By Jennifer Puccio

I graduated from a creative writing program whose motto is, “All writing is rewriting.” This couldn’t be truer when it comes to drafting résumés for job postings, especially ones using applicant tracking systems (ATS) aka scanning software.

In brief, an ATS is an app that searches résumés for keywords, often separating the results into hard skills (minimum requirements) and soft skills, which are desired skills such as “a sense of humor” or familiarity with a certain business environment. ATS also helps employers save time in the recruiting process because it rates how well your résumé matches the job posting.

The following are my top 10 challenges applying for positions using scanning software and how I maneuvered through them. Though these suggestions apply to any job applicant, they also address challenges technical writers can have as they attempt to “beat the machine” while also retaining a consistent tone and tense in their prose for the hiring manager who views a writer’s résumé as the initial writing sample.


  1. Hard skill keywords from the job description appear only in the singular or plural form. Thus, there is a 50/50 chance you have included the correct keyword.Suggestion: Invest in a scanning software application to identify hard skills and how they are listed. In this Jobscan example, here are my results before and after I updated my resume. If you can, mention the skill as many times as the job posting, noted to the left of the keyword. (Wordle and TagCrowd allow you to paste text in a field to display keywords used.)


One doesn’t have to be a rocket scientist to write an effective job description, but ironically, the only position I achieved a scanned result of 91 percent without updating my résumé was a writing position at Jet Propulsion Labs, a testimony to how well the job announcement was penned – by people working with rocket scientists. Hmm.

  1. Soft skill keywords/phrases can be hard to quantify (i.e., attention to detail, articulate).Suggestion: Include a Summary of Qualifications section at the top of your resume to list soft skill keywords such as: Deadline Driven, Team Player, and Bilingual.
  1. Some keywords in the job description do not qualify as hard or soft skills and would rarely if ever appear on a résumé (i.e., loyalty, passion, enthusiasm) but will still be searched for in your résumé.Suggestion: Include these keywords in a cover letter whenever it makes sense since they usually identify company values.
  1. Job postings use the passive verb tense or gerund form of a verb.Suggestion: In my industry, passive verb tense is an unwelcome guest but since I want my experience to be counted as a match, I sometimes succumbed to this tense so the experience would appear in scanning software results.
  1. Companies sometimes do not allow their Human Resources department to edit job announcements penned by an outside department, resulting in slight errors, awkward tenses and phrasing (i.e., Marketing & Communications, supervise volunteers, QA testing).

    Suggestion: Go ahead and add atypical elements like an ampersand in a résumé if it creates a match. Since many résumé tasks list experience in past tense, using present tense in a job description makes it harder to craft into a résumé sentence. I worked around it in this manner: “Demonstrated ability to supervise volunteers…” In another position I refused to inaccurately lower case the “a” in “Qa testing” because that is incorrect so my QA testing phrase went unnoticed by the scanners. However, since “QA” listed separately in the posting, it was picked up in another way.

Note: I encourage companies to enlist technical writers to review job postings because they excel in the craft of concise writing, which also contributes to bringing in qualified candidates.

  1. Companies allow their recruiters limited or no access to setting scanning software features to rectify job description issues.

    : See number 5. Technical writers can also aid in setting the scanners to scan multiple verb forms of a keyword along with singular and plural forms.
  1. Companies may look for a certain percentage match.Suggestion: Though impossible for a job applicant to control, it eliminates qualified candidates who may or may not have electronically compared job announcement keywords to their résumé. Perhaps companies could establish guidelines that encourage a random selection of lower percentages to verify the software is processing the desired applicant pool.
  1. Applicants applying for dual role positions or a role featured in a different department are more susceptible to a lower keyword percentage match (i.e., technical writer/system analyst or an analyst position in the marketing versus finance department).

