Sabine Ocker, Comtech Services
September 15, 2019

During last month’s CIDM Round Table, member participants shared some insights and observations on the role and significance of technical writer job descriptions in their organizations.

What goes into a job description?

Members opined that technical writer job descriptions need these important components:

  • Job title
  • Expectations of the job
  • Education required
  • Experience

Another important piece is better left for the actual interview: soft skills are difficult to gauge from a resume or cover letter. Some examples of soft skills itemized by members include communication, problem-solving, self-motivation, and the ability to manage project details such as schedule and priority.

The job title should include the level being sought because that is what provides context to the expectations and experience required. Candidates will sometimes apply to positions either above or below their current level. One manager explained she always has the budget to hire a senior-level writer even when the posted job is for a junior writer, so she asks the recruiter to cast a wider net as one mechanism of ensuring she attracts the top-notch candidates. This means there is an extra effort on her part to review resumes that otherwise would be filtered out. She is utilizing this tactic as a part of her present attempt to fill a writer slot.

Does having experience with DITA factor into the required job qualifications defined by our member organizations? Surprisingly not. Several managers explained that they do not feel DITA knowledge plays a role in job candidacy because it can be easily taught. The same goes for single-sourcing or working with specific authoring and cCMS tools. They are looking for soft skills.

Careful articulation of job duty expectations serves another function in a job description. Job duty expectations provide an important mechanism for benchmarking salaries and baselining writer performance. One member company uses its job descriptions for each of the three levels of writers to manage all aspects of career management—to find writers, develop them, and measure their performance.

Another key function of a job description is to describe the company in a favorable light.

According to a blog post from The Hire Talent, the purpose of a job description is to convince  “your ideal, perfect, top-producing, goes-above-and-beyond-the-call-of-duty, unicorn candidate that your company and opportunity are far superior to those that your competitor has posted. ” There’s a lot packed into this description, but members agreed that writing a compelling pitch for the company can make a big difference. One member told us she sees what she calls “jazzy, breezy language” in a job description as an indication of a modern organization, one where the writer is engaged throughout the entire product creation lifecycle and one where technical product documentation is respected.

Hiring a Writer vs. an Engineer?

Is it easier to teach a software engineer how to write or a professional writer the technical details of a product or products? According to participant members, it depends on the complexity of the product. Mark Swindon tackled this subject in an article, where he had this to say: “Seasoned technical writers, … are worth their weight in gold if they genuinely know their stuff and can provide assistance without the need for constant hand-holding. Let’s face it, there is no substitute for experience, plain and simple. Seasoned technical writers have experience in their chosen industry and can actually speak intelligently about the industry they work in. ” One member advocated that under some circumstances, hiring a software engineer is an insurance policy to ensure technical product documentation is as technical as it needs to be. However, Swindon persuades us that:  “A seasoned Technical Writer will leave you with professionally developed documentation that checks all the boxes and adheres to a standard set of formatting rules….[so] If you prefer to save time, money and headaches, I suggest using a Seasoned Technical Writer!”

Current hiring challenges?

The function of a job description is to find the right candidate, so I asked members to weigh in on what challenges they face when trying to fill an open position at their organization. They mentioned:

  • Geography: One member is looking for a writer in rural New Hampshire, while another needs someone in the Florida panhandle. Qualified writer candidates might be plentiful in more urban areas or even in places like Poland or India, but finding the right person already living in out-of-the-way places can extend the time it takes to fill a position to more than six months.
  • Losing job requisitions: Members described the pragmatic reality they face of balancing their search for the right candidate against the very real possibility that if the search takes too long, they may lose the ability to hire someone because the opening will have been frozen or closed.
  • Organizational funding constraints: Many members share the frustration of not being able to hire all the writers they need due to cost constraints and budgetary restrictions.

In conclusion, CIDM members feel a strong job description facilitates finding the best technical writer candidate for the job, and they work hard to get it right. If you are interested in investigating the technical writer job templates available on various job sites, here are some links: