You know why you joined STC. Do you know why you should stay?
By W.C. Wiese
You’re a young professional and you’ve joined the Florida Chapter, either while a student or part of a continuing job search after graduation. With any luck, you’ve met a few grizzled professionals, gotten some useful career insights, and learned a little more about the business world than they told you about in college. In return, the Florida Chapter has benefitted from your energy and optimism while you grow in your first job or continue a hopeful search.
For many young members in the Society for Technical Communication, this is the story of their beautiful, but short, relationship with the professional society that is best able to sustain them throughout their career. Since 2002, for example, more than 160 student members participated in Florida Chapter’s widely recognized mentorship program. Year after year, veteran chapter members have augmented classroom lessons with their own experience, helped to focus and polish resumes, shared in job searches, and conducted practice interviews.
Yet, disappointingly, only a fraction of our mentees renew their STC membership.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average American worker holds an average of 9.3 different jobs between age 25 and 52. But because companies usually aren’t as committed to technical communicators, that number could be larger for us. Especially if you are a contractor.
So now that you’ve landed your first position as a technical communicator, you might think your need for an STC membership is over. It’s not. Here’s why.
1. Job Quality
You’ve got a job. Is it the one you want to keep?
Consider the range of things we do as technical communicators. We document products, maintain databases of product information, develop interfaces, write policies and procedures, create indices, write new business proposals, design and develop content for websites, and provide user help, all while advocating for our profession and individual goals. But they don’t hand over the interface design keys until you’ve earned them.
That partly explains the wide variety of Help Wanted job descriptions and the inevitable requirement for communicators to have five years of experience. In most cases, future employers don’t know what you can do but also can’t train you. They can’t evaluate your skills, but also can’t risk the company and its product reputation to someone still practicing.
STC membership helps solve these issues. For one, other chapter members have been down that road, finding ways to make needed job changes as they became more specialized. They can advise you, help build your resume, and coach for interviews. There are ways to demonstrate you have extensive experience without having been in the field for a given length of time. Plus, demonstrating membership in your professional society raises your status by demonstrating commitment to our profession and continued growth.
You might also consider becoming a Certified Professional Technical Communicator. This certification and completion of STC workshops can give you the credentials and specialties that make you the preferred choice for a future job opportunity.
And how will you find that new opportunity? Though STC, of course. STC provides members with a robust Job Bank and Career Center that lists career opportunities with leading organizations around the world. You can also access resources to post a resume or create a personal job alert to let you know when jobs you want are available. This service is free to members.
2. Leadership Skills
Afraid to speak? Do you have management potential? Where else are you going to practice?
Most of us found our professional calling because we think we communicate better in writing than we do in person. As a result, it’s easy for us to cling to the outside wall of meetings, stay muted in Zoom meetings, and to be overlooked in discussions. Here’s a career insight: that won’t change unless you work on it.
Your STC chapter is the ideal sandbox for finding your voice, learning to hold the floor, and finding your role in managing an organization. Chapter officers and committee chairs get used to working with each other and exchanging ideas, managing a budget, and encouraging others to speak. There is no more comfortable place to grow your leadership skills and confidence than working as members of a group.
For some, it’s as simple as presenting a program. What other audience would be as interested or appreciative in learning about your first year of employment as a technical communicator? In exchange, they’ll help you grow as a speaker and possibly as a leader.
The Florida Chapter was formed in 1984, and in that time, dozens of us took our first tentative steps to lead the chapter and find our business voice. The result? Four former chapter presidents were later elected to the Society’s Board of Directors, while several others took prominent leadership roles in managing the annual summit, Accessibility Committee, and Community Affairs Committee.
3. Career Resources
Have you got a better plan for learning what you didn’t know you needed to know?
You will have bad days at work. You’ll be passed over for promotion, project managers will give you impossible deadlines, another will want to send out a release without paying for you, or your only champion will move into another division. You might even be let go. Then what?
The good news is that you’re not the first to face a professional crisis. In fact, most STC chapter members have had to deal with challenges like these. In dark times, they’ll be able to tell you how they handled it when it happened to them. They’ll also be sending you encouragement while you work things out.
Today’s work world is complex and the obstacles many. How you deal with working from home, outsourcing, a layoff, your role as a lone writer, meetings you don’t attend, or cases of professional disrespect could turn on a conversation you’ve had at an STC chapter meeting. How you prepare for your next job – in a hybrid job, as a contractor, as management – might depend on the sessions you attended at an annual STC Summit.
Maybe you need to get smart in a hurry on project management, preparing for translation, authoring systems, or single sourcing. STC’s online archive includes 15 years of its issues-focused magazine Intercom. A related site hosts online archives of STC’s peer-reviewed professional journal Technical Communication. Also, with luck, there might just be a timely STC webinar that provides the answers. When you don’t know what you don’t know, STC at least provides a place to start looking.
Finally, don’t forget the annual Salary Survey. Each year, STC gathers and publishes U.S. government data on salaries by region and industry. It’s how you find out that you’re underpaid, and it’s how you convince Human Resources to correct it.
Your company may not seem to care. So how do you demonstrate your accomplishments as a communicator?
Maybe you work with hot-shot engineers who think their work is really great stuff. You’ve got the same suite of Microsoft software they have, so can you blame them if they don’t see that what you do is special? How could they know that you may just have corrected their product description, rewritten an input to keep the company out of a lawsuit, or completed a winning proposal to keep them employed for the next four years? They couldn’t possibly understand how you handle their imperious egos; work around their late inputs; identify, correct, and verify mistakes they’ve given you; integrate their many voices into a single seamless piece of product information; and meet impossible deadlines – all while the product director is vacationing in the Caribbean.
STC may be the only organization that appreciates and celebrates your successes. Entering a publication or media competition within STC can improve your work using feedback from the judges, and winning a competitive award can cause your employer to acknowledge your skills.
Over the course of your career, your cumulative accomplishments could lead to selection as an Associate Fellow/Fellow, an achievement that you will carry with you for the rest of your life.
STC recognition sets you apart when the next opportunity shows up. Whatever your goal, your next job interview will go better when you start by talking about awards and recognition you’ve received through your professional society. If you’re an independent contractor, they set you apart from your competition and can justify premium rates for the work you’ve proposed.
5. Professional Friendships
You’re going to find friends you’ll laugh and share professional experiences with for the next 40 years.
In the end, it’s all about your kind of people. As the world’s largest membership organization for technical communicators, STC is the best place to find people who care about what you care about. Deadlines. Proper grammar. The right word. Clarity. Impact.
That’s the reason you’ll find technical communicators in their 20s and in their 70s at an STC chapter meeting. Many have been laughing with and supporting each other for decades, and that can be your experience too.
You’ll just have to renew to find out.
An STC Fellow with 45 years’ experience in aerospace marketing support and program communications, W.C. currently serves as Florida Chapter Treasurer. He has served STC as Society Treasurer and as a member of the Board of Directors. He previously served as President of STC’s Orlando Chapter and Treasurer. W.C. has presented at 13 Annual Conferences.