    : On the plus side, the résumé becomes a longer writing exercise, as it should be when applying for a position a little outside one’s niche so you can demonstrate those transferable skills. It’s now okay to create longer résumés with the appropriate keywords to pass the “censors.” Bring out as many experiences as you can in the areas addressed in the job posting. For example, in the case of a marketing analyst position, I added analyst entries I don’t typically include in a formal technical writing opportunity.
  1. Career transition applicants using transferable skills from a different industry are more susceptible to a lower keyword percentage match.Suggestion: This is where the job description is helpful in identifying similarities. If the different industry uses unique industry jargon for your job experience, use it! Also, you can submit a hard copy of your resume to the recruiting department or hiring manager and mention you already applied online. This shows you are a serious candidate as opposed to someone applying to anything related to her experience. Needless to say, networking is helpful in this situation as well, the de facto way of finding employment.
  1. You don’t have that particular skill.Suggestion: Don’t lie! In the cover letter you may say something like, “Though I have some experience working with ___, the majority of my experience is working in the related field of ____. “

A student STC member, Jennifer Puccio is a seasoned technical writer returning to school for some additional “seasoning” and can be found on Twitter @jennxfactor for her creative pursuits and at for her technical writing ones.


STC Membership’s Tangible Benefits

by David Dick on 18 August 2016

I was laid off in July because of budget cutbacks. On the last day of work, I received a call from a recruiter asking if I could meet with a client who was convinced that I was the right candidate for the job.  To my surprise, the interviewer was an STC member, had read my writing samples, and liked them. I was hired on the spot.

Being an STC member was advantageous, but it wasn’t the only reason I was hired. I also applied what I learned from reading Intercom about adding value and how to improve my skills.

As technical writers, we are expected to learn how to use new tools and technologies in order to write user guides.  We should also be savvy users in order to train coworkers so that they too can become savvy users, which is what I always do.

Potential employers contact current and past managers and coworkers. That’s why you should always perform above expectations and make a positive impression with everyone. In my case, a recommendation from a former manager and project manager not only convinced the recruiter that I was the best candidate for the job, but also gave me the leverage to negotiate more money than I was previously earning.

The market has more technical writers than jobs. Earning an STC Certified Professional Technical Communicator (CPTC) certification shows your commitment to enhancing your knowledge of the profession. I am studying to take the CPTC exam and said so on my resume.  Don’t limit your certification goals to just the CPTC; earn certifications in the domain that you currently work, as well as in areas in which you want to work in the future.

Although potential employers don’t always request writing samples, I always provide them. My writing samples are articles published in Intercom and chapter newsletters. Because non-disclosure agreements prevent me from giving clients’ documents to third parties without their permission, having writing samples from Intercom is invaluable. Interviewers should be suspicious about the ethics of technical writers who violate non-disclosure agreements.

I credit my success as a technical writer (and my new job) to my active involvement in the STC and taking advantage of its professional development opportunities.

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STC Community and International Competitions

by STC Staff on 15 August 2016

Each year, the Society for Technical Communication sponsors international competitions through which technical communicators have the opportunity to receive recognition for their work. STC chapters hold preliminary competitions from which Excellence and Distinguished Award winners may advance to the international level. Each entry is judged against criteria that measure the degree of technical content, achievement of purpose, and technical execution whether online or in printed deliverable.

NEW THIS YEAR: All entries awarded Distinguished will automatically be entered in the International Summit Awards (Society-level) competition. The community hosting the competition will also pay the entry fee for the ISA. In addition, all community competitions will close on 28 October 2016.

For the list of communities hosting competitions and more information about the competitions program please refer to this page:  .

The Washington, DC-Baltimore Chapter competition opened 8 August. Here’s the link to their website:


Talking Usability: My Father’s Typewriter

by David Dick on 15 August 2016

My father typed all his correspondence on a manual (non-electric) typewriter. The ink on the typewriter ribbon was so worn out that the text on the paper was barely legible. Office supply stores stopped selling manual typewriter ribbon because electric typewriters were replacing manual typewriters. My father refused to buy an electric typewriter because he was satisfied with his manual.

When the company my father was working for replaced its typewriters with personal computers (PC), my father was concerned about what would happen if the computers broke down. “Nonsense,” his manager said. “Computers don’t break down.” Of course, those computers did break down and management didn’t have a backup plan on how to continue working.

You and I know that PCs can break down because the circuitry on the motherboard stops working. Sometimes it’s cheaper to buy a new PC than replace the motherboard. That’s why most PCs have a lifespan of three to five years—when the warranty expires, so does the PC. Nevertheless, many companies are reluctant to replace PCs on a regular basis because they are costly investment. Then again, so is sitting idle while the technicians at IT support try to determine what’s wrong with our PCs. If IT support has a replacement PC, then we are back to work the same day. If not, we wait patiently for management to approve the purchase of a new PC.

