Thursday, September 8, 2011

Wanted: Jacks and Jills of many skills, but not necessarily masterful in writing

It's really sad to read job ads that feature "writing" as a key skill required for the position.

Too often, writing is only one item in a nearly endless list of "skills" that includes multiple software packages, database experience, public relations, event planning and management, HTML and XML experience, and more.

I understand that employers need to do more with less. This includes hiring fewer people to do much more work.

But what employers who need writers fail to understand is that writing is a unique skill and talent, very different from everything else included in their wishlist.

Just Google it

When it comes to using  Adobe® InDesign® or Dreamweaver®, one can simply take a class or two to get a handle on the basics. From then on, there is plenty of useful help online for using specific features. This is true for any software or technology skill.

It's relatively true for public relations and many other basic communications activities. There are a ton of books, professional journals, and websites offering relevant and timely helps and tips.

Just about anyone, with no prior experience, can take on these tasks and achieve pretty good results by taking advantage of the resources available.

But the same cannot be said for writing.

It takes more than knowing the alphabet

While there are similar resources offering a lot of advice on how to write well, these are useless to someone who is not already a pretty good writer.

Writing is not just an acquired skill, but is also a talent. To write well takes both basic technical awareness (grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc.) combined with an intuitive sense of what makes writing good.

You can't get good writing (or good at writing well) "off the shelf" or downloaded as an app.

The same could be said of graphic design, by the way.

The illusion is that hiring a Jack or Jill of many skills will increase productivity while keeping costs down. But very seldom is this the case.

A full tool belt doesn't make you a carpenter

When you hire a person who is specifically skilled in technology and software, they are going to be able to produce better results in less time when dealing with technology or software issues. Why? Because their knowledge is focused in the areas of their main interests. Their technical knowledge and skill has depth and breadth.

On the other hand, someone who appears to have technical skills as well as moderate writing experience will take far longer to produce lower quality results. Why? Because they won't be confident in any of their skills. They will spend an inordinate amount of time researching how to use software features or overcome technical challenges. In fact, they'll probably be annoying the techies with endless questions. And since they can only allot a small percentage of their time to writing, it will most likely be mediocre or worse.

The worst combination is hiring a technical geek to be the editor of a website. While a website editor needs basic understanding of the technology, their focus should be on words, not code.

The only specialty you want is "writer" 

The reality is that the more you cram into a job, the less you will get in terms of quality and productivity.

Oh, and don't get hung up on finding a writer who "specializes" in health care, manufacturing, education, or some other industry or field. Any good writer can easily acquire the specialized knowledge of a particular field just as one can learn software from a book. In fact, the broader the writer's experience, the better the writer he or she will probably be. You want a writer who can see past the confines of your narrow field to connect with a lay audience, essentially translating insider knowledge for those on the outside.

If you absolutely must hire a specialist, hire a person who specializes in writing well across multiple platforms, fields, industries, and more.

If you need good writing -- and all companies and organizations do --  then focus on hiring a good, talented writer. If they happen to have some skills in other areas, great! But hire them to focus on writing first, and doing other stuff if they have time.


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