Networking For Technical Communication Students And Practitioners

By, Jessica Lynn Campbell

Documentation Specialist at Radixx International

                Webster’s All-In-One Dictionary & Thesaurus (2013) defines networking as the exchange of information or services among individuals, groups or institutions (p. 436). The primary function of networking is to exchange information with other individuals within the same field or practice.

Networking can provide for enriching, educational experiences and opportunities to collaborate on projects and gain the knowledge and expertise from a variety of diverse disciplines. Through networking and communicating with one another, technical communicators are able to distribute information with one another, thus increasing the technical communication body of knowledge and providing the ability for individuals to apply that knowledge to her or his projects, practices, and employment. Lastly, technical communicators communicating and sharing knowledge and information with one another create both social connections with one another by possessing similar interests and fields of study, but also professional connections by offering employment opportunities and the availability of personal references. Knowing the right individuals in one’s profession becomes necessary in a highly competitive workforce, even more so with technical communication being such a niche position. Networking increasing one’s ability to become employed by reputable companies that are willing to not only financially compensate an employee for her or his expertise and skills, but also augment, develop, and advance her or his career.

Filling your monthly calendar with at least one networking event shows an individual’s motivation and passion for her or his career, and every opportunity to stand out against one’s competitors is beneficial –if not seeking a position now—but possibly in the future. Some of the candidates that I’m competing against out there are going out of their way to stand out of the crowd described Mannetter (2009) when searching for work after her position at Principal Financial Group Inc. was eliminated. Meeting individuals at networking events allows one to gain information and learn new developments in one’s field of business, not only that, but as Mannetter (2009) described, “Events have given me an opportunity to gauge my search tactics and experiences against my peers.” Making connections with employers will assist technical communicators, in the job market, obtain a position, as well as gain them access to information from colleges and competitors alike so they can stay ahead of new technologies and developments in their line of work. Unfortunately, the “who” you know is sometimes more important than “what” you know—at least when it comes to securing employment—and more importantly, good employment. This has been experienced by many well-qualified, and perhaps even over-qualified technical communicators who are seeking a position with a company or business that is willing to offer them the financial compensation that meets his or her needs, both economically, but also based on performance level. Mannetter (2009) concurred, “I know firsthand how having a solid professional network can help a candidate identify ‘unposted’ career opportunities.”

The value and profit that is gained through networking for technical communicator practitioners and future technical communicators still in the process of obtaining their education is able to occur through a variety of communicative and interactive methods. Society and group memberships, such as being a member in the Society for Technical Communication, provide for interactive experiences for social aims in order to meet others in the same field and discuss the profession and information. The feeling of belonging to a community and the unity that one feels from connecting with one another thorough social networking is one benefit of networking that many do not acknowledge. Reynard (2009) stated, “Not only are young people highly active in social networks, but older individuals are also showing a huge increase in their use of these tools,” and she continued on to explain, “The attraction of older age groups is, of course, social connection and community building among professional and casual peers and friends.” Mannetter (2009) described this when she stated, “What I don’t hear nearly as much about are the psychological benefits of participating in formal and informal networking opportunities.”

Social interaction is not the only benefit of being associated with others in a group, but organizations may also offer meetings, presentations, and seminars to its members. Members are able to attend educational events that allow them to ask questions to expert professionals and get an immediate response, as well as learn, develop, and hone skills, thus increasing their proficiencies within their discipline.

Besides face-to-face interactions and gatherings, the technical communication discipline is replete with a collection of sub-disciplines, in which practitioners collaborate and communicate in a variety of technological and digital methods and interactions. Web 2.0 tools have critically elevated the social networking activity and skills of individuals (Reynard, 2009). Technical communicators converse and exchange information with one another through collaborative and online tools such as blogs, Twitter, Linkedin, and even Facebook. Most businesses today have Facebook pages that allow them to post new information, events, as well as connect with others in the business to remain in awareness of new developments and technology. What’s more, Facebook and social networking provides companies the ability to advertise and market their products to their niche audience. Building a community that is able to collect, share, and develop a body of knowledge is beneficial to all businesses alike. Web 2.0 tools online maximizes the way information is presented and able to be processed and applied. Furthermore, individuals who contribute to the collaborative effort of knowledge sharing and building connections with one another enhance their professional life as they become known and know employers and others in the business. Knowing others in one’s professional world who can be contacted for assistance, collaboration on projects, or other information enables one to be more successful than she or he could be on her or his own. The trail of references and knowledge that follows the action of networking is evident. What’s even more, these social networks can include individuals from other countries, which provides for a broader and more expansive knowledge base from which to exchange information. Without Web 2.0 tools, one’s colleagues in China or Russia would be greatly unreachable—at least in the immediate sense—or perhaps not at all.

