If You Missed the Last Meeting (Special Edition)

Editor’s Note:
This month, we bring you something special from the chapter community. While normally our beloved Secretary, R.D. Sharninghouse, provides meeting recap entries, this time we had a generous volunteer who was so inspired by the events of the March Employment Panel that he wanted to share his recollections with us! Please enjoy.

 

If You Missed the Last Meeting
By: Stefano Coledan

It felt like a punch in the face, a kick in the groin, and a bucket of icy water cascading onto me—all at once—one minute after 1:00 p.m., on Friday, June 6, 2014.

I went to my boss’s office to update him on my work week, to get some feedback, and hopefully to be briefed on future projects. I barely had time to sit down.

“Stefano, I have bad news for you,” my boss said. “Today was your last day.” I felt as though I was in free fall into a horrid abyss. Ten months have gone by, but the echo of those short, devastating sentences still reverberates inside me as if it were now.

I had been working at the Kennedy Space Center for a little over two years as a technical writer, hired by a NASA contractor. I had realized the dream of joining the space program, and had been whistling my way to work since day one.

As a government agency, NASA can ask contractors to hire or lay off employees at its own discretion. I was “an employee in good standing.” Yet, my position was eliminated, as my dismissal letter stated.

After pondering and wondering about my options, I sought initiatives I could take on my own. One of was becoming a member of the Society of Technical Communicators’ Orlando Central Florida chapter. I joined in the fall.

Communication is Key

At our March meeting, we were joined by Kelli Pharo and Mark Wray, two long-time professionals who have helped lead our chapter to greater heights. Ms. Pharo and Mr. Wray came to provide tips, advice and opinions on how to land a good job—and how to keep it. It was an enlightening session that instilled hope, inspiration, and a needed nudge for me to escape desperation.

Ms. Pharo explained that almost right away, as a new hire, she started interacting with people one-on-one. Part of her strategy was making it a point to talk to all employees, step by step, introducing herself to every one of them.

“That’s what I should have done!” I told myself, and that’s what I failed to do. After nine months of job and soul searching, and endless frustration, I finally realized what I could have done differently.

I’m not saying it was all my fault, or that I could have kept my job, if only I had come up with some clever thought of my own. But it wouldn’t have hurt, either.

“Talk to the people” was the policy Ms. Pharo adopted and suggested to us. “Let them know what you can do for them.”

While at NASA, I assumed my superiors and company higher ups would have officially introduced me to chiefs and employees of the different offices and departments. I was there to assist and help with my writing and editing skills, and a number of innovative ideas.

It may sound like I behaved presumptuously, but that was not the case. If anything, I was trying to avoid stepping on anybody’s toes.

After some initial projects I worked on and finished successfully, I noticed that my activity flow remained all but stationary, instead of increasing. That should have set off powerful alarms in my head. I came up with something I believed could be a win-win solution. Instead, it backfired.

Other Useful Advice

Getting back to our March meeting, we learned that technical writers can be somewhat quirky, as Mr. Wray put it. He said they shouldn’t forget that companies will put up with some peculiarities. When it comes to real business, however, all employees better demonstrate that they fit the mold—that they can control and tune down their quirkiness.

Employers want employees to get along even when they disagree. You still can be and should be yourself, Mr. Wray said. It was a suggestion that complemented Ms. Pharo: “Figure out what’s important to the person or the organization that you work for, and make that your priority.”

According to Mr. Wray, a practical example could be showing your knack for digging up information from the Internet and turning that into your specialty. “Skills build opportunity.”

In other words, demonstrate that you have skills and can accomplish things others cannot, and an employer might even create a position specifically for you. That’s how things went for Ms. Pharo, and they just kept improving. Now she owns her own business.

Particularly important, when you offer to provide assistance to someone, is the way you phrase it. Chances are that sooner or later you will bump into some overly sensitive individual. A quick sentence, such as, “Here’s what we need to do,” could do the trick, and you may earn the esteem and gratitude of yet another colleague.

Mr. Wray addressed the ever present “networking” topic by explaining the usefulness of the Linked-In website, calling it a mobile business card: a virtual place where you can post your résumé, list any particular skills, and add video (hopefully relevant), alongside a professional picture of yourself. Apparently, recruiters are more likely to read profiles and choose candidates who post a professional portrait photo of themselves.

Are there any special words or expressions that could help someone get a job? Knowing and showing that you are familiar with the intricacies of a particular job could get you hired on the spot. Here’s one we learned: “I know how to lock down styles in Word.” Hired!

Practical Application: Hidden Skills

I had no intention of closing this article by telling more about myself, but I just happened to remember something from a couple of decades ago, back in Italy. My former boss told more than one person about a skill I didn’t even realize I had.

He mentioned my ability in solving conflict and settling situations that would make other people throw up their hands and refuse to even try. Apparently, he considered that skill important enough to keep me in that position until I turned in my resignation letter, informing him I was moving to the States.

To conclude, I have to wonder how often this may be happening. It is possible that many of us have more potential than we know, and that we could use it, as long as someone truly skilled pointed us in the right direction.

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