Becoming a Technical Author – writing your CV

One of the most common questions we’re asked is how to become a Technical Author.

The main thing employers look for is past experience of writing user guides or other forms of instructional material. This, of course, is hard to get if you’re not already a Technical Author! We recommend, when you’re writing your CV, you highlight any projects you might have done that involved developing training or user guides. You might not have had the job title “Technical Author”, but you may have created a user guide (for other staff members, for example). If you have written nothing like this in the past, you’ll need to look at building up a portfolio.

You need to be able to demonstrate you have excellent technical writing skills. This means the ability to explain, using words and images, technical instructional information to a non-technical audience. These are the types of projects you should mention in your CV.

Technical Authors are expected to have good time management skills, because it’s important they are able to complete the documentation on time. However, it’s very hard to include this in a CV, apart from simply stating you’re able to meet deadlines.

Some roles, but not all, will require you to have specific domain knowledge. For example, merchant banks don’t have the time to teach you the principles of trading. Also, if you’re writing API documentation, you’ll be expected to have at least a basic understanding of the code.

Most specialist Technical Author recruitment agencies will not change your CV, other than to remove contact details and add a logo, before sending it out to prospective employers. Your CV will tell employers a lot about how good a writer you are. This means that your CV should be as good as you can make it.

Remember:

  • Your CV is your first chance to demonstrate your writing skills. You must be clear and concise.
  • Limit your CV to two or three sides of A4 paper, if you can.
  • Don’t forget to check your CV thoroughly. Look out for any typographical, spelling and grammatical errors.

Another common question we’re asked is whether you need to learn how to use a particular authoring tool. It depends on each client, but in general this is an aspect that differs from other roles in IT. For software companies, you will be expected to know how to write online, topic based, content. The most popular Help authoring tools are Adobe RoboHelp and MadCap Flare. They are similar enough that, if you know one, you’re probably able to use the other. Unfortunately, some mainstream agencies select candidates based on whether they have skills in a particular tool or not. They filter on key words – if the key word isn’t on your CV, your CV might not be selected. Another issue is tools training doesn’t come cheap, unless you look at online courses or self-study options.

What additional advice would you give? You can share your thoughts below.

(See also: Cherryleaf’s Technical Author basic/induction online training course)

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