The pedagogy of technical communication in universities and colleges know the benefit of utilizing digital collaborative resources in their classes. Teaching students the skills of collaboration and networking through shared digital environments enables them to practice and employ these necessary skills that they will be using in the workplace. Social networking through Web 2.0 tools allows students the ability to connect and share information instantaneously, offering individual feedback and the ability to engage about projects, coursework, and create new networks of shared interests to exchange information. While in more traditional learning environments much of this must be orchestrated and planned by the instructor and organized through the grouping and pairing of students, when using a social networking tool this level of connection can happen immediately (Reynard, 2009). Students who engage in social networking, as well who attend networking events, are able to learn new skills and hone those skills already developed that are used in the professional world, thus giving them an edge over their peers in a highly competitive workforce. “As we begin to focus more on the learning process, it becomes evident that various skills are developed as a result of using specific tools or apply ideas to a specific context, Reynard (2009) stated. For example, the skills of discussion and dialog can be enhanced through in-class or online discussions groups, and collaboration can be developed through ideas sharing and concept building (Reynard, 2009). Conversing and connecting with one another through shared interest groups provides students, like practitioners, a social benefit that is invaluable for those students who may long for unity and belonging when away from home for the first time. Reynard (2009) concluded, “In general, social networking provides new ways to connect and share information and create networks of interest.”

In today’s advanced technological society, the variety of methods of interaction allows technical communicators several methods of connecting, communicating, sharing information, and the ability to refine their skills and knowledge in their discipline. Digital and online social networking through Web 2.0 tools enable communities of practice and disciplines to build a trail of knowledge and share with one another new developments. In addition, social networking allows businesses to market their product to their niche audience. Lastly, and perhaps most significantly, technical communicators advance their career when they communicate with employers and secure references and employment contacts in a highly competitive job market.

The benefit of face-to-face interactions through membership in organizations and participating in events and seminars deserves special attention. Communicating, socializing, and learning with one another in shared interests groups creates a sense of belonging to a community and unity. Getting to know others by discussing topics of interest or participating in educational opportunities opens the doors to meeting colleagues in the industry and again securing references, contacts, and  perhaps learning about employment opportunities. Students partaking in coursework that utilize social networking tools and resources, practice critical skills required in their future employment. Networking at universities and colleges allow students to build communities of shared interests and communicate instantaneously about coursework or projects. Perhaps the most important benefit of networking for students is the social aspect of connecting with others through shared interest groups. The result of social networking may just make the difference between a student spending a Saturday in their dormitory alone, or going out with friend she or he met through a collaborative course project. Networking provides numerous benefits to technical communicators, which should compel any determined, dedicated professional to schedule a social event, participate in a seminar, search the job market on Linkedin, or simply update her or his Facebook status.

 

 

References

Mannetter, H. (2009, August 18). The Unexpected Benefits of Networking Events. [Web log comment]. Retrieved March 14, 2014, from http://blogs.wsj.com/laidoff/2009/08/18/the-unexpected-benefits-of-networking-events/

Merriam-Webster. (Eds.). (2013). Webster’s All-In-One Dictionary & Thesaurus (2nd ed.). Springfield, MA: Federal Street Press.

Reynard, R. (2009) Beyond Social Networking: Building Toward Learning Communities. The Journal. Retrieved from http://thejournal.com/articles/2009/07/15/beyond-social-networking-building-toward-learning-communities.aspx

 

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