Adapt to evolving content careers with guest Jack Molisani (podcast)
In episode 151 of The Content Strategy Experts Podcast, Bill Swallow and podcast guest, Jack Molisani discuss how content careers have changed through the pandemic, layoffs, quiet quitting, and AI, and what you should do to stay ahead of the curve.
“Rather than applying for a job […] you want companies to come to you and say, ‘Hey, will you come work for us?’ The only way they’re going to do that is if you write articles, if you’re speaking at conferences, and if you position yourself as an expert in your field.”
— Jack Molisani
- ProSpring Technical Staffing
- Beating the dreaded applicant tracking system – PDF
- Molisani – Intercom – Beating the Dreaded ATS – PDF
- Register for LavaCon on the conference website. Use the code Scriptorium to get $300 off.
- Contact Scriptorium to schedule a private meeting with us during LavaCon
Bill Swallow: Welcome to The Content Strategy Experts Podcast, brought to you by Scriptorium. Since 1997, Scriptorium has helped companies manage, structure, organize, and distribute content in an efficient way. In this episode, we’re talking with the president of ProSpring Technical Staffing, and executive director of the LavaCon Conference, Jack Molisani, about how content roles have changed over the last year and what you should do now to advance your career in content. Hi everyone. I’m Bill Swallow.
Jack Molisani: And I’m Jack Molisani.
BS: Jack, lovely to have you here again.
JM: Always a pleasure.
BS: So I guess let’s just get right into it. You’ve seen things from both angles, from a conference organizer doing content conferences and also with running a staffing agency for content people. How have roles changed over the past year or so?
JM: What’s really been amazing over this past year, we’ve seen mass resignations, tech layoffs, quiet quitting, all at the same time. Never seen that before.
BS: That’s crazy. So do we know what’s contributing to that?
JM: Let’s take each one in turn. I do believe that a lot of companies did layoffs in the first quarter because they over-hired during the pandemic. Right. So everyone said, oh my God, Oracle’s laying off 10,000 people. Well, they hired 40,000 during the pandemic, so there’s still a net gain of 30,000 jobs. I also believe that a lot of tech companies or companies in general were worried about a recession and they started trimming the fat off their payrolls in advance. But here’s the deal. I believe that if enough companies start laying off out of fear of recession, they’re going to cause the very recession they were afraid was coming.
BS: It’s funny how that works.
JM: Yeah. And then with the great resignation, I think companies did so much with so little for so long that people just got tired of it. And once companies started hiring again, even with the tech layoffs, companies are still hiring that they said, the heck with this, I’m jumping ship. I’m finding something a little more work-life balance in addition to compensation. But really it’s the work-life balance that I’ve been seeing people changing because of.
BS: So does that mean it’s also a factor as far as the quiet quitting is concerned?
JM: That’s a little different. Yes, and because the fear of recession applied to candidates just as much as it did to companies. So maybe people are tired of where they’re working, tired of being abused, but instead of just quitting and finding a new job, they just say, the heck with it, I’m going to do the absolute minimum possible without getting fired. And that’s where the quiet quitting came through. And I did some research on this and there’s actually top five reasons why people did quiet quitting. Would you like to hear them?
JM: One, toxic work culture. Right. And now I have the pleasure of having a really great team on my company, as do you.
JM: And I personally have never experienced a toxic work culture, but I’ve heard many, many stories from people who have. Two is job insecurity and reorganization. With every acquisition and reorg comes the possibility that you’re going to lose your job. So people are being proactive and resigning. High levels of innovation, I thought was an interesting reason why people changed jobs, not just quite quitting, but also great resignation. Because if you’re constantly doing something new and companies are, what’s the word I’m searching for? Demanding shorter development types. Produce, produce, release, release, release. Do you remember the good old days when we released software once a year?
BS: I do remember those.
JM: Right. I know we both have a little gray in our temples or in our beards in our case. But yeah, now they’re innovating, release, release, release. And that gets tiresome. Four was failure to recognize performance. How many times have we heard technical communicators complain because they’re not recognized for all the work they do. And part of my response to that is, are you letting people know how good of work you’re doing? Are you doing a corporate newsletter for your department? Are you letting people know how much you just saved the company? That’s another whole podcast. And this was fifth, was poor response to COVID-19. I still know companies who, managers who are insecure managing a younger workforce want to see people in their chairs and personally,
BS: Yeah. Butts in seats.
