Fifteen years ago, I was a sleep deprived student slogging my way through a technical writing program in hopes of finding a job. I didn't really know what it was like to work in the field; however, I knew I enjoyed writing and that my love for poetry wasn't going to help cover my college expenses. In other words, I was just stumbling through, like so many students. If I had to repeat the process, here is what I'd do differently.
- Network heavily. University professors are well connected. A student can make valuable connections by demonstrating a willingness to learn and be dependable, and then asking professors for career advice and introductions to contacts. Professors are usually glad to help students who ask and put forth honest effort.
- Work on projects. Assisting with any relevant project for the university, such as updating a website or editing student resumes, can help you build your resume. Focus on both skill development and creating a portfolio.
- Connect via LinkedIn. Start making connections with other students and keep in touch with them. When you find yourself looking for a job, these contacts may come in handy. Don't just network with fellow writers; also keep in touch with computer science and engineering students, because they might be the future product development managers who need your services.
- Take advantage of resources. Universities have great libraries, computers with network access, writing labs, career centers, and other facilites that can really help you with career research, job hunting, and building your skills. You are paying for them, so why not make the best use of these resources?
- Attend industry-related events. If your English department hosts conferences, invites professional speakers, and so on, be sure to attend. These events will expose you to new ideas from professional technical writers.
- Don't focus on the degree. A degree might get you a job interview, but it is your passion and knowledge that will get you hired and propel you through the ranks. If you are only there for the paper, you are wasting your money. When you graduate, you will be one of many job seekers with a degree. What sets you apart? Focus on building your expertise and developing a reputation as a professional.
- Don't stop learning. Just because you've completed your degree doesn't mean you have learned everything necessary to be effective and stay relevant. Take advantage of online technical writing programs to continue building your skills after college. Also, get involved with industry associations such as the Society for Technical Communication so that you can stay up-to-date on industry trends.