A year in the world of web content

In January I will have been in my role as Web Content Officer for a year. As I head into my last few working days of 2014, here’s a reflection on my first year in the world of web content.

Highlights

I’ve enjoyed getting stuck into content standards and style guides. This includes:

  • contributing to our editorial style guides with the aim of making them clearer and more comprehensive
  • working on a tone of voice guide for our new postgraduate website
  • setting parameters for improving content for mobile (which we all know is improving content for every device)

The piece of work I’m most proud of this year is overhauling our team website. Is it always the case that the web team has the worst website? Not any more. We’re now practicing what we preach; we’ve restructured, stripped back and rewritten. Part of this work involved redefining the role of our team and how we work. For this I got to embrace my inner-trainer. I facilitated a workshop in which we came up with the team’s mission and a set of guiding principles.

Challenges

Starting out in a new profession I have been slowly getting to grips with the overall context of working on the web. My work is largely with words, I’m not a techy but I need to understand the technologies that allow me to get my words online. With every new task I do, I learn a little more. One year in I think I’ve got a good enough understanding of the systems and setups at my institution.

There is a thriving community of librarians and I had a well established network that I could go to for support and advice. Coming from this, I have struggled a little to find and build a place for myself in content communities. There are many reasons for this. The ones that I have control over will form my professional new year’s resolutions. A lack of confidence has held me back this year and I’ve not been putting myself out there. Next year I need to write more, comment more, share more and start the conversation.

Events

This year I attended my first conference outside the UK, Confab Europe in Barcelona. It was also my first content strategy conference. And it was probably the best conference I’ve ever been to. All the presentations were practical and well structured. The speakers were engaging and clear. You’d expect nothing less from people who communicate for a living, right?

Closer to home I attended the University’s NU Digital event where our team had a stand. It was great to get out of the office and talk to colleagues about what we’re planning for the website in the coming year. Everyone was excited to see our new, responsive postgraduate website in action. And even more excited to hear that all our external sites will be going through a similar redesign process soon.

And finally…

From the posts I’ve written this year here are your top five:

On changing lanes and transferable skills

I have been struggling with how to write about my new job and change of career path for a while. When I stumbled across a post about changing lanes by Rich Lee, everything changed. First of all he sets the scene and gives some great descriptions of the different types of job change. Rich then goes on to talk about his own experience, what he’s learned from that and to give some great advice to anyone considering a change of lanes.

This post finally helped me to think differently about how my career has changed direction over the past few months. I’m going to use some of the headings and questions posed by Rich to frame my post.

My experience and motivation

I started 2013 knowing that I was going to be leaving my job at Warwick Library at some point during the year. My plan was to relocate to be with my then partner who had been working back in the north east since November 2012. By the end of February I had handed in my notice. At that point I had no job to go to but was hopeful that I could find something, anything, while I worked out my three month’s notice.

When I began my job search my goal was to find a job in one of the north east’s four university libraries. As my search went on however, I realised that the kind of job I wanted just didn’t exist in libraries. Or if it did whoever had it certainly wasn’t going to leave it any time soon. To find a job quickly it was necessary to start looking for opportunities outside libraries. As I began to look into other options I became increasingly excited by the possibility of trying something completely different and in the end finding a job outside of libraries became my aim.

By the time I had finished at Warwick I had a temporary post as a Learning Resource Designer at Durham Business School. This step took me to a role that still bore some similarities to the work I did as a librarian; creating learning materials, delivering training, providing access to ebooks, answering student enquiries, working closely with programme teams and academics. It was different, but not different enough!

So I began looking for jobs again and this time I cast my net far and wide. An opening for a Web Content Officer came up in the Corporate Web Team at Newcastle University. I went for it, and got it.

I have experience of working on websites and web projects; I was Web Officer for the Business Librarians’ Association from 2009 – 2013 and was on the project team and content working group during the redevelopment of Warwick Library’s website. It has never been the main focus of my role though.

The biggest changes for me are the move away from teaching and learning, and no longer working directly with students. Not only is the day to day work different but it’s also a new environment to work in. There’s a lot to learn, but that’s how I like it.

Factors

In his post, Rich lists some factors that you should consider when thinking about a lane change. Underneath each I’ve added my own thoughts which should fill in the detail of how I got to where I am today.

The skills you currently have that will be directly or indirectly applicable to the proposed new role. This one will take some reflection, because it€™s not immediately apparent what kind of overlap that might exist.

When I first started applying for jobs outside of libraries I spent a lot of time trying to look beyond my job’s responsibilities and everyday tasks to the skills required to do them. Once I had done this, it became much easier to look at a job description and person specification and decide whether it was something I could apply for. Doing this totally changed the way I approached my job search too; I stopped looking for specific job roles and looked at the skills required instead.

