From the Editor’s Perch…


Circles of Intimacy / Where the Jobs Are


            Hiring takes place within differing circles of intimacy, which the forces of supply and demand determine, depending upon what the market for labor is.  (What a sentence.)

But the less companies desire labor, the shorter distance they will go to find it.  This struck me as I was chatting with a friend who is a technical writer.  He began his career in the tech boom times.  If you had a credible resume, then they wanted you.  And if you were competent, a full-time job was fairly certain.

Things have changed nowadays.  Whether it’s the economic downturn or outsourcing, having the resume doesn’t open the lock anymore.  You don’t come in through the personnel department.  There’s ‘a freeze’.  A large majority of companies aren’t looking for technical writers.

There are many parallels here with what has happened in the copier industry.

In the salad days of Xerox, salespeople were forking in the commissions.  Companies ran to Xerox for their equipment.  But nowadays our dealership has a large presence in Seattle, but it is extremely rare for anyone to call out of the blue looking for equipment.  Established customers might call up their sales reps to discuss an acquisition, but that’s as good as it gets.  Most often it’s the other way around; the sales rep calls the established customer to alert them to a special offer, or that a lease is coming up, or that they are paying too much for overages (and need a bigger machine).  The point is, the salesperson has to get in beside the prospect to convince them that they need new equipment.  The days of a customer needing something and then going out to buy it are long gone.  In other words, professional sales, as it is understood by the normal educated person, is not as it has been explained to be.  People do not need something, and then approach a salesperson to buy it.

Perhaps this misunderstanding for how sales works is because for most of us, this is how sales does work.  We need milk; we go to the store.  We need a house; we go to a realtor.  We need a meal; we go to a restaurant.  We need clothes; we go to Nordstroms.  This is not, however, how it works for copiers, and in many others areas of business.  As one newer, very bright, copier salesman said, flinging up his hands in exasperation, “I don’t know how anyone makes any money in this business!”

They do make money – but not where this salesperson had the point of sale located.  He was fishing way downstream.  He was calling people – and they were telling him they didn’t need a copier.  His ‘pool’ was all fished out.

Nowadays most of the prospects I call will say they don’t need any equipment.  To make money nowadays, a salesperson has to build a sale.  Over the phone the salesperson must qualify the prospect, that is, determine whether there is a possible sale there.  And then the salesperson must get an appointment with the prospect in order to assemble a need.  Few customers know they are paying $200/month too much for old equipment – except for those the salesperson who has gotten inside to discover this has alerted.  Suddenly, this salesperson has created a new need; they have created a possible sale where none existed before.

As I was chatting with my technical writer friend, it struck me that the same forces were at play.  Many tech companies no longer believe they need technical writers.  These are the day of Google and Wikipedia and crowd sourcing and forum threads….   A good resume cannot open this closed door.  Moreover, once hired, doing your job well will not necessarily keep you hired.  You must also have a presence within the company as someone who knows about technical writing issues and are worth speaking to.  By being taken seriously by those who decide to hire technical writers, the technical writer can use his insights to create himself a job.  But the job is created within a much more select circle of intimacy.  And to find that job, a lot of what you do is to create it.

Long ago my Engineer brother, who had a job in New Mexico, wanted to move to the Seattle area.   So he applied for a job with Boeing.  He applied through regular channels.  After he had sent in his application, he got to talking with another engineer who worked at Boeing and who was currently working on a project my brother was uniquely qualified to do.  The guy could really use my brother’s help.  So the fellow crafted a labor request for a position my brother was uniquely qualified to fill.  Soon, my brother was hired.  Six months later he got a letter, forwarded to him from New Mexico, from the Boeing Personnel Department.  They were sorry to inform him, the form letter stated, but there was no need for Engineers with his qualifications at this time.

This is what I am talking about.

Photo by Carl Nelson

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3 Responses to “From the Editor’s Perch…”

  1. Jen Says:

    Yes of course! The best way to get a job you really want is to know someone who needs exactly what you have to offer. So, speaking of jobs one might want, Carl, do you know anyone who needs a mathematician-poet with an optimistic attitude, impeccable logic and excellent writing skills who is starting to get pretty damned seriously political with a progressive bent, who is also feeling like maybe just a little bit of money might come in handy right about now? Well, I DO know of someone who needs that person quite desperately, because he has clearly not been hiring anywhere near the number of good writers he needs. Do you know anyone who can introduce me to one Barak Obama? Available Immediately, the sooner the quicker as far as obamacare goes!

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