Internship and portfolio advice from a technical writing insider | Technical Communication
April 4, 2018

Internship and portfolio advice from a technical writing insider

By: Bailey Herring

Looking for advice on landing an internship? Laurel Beason, Lecturer and Director of Corporate Relations for the Technical Communication Department, has some insight to offer.

After 20 years in technical writing, including 10 as documentation project manager for Cisco Systems, Beason brings significant industry experience to her job at UNT.

At Cisco, she managed several teams of technical writers based across India, Europe, and the U.S. Managing these teams gave her extensive insight into the hiring process for prospective technical writers, and she's happy to share advice based on those experiences with students.

She says the biggest thing employers look for in applicants is experience. The type of experience can vary, but employers want practical experience in their applicants. Experience is so important Beason helped the Tech Comm Department put on a Forum focused on internships last fall to encourage more students to try out a professional role before graduation and build their resume.

For students, she recommends keeping classroom projects completed for clients in a portfolio. Tech comm students can collect materials in most of their courses: the repair guides created during TECM 1700's iFixit project or the content edited for clients in TECM 4190 or the web apps developed in TECM 4400. Beason says this can be a great way to show employers that you know how to write for an audience beyond your teachers.

"Every class project you do should be aimed at adding to your portfolio. Keep copies of your assignments around," Beason said.

According to Beason, students looking for internships should keep their eyes on as many avenues as they can. She recommends watching for the Tech Comm Department's announcements on Twitter and Facebook, keeping their Linkedin profiles updated for recruiters with a link to their web portfolios.

For many students, however, finding an opportunity to gain professional experience can be scary. Networking events like those sponsored by UNT's ETC can feel intimidating and out of reach, and the jobs many students hold can seem irrelevant as far as resume-building goes.

But networking events are opportunities to practice getting comfortable and relaxed in a business setting. Beason says that practicing how to speak with professionals and becoming more at ease in that environment is highly valuable. ETC events often involve UNT tech comm alumni, including some who graduated recently. These professionals may be less intimidating for students to talk with as a first attempt at networking.

Beason urges students to look around their personal environment for low-pressure opportunities to improve their resume and skill-set. She advises students to look around their workplace for pieces of writing that could be improved, like instructions for new employees or a poster for a weekend event. Beason says this is a good way to impress your current employer and add to your portfolio, both things that can help you land an internship.

"Just practicing your skills like that is so valuable," Beason said.

Beason recommends building up your resume over time through smaller projects for classes and your current workplace or as a volunteer for an organization. There are many opportunities specifically for technical writers such as FLOSS Manuals or creating documentation for a start-up company.

"Who knows? If the right person hears about your service to the non-profit or picks up your brochure, your little side project could lead to a job offer," Beason said.