For my current role this was especially important:

  1. a web job would not necessarily have come up in my search if I had still been narrowly focused on library and information roles
  2. taking the job responsibilities and person specification at face value I could quite easily have convinced myself that I didn’t meet the criteria chosen not to apply

Being clear about what skills I have and how they can be easily transferred to other contexts gave me a different perspective when I read the criteria and I was confident that I could put in a strong application.

The obvious/traditional career path the new role would offer, PLUS the flexibility the potential role would add to your repertoire for future lane changes.

As a subject librarian I had reached a point in my career in libraries where there was no obvious next step which would allow me to continue to do the work I enjoyed. The next level in libraries would have been a move into management and this isn’t something I wanted at that time. The potential for career development that a move into a new field would give me was therefore a really key factor.

The new skills I’m learning around writing and editing content, and user testing and experience are just as transferable as the skills and knowledge I built up working in libraries. In combination I really feel that I’ve opened up a whole world of opportunity for the future.

The teams and individuals you do and would work with on a daily basis. When you see folks more days a week than not, you€™d better like them! They should compound your enthusiasm, your drive to innovate, and share a similar value system to your own. If there€™s a marked difference in culture, values, workflow, or communication styles, don€™t take this lightly.

This is a difficult one to judge as you rarely get to meet the whole team before taking on a new job. You can certainly get an insight into this at interview though, and it comes back to that old idea that you’re interviewing them as much as they’re interviewing you.

It meant a lot to me that the interview panel saw and valued my potential over any existing experience, and this gave me a good indication of the culture in the team. It wouldn’t have been surprising if the job had gone to someone who was already doing this kind of role at another university.

I’d recommend you use your opportunity for questions at the end of the interview to try to find out as much as possible about the team you would be working with. At the end of my interview we talked for 5-10 minutes about general aspects of web development, prompted by my question about upcoming projects for the team. This more informal conversation helped me to get a feel for the people interviewing me, their interests and characters.

If you€™re pondering a jump to a new company AND a new role, factor in the equity you€™ve built in the existing company. Seniority has perks, so make sure the leap is worth your while.

This one wasn’t so much of an issue for me. When I left Warwick it was because of relocation and there was no option to stay with my previous employer. At Durham it was a temporary post and with no certainty of the contract being extended I left on good terms.

I do think you can look at this in relation to the networks you have built up though. I have a very strong professional network in the library community and think I have built up a good reputation for myself within it. I did have some reservations about leaving this behind. There is of course some overlap with what I’m doing now, especially in the area of user experience. I’m using this to maintain my connection to the library community, while starting to build up an extension to my network in my new field.

Final thoughts
Job hunting is hard work and even harder when you’re looking to change careers. You really can make things easier if you take some time to identify what transferable skills you have and then use these as keywords to set up your search. This will yield a really broad range of jobs coming into your inbox (if you set up alerts), you can then start to refine your search by adding more criteria based on the results that interest you.

My final final thought, something which I was told a year or two back: don’t take yourself out of the race.
I keep this in the forefront of my mind when thinking about applying for jobs. It’s for someone else to decide whether you’re up to the task. If you don’t put an application in, you’ve eliminated yourself before the process has even begun.

The art of writing handover notes

In January I will be starting a new job as Web Content Officer at Newcastle University. I’ll write another post specifically about this move soon, for now I want to concentrate on the process of wrapping things up in the job I’m leaving.

One of the hardest parts of this is writing a handover document, especially if you don’t know who will be replacing you, or picking up your work in the interim. As I began struggling to write my handover notes last week I wondered if there was something I was missing, and asked my Twitter followers if there was an art to it. It seems that if there is one, nobody knows it! The overwhelming response I got was from people wanting me to pass on any insight I received. As nothing was forthcoming I thought the least I could do was share my own experience.

My top tip is it’s never to early to start. It’s far easier to build this document up as you do the tasks you’re describing, rather than trying to dredge information about everything you do from the depths of your brain in one go.

So, what do you include in your document?

For specific pieces of work:

  • a brief description
  • a list of actions (with timeframes if possible)
  • links to files, emails, or any useful information that can be found elsewhere.
  • the status of the work. Is it a current piece of work or just for information in case it comes up again?
  • details of who else knows about it or has input into it
  • any deadlines or milestones

And more generally:

  • a list of contacts
  • details of any upcoming meetings or events
  • a list of key information sources, e.g. websites, blogs, social media accounts
  • usernames and passwords for relevant accounts

I’ve also found it useful to keep a checklist of things you need to do before you leave. It’s amazing how many small things will slip through the cracks. When leaving my previous job I was lucky to piggy back off a list written by a  colleague who left just a few weeks before me.

Well, that’s my approach to the dark art of writing handover notes. Is there something obvious I’ve missed? Or have you got your own top tip? I’d be really interested to hear your thoughts in the comments below.