Guide to Hiring a Technical Communicator
Whether you sell widgets or wisdom, bicycles or bytes, a technical communicator makes sure that your best thinking is reflected on paper and online.
Hiring a technical communicator is the same as hiring any qualified professional.
This guide offers some suggestions to help you find and select the best technical communicator for your needs.
Assessing Your Needs
Finding someone with the right skills isn’t easy. Does the job require:
- a proven ability to interview and acquire information from subject matter experts?
- a knowledge of specific technologies?
- an individual who needs to work alone or as part of a team?
- a person comfortable juggling many projects or just a few?
- a self-directed candidate or someone who needs to be highly supervised?
- a quick learner or an experienced tool guru?
- a permanent employee or project-specific contractor?
By determining what the person must do, you also determine the candidate’s level of experience.
Finding Technical Communicators
Where can you find qualified technical communicators? Some resources are our chapter’s free contractors’ directory and free posting to the job bank, other web sites, and local universities and colleges.
- Our chapter’s Contractor’s Directory [link coming]
- Our chapter’s Job Bank[link coming]
- T-Net British Columbia’s employment page
- Freshgigs, a web site focused on marketing and creative talent
- Workopolis, billed as “Canada’s biggest job web site.”
- Monster.ca, Canada’s “online career management” site.
- STC’s job bank
- Local colleges and universities that have technical writing programs, such as BCIT, Douglas College, Langara, SFU, and VCC.
* These are just a few examples. The STC does not endorse any of these web sites.
Writing Your Job Ad
Once you establish your requirements, you can start to write a job description.
When writing about the job, here are some guidelines:
- If your job requires someone not only to produce a manual but also to design it, to coordinate the efforts of others, and to tie the manual to your marketing plan, look for someone with varied experience.
- If your job requires someone who can write for an experienced audience, you may need a candidate who is knowledgeable about a particular subject.
- If your job requires knowledge of specific tools (such as Microsoft Word or Adobe FrameMaker), list them. But don’t focus just on a candidate’s knowledge of tools—look for a demonstrated ability to learn new applications.
Jobs ads for technical communicators usually include the following common terms or phrases. To help you write your ad, click any of those terms to see samples:
business analyst, content analyst, content curator or manager, content strategist, copywriter, forms analyst or designer, graphic designer, illustrator, information architect, instructional designer or developer, instructional designer, localization expert, marketing communicator (or marcomm), multimedia producer, photographer, proposal writer, SEO specialist, technical communicator, technical editor, technical writer, trainer or technical trainer, translator, user interface or user experience specialist, videographer, web content writer, web designer.
advertisements, annual reports, APIs, articles, blogs, brochures, business plans, catalogues, computer-based training, emergency response plans, exhibits, forms, illustrations, instructions to assemble or orperate, keyword optimization, manuals, marketing collateral, MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), newsletters, online help systems, policies and procedures, product interfaces, product specifications, proposal or grant application responses, reference material, requests for Information (RFI), Proposals (RFP), Quotes (RFQ), research and development, scripts, site maps, storyboards, structured content, style guides, test plans, topic-based content, training materials, user guides, user interfaces, video tutorials, video and multimedia productions, web copy, wire frames.
brokerage, business (accounting, business process re-engineering, human resources, inventory, manufacturing, marketing, point of sale, recovery planning, and supply chain), telephonic communications, computer hardware, e-commerce, education, engineering (aeronautics, chemical (process), civil, electrical, environmental, geophysical, mechanical, mining), finance, government, health and wellness, law, medicine, military, oil and gas, online security, pharmaceuticals, safety, scheduling, science, software, taxation.
intellectual and business skills
analyzing the audience, task, and content for a communications project; building consensus; change management, copy-editing; crisis management, data gathering; facilitating; functioning as an effective team member; interviewing; project management (planning, estimating, scheduling, and budgeting); software development processes and methodologies such as Agile, waterfall, RAD; organizing, synthesizing and evaluating information; problem-solving; programming; quality assurance; statistical analysis; surveying; testing functionality; training, working independently.
API writing; blogging and website-creation applications such as WordPress, Drupal or Joomla; cloud computing; computer-assisted drawing (CAD) programs; computer-based training; content management systems; desktop publishing; drawing, illustration and photo-editing programs; DITA; electronic publishing programs; e-mail programs; gaming; HTML, SGML, XML authoring systems; indexing systems; learning management systems; object-oriented programming; online help; operating systems; productivity software; relational database applications; screen capture programs; social media platforms; spreadsheets and accounting programs; translation software; version control software; video editing systems; voice transcription and/or dictation; word processing.
Interviewing the Candidates
Although a resume and cover letter serve as important screening tools for any position, they are especially important for technical communicators. They provide your first glimpse of the candidate’s ability to communicate clearly and effectively.
During the interview, you can explore typical job scenarios and see how the candidate would:
- respond to the pressure of a deadline
- react to advice and criticism
- adapt to a fast-paced environment
- handle prioritizing and multitasking
- contribute as a team player
For example, if you need an experienced generalist, you might ask candidates about a successful project they managed. Listen for signs that they not only completed the project but were able to contribute to the company’s success.
Screening the Candidates
Ask candidates to bring samples of their work to the interview. While examining a sample, ask the candidates to clarify their role in its production.
Technical communicators usually come from one of two backgrounds.
- If a candidate’s experience is science, engineering, or computer science, he or she should demonstrate the ability to write clearly and succinctly.
- If the candidate’s background is education, journalism, English, or another liberal arts background, he or she should demonstrate an understanding of technical material.
Testing the Candidate
You may wish to use a simple standardized test or one based on an actual project from your company to test the candidate’s writing, designing, or illustrating abilities.
By asking candidates to rewrite a draft of a report, to copy-edit a chapter, or to layout a sample page, you’ll see evidence of their skills.
Finally, if you need someone with specialized knowledge, a simple technical vocabulary test can help determine the candidate’s level of expertise.
Negotiating the Salary
Depending on education, communication experience, and technical background, salaries can range from $40,000 per year to more than $95,000. For specifics about money and compensation in the US, review the STC’s Salary Survey.