have taken both as part of the counseling program and on my own over the years have helped me know myself on a much deeper level than I ever could have otherwise, which benefits every single aspect of my life, not just my career. As a bonus, discussing these tests with friends has also helped me understand others better as well.

Another aspect of knowing yourself is understanding your fears and weaknesses in relation to your career. The book I read as part of my career counseling program outlined several key fears that hold people back in their careers and how to overcome them.

Knowing the Work World

After you know yourself, you have to get to know the world of work. What are the options? How do people get where they want to go? Counseling taught me all about the careers that exist, marketing yourself, networking, the job search process, the “hidden” job market, and current tools that are out there for advancing your career.

I came away from counseling believing that this type of information is so valuable that it should be taught in high school or college. We often just expect people to automatically KNOW themselves and what they should do and how the work world works without giving them any formal education in those topics. It’s crazy to think about how much more I know about myself and my career now at 29 than I did when I was 18 and just starting college.

I would absolutely recommend investing in a career counselor, even if you think things are going along fine in your career progression. It’s incredibly useful to get back to the basics on who you are and what you are good at before you are tempted to define yourself by a job title, and get an outsiders perspective. The work world is changing fast, and a career counselor might be just what you need to keep up and feel comfortable making decisions and moving forward in your career.

My Experience Creating Marketing Comm as a Tech Comm Professional

It is widely recognized in the technical communication industry that marketing communications and technical communications are increasingly converging, and it makes good business sense. This topic was explored at the 2018 Society for Technical Communication Summit, which I attended. Check out this great presentation on why this trend is happening if you are not familiar: Content is Content: Marketing and Tech Comm are Converging.

The trend was also very recently featured in the findings of the 2017-18 Adobe Tech Comm Survey published a few weeks ago, which I participated in. The survey cites “content reuse, sharing of common assets, better search integration, and a common taxonomy” as the biggest drivers for bringing the marketing and tech comm disciplines together.

As I was networking recently, I made friends with the marketing director at a nearby Sheboygan company. She told me the technical writers there started to merge with the marketing team a few years ago because they had the technical knowledge to confirm information being published as part of marketing efforts. She currently has one technical communicator on her team.

All this evidence that the trend is happening both on a national/global scale and locally supports my own experience in the last three years at JOA. I have been helping JOA’s marketing director with marketing communications projects as needed. I have created technology descriptions for the first JOA Innovation Tour for our customers, created magazine advertisements for our technology, and most recently, created marketing print collateral brochures for our machine platforms, technologies, and services.

In transitioning to thinking like a marketer, I am exercising a writing muscle that had atrophied a bit since my college days: creativity and persuasion break the rules I otherwise live in as a technical communicator. It is very refreshing and exciting. Marketing language brings a fresh perspective on the facts of technology. I would love to learn more about copywriting and marketing writing in general.

The marketing projects I work on benefit from my technical knowledge and technical communication workflows. For example, when terminology or acronyms in marketing documents are inconsistent with technical documents I’ve been writing for years, I pick up on it immediately and question it, creating greater consistency across the literature system and breaking down silos in communication. I talk with subject matter experts (SME) as I normally would in my technical communication workflow to confirm the accuracy of technical details in a marketing brochure, but instead of just asking about the accuracy of the information, I also find myself asking questions such as:

Is this a unique JOA technology?

What benefit does this offer our customers?

Is this above and beyond what our competitors offer?

This is better in comparison to what? How should I phrase that?

What should be emphasized here?

What is going to make them want to hire JOA?

What other flexibility can we offer our customers here? If I advertise this, can we deliver on that?

I also get to spend all day designing documents using Adobe InDesign, which is one of my favorite work activities. I have fond memories of Document Design class in college. I’ve always lamented not getting to do more document design in my job, although in my early days at JOA I initiated a total redesign of over 17 documentation templates to re-brand our documentation package and bring it out of a design that looked like it was right out of the 80s. Marketing communications give me a huge opportunity to lots of what I love in terms of design work.

My advice to technical communication professionals who are being called upon to inform or contribute to marketing efforts is to embrace this change and realize your technical communication workflows and detailed product knowledge are incredibly useful on the marketing side of things and you might have a lot of fun exercising your aesthetic, persuasive, creative muscles in the process.

Why You Should Join a Committee

Being on a committee can sound intimidating or like it will involve a lot of boring meetings, but it is really beneficial to your career and actually fun if you make it. Take advantage if someone invites you to join one!

I am on two committees: the JOA Charitable Giving Committee at work and the Society for Technical Communication Scholarship Committee. I joined both of these committees this year. These are the awesome benefits I’ve found:

Develop new relationships

We know that 80% of getting jobs is networking, and developing new, quality relationships in the work world is always good, so why not develop some new relationships on a committee?¬†Usually, you will meet new coworkers or friends or work with people that you wouldn’t otherwise work with. Working together toward a common goal always makes you feel more connected and provides bonding experiences.

Expand your skills

Really engaging in the meetings and thinking of new or better ways to drive the goals of the committee forward will definitely expand your collaboration, communication, analyzation, and problem-solving skills. For example, recently one of the committees I am on was struggling to handle all the requests pouring in for us to look at, so I suggested we develop a rubric of criteria that would allow us to evaluate each request in an efficient manner to save time at meetings and take the pressure off the committee chair. We brainstormed the criteria together, and I developed the rubric document. The next meeting went much more smoothly as we were able to start getting requests off the table. It made me feel great that I could use my technical writer mind in a room full of my coworkers to bring a solution to the table that they probably wouldn’t have thought of.