The lesson I learned about my father’s typewriter is that if we are to be dependent on technology for our livelihood, then we must keep pace with innovation. That means if we connect PCs to networks, then we must upgrade those networks before they reach capacity. If we rely on software applications to run our business, then we must ensure that we are running the latest software updates and security patches.  As the saying goes, “Failure is not an option.”

One day, I found my father’s typewriter in a closet. The ribbon was well worn, but still capable of creating a letter. His typewriter reminded me of a time when a manual typewriter was modern technology.


Here’s What You Missed at the Summit

by STC Staff on 8 August 2016



Couldn’t make it to the Summit this year and are wondering what you missed out on? Catch up on all the Summit hot topic education sessions with the Summit Playback, which features the speaker’s presentations synched with audio. And right now through 31 August, STC members get access to 45+ Summit sessions for the super low rate of just $199.

Don’t miss out on these popular sessions:
• How to Become a Strategic Communicator and Advance Your Career
• Use Usability Testing and Enhance your Documentation with Feedback
• Customer Experience (CX) – Come Join the Party
• 44 Tips for Making Better Videos!

Don’t miss out on all of this great continuing education AND save the date for the 2017 Summit, 7-10 May at Washington, DC’s Gaylord National Resort!

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Tips for your best ever Summit proposal

by STC Staff on 2 August 2016





Todd DeLuca, Conference Committee Chair

By now you’ve seen the notice that the call for proposals for the 2017 Summit is open and that there is a theme this year, “Gain the Edge to Get Results.” We chose this theme because we want speakers and attendees to share and discuss new and innovative topics that are forward thinking and help “get results.” But what exactly is the conference committee looking for? Here is some advice to help you prep your proposal.

Have you stretched or expanded your role in unexpected ways? Did it achieve surprising results? We want people to share stories of how they have stretched the boundaries of traditional tech comm roles and activities and how it worked out (both successes and failures). How have you grown or taken initiative to advance your skills, experience, or career? What kinds of experiments or trials with new techniques or tools have you conducted? What did you learn? Doing things that don’t fit our normal routines or put us in the spotlight can be uncomfortable. But we don’t grow or get recognition if we don’t take those chances and step off the normal path (the whole risk and reward thing).

We’re looking for proposal submissions that

  • hit upon the theme and demonstrate an unexpected, advanced, or less traditional way of looking at or fixing a problem.
  • take a common subject to a higher level.
  • inspire people to stretch boundaries or achieve more.
  • support or encourage leadership or help existing managers and decision makers improve their teams, increase collaboration, or connect with other executives.

You have some great stories to tell and takeaways from your experiences, which we want you to share in an engaging way. We want to stretch what attendees expect and hear from you.

Consider these questions:

  • How is what you are speaking about giving the attendee an edge, and what were the results?
  • Will the audience connect with your experiences and be motivated to try something similar in their work?
  • What’s your strategy for connecting with the audience?
  • How does your session expand the typical ‘show and tell’ presentation?
  • What expected attendee questions will your session answer?

We’ve done the traditional documentation topics for a while now, so this year we’re asking for new, unique, and refreshing content. We want to demonstrate leadership, connect with broader audiences, communicate across multiple channels and cultures (internal and international), produce flexible and effective material, and assist decision makers. Attendees should come away with surprising results, recommendations, or stories from your session. They should leave with specific ideas, lessons, processes, takeaways, or suggestions that they can take back to further their career and become more effective at work.

The committee is looking for fresh, new, or recent content. If you’ve given a similar talk at another conference (or Summit), tell us how your current proposal is different and updated. People who attend Summit should have unique opportunities to learn that they won’t get anywhere else. Exclusive ‘Summit only’ content will be given special consideration. If you have a fairly standard subject or topic you want to present, don’t worry. There’s still room for more traditional tech writing, user assistance, tools, and similar subjects (we have a broad audience at Summit).

One last thing to consider is which session type will work best for your presentation. This year we are introducing two new session types: spotlight talks and training solutions. These sessions will offer presenters and attendees the best opportunities to foster learning, open discussion, and present information.

