How you can manage your career…

You should manage your career as a continuous habit. – That’s the gist I got from a (re-)tweet by my friend Scott at DMN. I bring it into blogland where I can comment on it in more than 140 characters. Thanks, Scott, for bringing an excellent and relevant blog post to my attention!

Lance Haun’s blog Rehaul presents a great guest post by Steve Browne:

10 Career Management Tips In The Age Of Job Fear

Reasons why we don’t…

First, Steve gives some four reasons why we don’t manage our careers. What they have in common is that most of us seem to think of career management as occasional sprints – but not as a continuous habit.

I know this has been true for me: I would try and jumpstart my career management once I got really miserable in a job. Then it would be a lot of effort to make my past achievements presentable to others and to make my future vision clear to me. Which is, of course, only the first step…

Suggestions how we can…

Then Steve lists ten suggestions what we can do to manage our careers. They’re all great suggestions: They are actionable and real, so you’re not chasing some ideal self. At the same time, they are effective enough to rise above the level of mundane tasks. I especially like these three ideas:

4. Intentionally seek professional development

This is good for my job because it keeps my skills sharp and up to date. And it’s good for me because it lets me check whether I like and care about where I’m going.

6. Don’t be a lurker or a slug

By all means, stick your neck out! Do it in a responsible and respectful manner, but do it. It is called technical communication after all…

7. Volunteer and be broad in your scope

Anytime you volunteer, someone’s bound to learn something! And once you’ve volunteered for a bit, you’ve learned enough so you can avoid the topics that are too broad for you… 🙂

– Now, go over to Steve’s post and read it, if you haven’t already… 🙂

How important is your manager?

… pick your manager first. A great manager will negate most other work problems, whereas an awful manager will negate most other work pleasures.

I found this in a post on Scott Berkun’s blog, and it is oh so true! It’s the single most important factor in my satisfaction with a job. Nothing else shapes my memory and my judgment of a past job as much.

A couple of caveats apply to tech writers:

  • Unless you’re working in a dedicated documentation department, even a good manager may still need to learn a thing or two about good documentation. You can spot a good manager if he’s willing to listen, but still keeps you on your toes.
  • I guess few tech writers actually get to pick their manager. Yet all else being equal, go for the better manager, when choosing between two departments – or, hey, two job offers…

What do you think? How important is your manager to your satisfaction and sense of progress in a job?

Manage documentation as a lone writer

Even when you’re the “lone writer” in your organisation, it may be a good idea to manage documentation as if it was a team or a department. You need a little leeway, but you can get a lot of mileage out of it: You can elevate documentation beyond a rushed after-thought in the production process. You can raise your profile, from the guy or gal who writes the help to the user advocate. You can help to turn developed features into marketable user benefits. In short, you can turn documentation into a relevant asset of your company – an asset that’s connected to your face.

In my previous job, I was a lone writer for a while. On JoAnn Hackos’ Center for Information-Development Management, I found the New Manager’s To-Do List. I recommend that you check out this invaluable presentation by Marty Williamson!

I’ve found it so helpful that I’ve condensed it to a single slide which has been hanging over my desk ever since:

Managing Documentation in a Nutshell

Some of these practices come pretty easy: Building trust is a given in many workplaces. In fact, if you don’t, chances are you won’t succeed as a lone writer.

Other practices require dedication and discipline. If there’s little incentive in your company to keep metrics or to profile users, such efforts start out as pet projects. But you’ll see colleagues and managers taking note fairly soon, when you back up suggestions to change documentation or deliverables with such evidence.

Taken together, these practices can remind you of the business sense of being a tech writer among the nitty-gritty of everyday writing, editing and publishing. They can make you a more complete (lone) writer and an asset to your company – present and future!

To learn more about the Information Process Maturity Model, see JoAnn Hackos’ article “Using the Information Process-Maturity Model for Strategic Planning“.

If you have any ideas or questions about advancing documentation as the lone writer, please leave a comment!

– Thanks to Michael and André, my managers who gave me the freedom and support to expand my responsibilities and the value of the documentation.