Feel more connected to the life of the organization or community

The goals of many committees are to impact other people directly in some way, and that’s an awesome feeling. Committees have a great way of making you feel as though you are impacting the company or organization you work for or the greater community in some capacity which builds a great sense of purpose and belonging. You also end up feeling much more invested in the health and goals of your organization or community and you’ll want to see it continue to improve.

Society for Technical Communication Summit 2018 Experience

As I walked through the sparkling, modern Hyatt Regency hotel in Orlando, huge hallways and ballrooms opened up before me with towering windows revealing palm trees outside. Just as I felt simultaneously small and refreshed by the wide open spaces in this new environment, I felt my perspective on the technical communication industry widening even as I keenly felt my small presence within it. Six years working full time as a technical writer at a small engineering company in Sheboygan Falls, WI hadn’t exposed me to a whole lot of other people working in my field. I knew attending this conference would help open my eyes; it did deliver on that expectation. Through the education sessions and my interactions with fellow writers, I began to understand where my company and way of doing my job fit into the industry as a whole. I learned how the type of company I work for, the software we use, our workflows, and how our challenges were the same or different from others’ challenges.

I loved the immediate comradery and constant connection with other conference attendees throughout the day as we ate, drank, and navigated the resort together. I used every opportunity, even waiting in line, to meet new people and ask questions. I met with representatives from vendors and consultants who really knew their stuff and could help my company, which felt empowering. Issues I’d been having for years suddenly looked like they could be solved with the snappy-looking software packages presented by smiling faces who understood my pain.

All of the education sessions I chose to attend were interesting, but here are some of my favorites:

Add UX Methodologies to your Portfolio

It was the first day of the conference for me, and I was eager to make new connections, so I arrived at this 8-hour session early and sat in the front. This worked out well for me as I was picked to be part of the usability test simulation and got a free book to boot. I was instructed to come up to the front and sit down in front of a computer with a poorly designed expense report software. The instructor gave me a list of instructions on what tasks to perform on the software as the rest of the class observed and took notes. The instructor stayed calm even in the midst of technical difficulties and asked me a bunch of open-ended questions to find out what I was experiencing while trying to complete the tasks. Through this process, I realized how nuanced usability is and how our user experience creates a negative or positive feeling toward having to complete work with that software in the future. Making products fun and easy to use is crucial to whether or not users will be excited to come back to using them. I became inspired to work on making our customer documentation more appealing and easy to use.

Tech Writing Meets Translation: Tips and Tricks

This might have been my favorite class, especially because my company is trying to cut down on translation costs. Filled with practical insights, this class gave some great tips I felt like I could start using as soon as I got back to work. Sometimes what you learn as a technical writing student is actually not best practice for translation. For example, I learned to only spell out what acronyms mean the first time the acronym is used in a document, assuming that from then on readers will understand it. However, we have to think about how users actually use our content. They search for what they need and only read that section as opposed to reading the whole chapter or document in a sitting, so we need to explain relevant acronyms in every major section they are used. The session was filled with other such useful tidbits that never would have occurred to me.

Future of Technical Communication: Findings from Adobe Tech Comm Survey 2018 Adobe

I remembered getting the Adobe Tech Comm Survey to my inbox at work, so I was excited when I realized that an expert from Adobe would be at the conference to present the results. This session helped me understand both where my skills and the work processes in my company sit within the industry and also where the industry is going in terms of publishing outputs and responding to technological developments such as artificial intelligence. I found out that the way I do things at work is very common in the industry, but that we could be more on the cutting edge than we are now.

After a relaxing week and a half exploring Fort Lauderdale, Miami, and Key West on vacation, I got back to work and started reviewing my notes and forming a plan for how to present my learnings to the rest of my team. I knew some ideas were bigger than others and would require more time and money investment. I also knew that there might be resistance to some ideas simply because of how big of a change they would mean for our work processes, but I also felt inspired to present my ideas well to give them the best chance of taking root. Gaining the perspective, tools, and inspiration to make waves at work was definitely the greatest benefit of attending the STC Summit 2018.

Getting Curious about Complaints: Interdepartmental Communication to Solve Problems

Complaining at work is usually a negative and potentially annoying way to communicate with coworkers. We usually do it because we need to create a catharsis by blowing off steam or we want to bond with a coworker over our difficulties. However, if examined correctly, complaints can reveal opportunities for improvement that we may not have recognized before. We also may not realize that the coworker we are talking to could actually help effect the solution. This is why interdepartmental communication is so essential.

How do we examine complaints correctly? I found myself in this situation recently. A coworker and friend from a different department came to me complaining. Normally I just nod, listen, and provide verbal affirmation of how terrible it is, but this time I realized that I could potentially help. Without telling her what I was doing, I began to ask her open-ended questions to drill down to the root of the problem. I wanted to help her see how she could take action to change the issue and how I could help. By the end of the conversation, we had determined that the problem could be solved with improved documentation and training and also by further building customers’ overall trust in our expertise as a company. The second solution would need to be addressed by multiple departments and would take time. The first solution was one I could act on immediately since I am on the technical documentation and training team. I offered to add a statement to the appropriate documentation and ask our training coordinator to address the issue with future customers and train them on how to solve it. We left the conversation with next steps for her to get more specific information for me to add to the documentation.

I could tell she was encouraged that we had left the conversation with steps forward to a solution rather than just a bonding experience. None of this would have happened if I had not begun to actively listen for the opportunity for improvement and began to steer the conversation in the direction of identifying the real problem and ways to solve it. I was curious, so I used the effective model of asking “Why?” until the real problem was uncovered. Getting curious about complaints can lead to more effective interdepartmental communication and problem solving.

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.