So, with all these tips in mind, I hope you are ready to prepare your proposal. Proposals are due no later than 11:59 PM EDT (GMT-4) on Monday, 12 September. If you have questions, contact the conference committee at Good luck and see you in DC!

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TC Camp is coming to the East Coast!

by STC Staff on 20 July 2016

You may have heard about TC Camp, the techcomm unconference, held for the past 4 years in the San Francisco bay area. Well, they are taking it on the road and holding a TC Summer Camp in the Washington DC area, on Saturday, July 30! If you’re in the area or within an easy drive (or train) to Fairfax, VA, you might consider checking it out!

If you’re unfamiliar with the term “unconference,” it’s basically a conference where the topics/sessions are defined by the attendees on the day of the event. There are no presenters, but rather you gather at a table with other like-minded people who want to discuss the selected topic. The day starts with optional workshops run by techcomm luminaries, then the unconference is held in the afternoon.

TC Camp is free (except for a nominal fee for a workshop), and is a full day of learning, sharing, and networking for techcomm professionals. You can learn more about camp at the website:

For a quick overview, watch some interviews and videos from past years:

For information about getting to camp or places to stay, information will be available here:

If you provide services or products to the techcomm world, perhaps you’d be interested in sponsoring! Because TC Camp is free (mostly) for attendees, we rely on our generous sponsors to make it all happen. TC Camp is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Please see the website for sponsorship opportunities.


Advance Your Knowledge with TechComm 201

by STC Staff on 19 July 2016

Online course tablet TC 201


If you want to focus on soft skills, such as estimating and managing technical communication projects, working with SMEs, and technical skills such as advanced editing, professional tool concepts, and Help Authoring concepts, then this is the course for you! Join Leah Guren in Tech Comm 201 and learn how to create consensus, improve editing through style guides and advanced editing techniques, write and prepare for localization, and understand help authoring from a user perspective. This six-week course begins on 31 August-5 October (Wednesdays) at 11:00 AM-12:30 PM EDT (GMT-4). Don’t miss this opportunity and register today!


Sign Up For Technical Editing Foundations

by STC Staff on 15 July 2016

Online course tablet Li-At-Recovered



Check out one of STC’s brand new online courses, Technical Editing Foundations presented by Li-At Rathbun! Attendees will understand what technical editors are and why they’re needed, the “hard skills” and “soft skills” that technical editors should possess, how to identify passive voice and bloated sentences and how to fix them, and also what style guides are and how they use them as well as using other resources. Technical editors who are new to the field and students who are considering entering the field are encouraged to register for this course. This six week course begins 16 August-20 September (Tuesdays) at 10:00-11:00 AM EDT (GMT-4).




Recruiting New Volunteers Webinar July 22nd

by Viqui Dill on 13 July 2016

Join us for Recruiting New Volunteers by Alice Brzovic and Ben Woelk on Friday, July 22nd.

9:00 am Pacific / 10:00 am Mountain / 11:00 am Central / 12:00 noon Eastern
Friday, July 22, 2016

Register on Eventbrite

About the Webinar

Volunteers are the lifeblood of STC Communities, yet finding good volunteers can be daunting. Join Alice Brzovic, San Diego Chapter, and Ben Woelk, Rochester Chapter, as they discuss how they’ve been able to keep their chapters vibrant and stable by successfully recruiting and retaining volunteers. Learn techniques that you can apply in your own virtual or geographic community to enlist and empower effective leaders.

This webinar will be recorded.

About the Audience

This webinar is for STC community leaders, event managers, program managers, webmasters, and future volunteers, who are encouraged to register and attend online or watch the recording.

About the Speakers

Alice Brzovic STC Summit

Alice Brzovic is a writing consultant, with experience in both technical and marketing communications. She is currently serving as president of the San Diego Chapter of the Society for Technical Communication (STC San Diego).

Ben Woelk

Ben Woelk: Former Director, Society for Technical Communication; ISO Program Manager; Information Security Office, Rochester Institute of Technology; Security Guru; Introvert; INTJ; CISSP; Author of Shockproofing Your Use of Social Media: Staying Safe Online (Kindle).

Register on Eventbrite