Independent Authors SIG, autumn 2005

For the past three years, Michael Plant has done a sterling job with the IASIG column. Thank you, Michael.

The IASIG mailing list typically contains questions about tools use, contract vacancies and business development issues. I intend to follow Michael's lead, and will concentrate on business-related topics in this column.

Low rates for technical authors

Jean Rollinson received an e-mail from a recruitment agency and was not at all pleased with it. The contract technical authoring role was at the derisory rate of £13 an hour. Jean suggested that the ISTC sent an 'official' response pointing out that the agency was unlikely to get a competent technical author for this money. Our President duly sent an e-mail. I spoke to him to find out whether he had received a response. He had. It was along the lines of, 'The vacancy has now been filled. Please send your CV if you are interested in other posts.'

Are all recruitment agencies as inept as the foregoing suggests? Not at all. There are some very fine specialist agencies that provide a valuable service to contracting technical authors. Four such agencies (3di, AST, Cherryleaf and Plain Words) will be involved in a panel discussion at the ISTC Conference. I certainly look forward to that.

Quality of authors

In a related thread, Peter Owens wrote about an interview that he'd had a few years ago. The role was to assist the in-house author. The manuals were a mess, as was the author. He 'looked like he had been sleeping under a railway arch… The status of a technical author in this firm was clear.' Of course, the author was not a member of the ISTC.

Jean Rollinson had a similar experience. The author had never heard of the ISTC, had no contact with other technical authors, never attended any training courses and didn't know how to use her tools. The documentation was awful. Jean pointed out that despite doing her best, the author was not a competent technical author.

The consensus was that you get what you pay for.

CV rewriting service

A company offering a 'CV Rewriting service' approached Paul Carr. The company had seen his CV on the Internet and claimed that it was not 'up to scratch'. They offered to rewrite it and circulate it to 200 'high power' agencies. Along with this, they would provide six re-writes as Paul's career progressed. Paul asked the group whether this was a scam and whether other people had experienced similar encounters.

Alison Peck was sceptical about the service. She suggested that an agency would take no more notice of an unsolicited CV from a CV writing company than from a job seeker sending an e-mail directly. She suggested that Paul found one or two people to review his CV. She added that she keeps a list of all her achievements. She includes about four of these on a CV, using the ones that are most relevant to the position for which she is applying.

Michael Plant noted that contains excellent advice on CV writing. [Editor's note 2009-12-03. The web page is not available now.]

Business networking

After the networking event mentioned in the Discussion Group report, one member who has never been to one didn't know what to expect. There are many varieties of business networking. Tina Walker said that the group she attends is quite formal: attendees introduce themselves in a brief sitdown session and then there is a social session with food and drink. So far, it has brought her one piece of work. My own experience is that networking can work, but can also be a waste of time. You should choose your groups carefully. I'm moving away from general business networking and instead, I'm putting time into sector-specific groups. If you are uncomfortable with meeting strangers in a business environment, I highly recommend the training from Will Kintish ( I learned a lot from attending his workshop.

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