JM: Yep. Butts in seats. And I tell my people, I don’t care where you work, when you work, how you work, as long as you get your work done. Right. If you can do that at home in your pajamas at two o’clock in the morning, you go.
BS: Just be on that call later this afternoon.
BS: Yeah. No, I hear that. So I guess we’ve talked a little bit about the negative trend that we’ve saw with resignations, quiet quittings and general layoffs. As far as the roles that we’re seeing out there now, how are they starting to differ from what we’ve seen let’s say, let’s even go back a few more years. So pre-pandemic versus post pandemic. What are we kind of seeing here as far as the roles, as far as content development, content ops, anything new and exciting going on there?
JM: I’ll start with a happy news that we did not see the mass migration of jobs to India and other countries that people were fearing or they left and came back, right? So yes, you might be able to get a cheaper writer strategist, UI designer elsewhere, but if it takes them five times as long and it’s half as good, you’re really not saving money. So I did see a return of jobs since this, we’re both based in the United States. I’ve got a US-centric viewpoint on this, is that I did see jobs come back to the US. I’ve seen both more and less specialization at the same time. Used to be you’d see a job opening and say technical write needed, must have FrameMaker and RoboHelp. Where now it’s like, all right, yes, we want someone who does structured offering. We don’t care which tool. Because really once you’ve got the concept of structured authoring down, it doesn’t matter what content management system or structured authoring development tool you’re using. Because if you know one, you can pick up the others.
JM: Now that said, a majority of the world is still not doing structured authoring, but I see that as you asked what trends are happening, that is definitely a trend where people who are hiring are looking forward, and even if they’re not doing structure authoring now, they’re looking ahead. So if they’re going to hire someone and they get that few precious headcounts, they’re going to make sure that person that they do hire is prepared to move forward and know what’s on the horizon coming down the pipe.
BS: Gotcha. So as far as things on the horizon or coming down the pipe are actually being forced through the pipe as we speak. Let’s talk a little bit about AI and,
JM: Oh, let’s not.
BS: Its impact.
JM: Okay, so I’ve got two,
BS: I have my own thoughts on this as well, but let’s go. Let’s hear from you.
JM: I have two completely divergent views on AI, maybe three on a good day. One, I think there’s very, very valid uses of AI. For example, 23andMe, we now have millions of people who’ve mapped their genomes. Take 20,000 people who have male pattern baldness and 20,000 who don’t. Give it to an AI and say, find the difference in the genomes. Brilliant use of AI. All right. Now, how do we apply that as technical communicators or content strategists? Right. I saw a chapter, did a presentation on AI for technical writers, and the first thing the speaker said is, I’m not a technical writer and I’m using AI to come up with ideas for blogs on LinkedIn. What?
Now that said, I can see a valid use for AI in content development. For example, you’re doing structured all three. You just wrote 100 topics. Ask the AI to populate your meta tags for you, or here’s a CMS with 400 topics. Read them all, find out which ones are sufficiently similar that we could combine them and reuse, cut down our translation costs, cut down our maintenance costs. Brilliant use of AI. None of the tools are there yet though.
JM: So I see value, but here’s another thing. I just saw another blog on LinkedIn the other day going, AI is going to increase your efficiency. That is the main thing we’re going to save money is by increasing efficiency. And my thought is I’m documenting a new printer from Canon or Epson or Kodak, how is that going to help me talk to a subject matter expert about how do I maintain this thing? Right. And I distinctly remember doing maintenance documentation on an LCD projector and discovered that if you didn’t put your finger down on the screw as you unscrewed it, the spring would go spring and the screw would go flying across the room. And the only way you know that is by doing it.
JM: And I believe that we as technical profession document things that don’t exist yet. That is our reason for existence and how are you going to get that to an AI?
BS: Yeah, I think we’re on the same wavelength here because I take a similar approach where I don’t consider AI as being a valid content generation tool for technical content, but I see it as being useful. One, behind the scenes. So facilitating, like you said, facilitating search, coming up with keywords. So if you need to do any kind of SEO prep for content, being able to spider that, look against your other content, find a good keyword or a key phrase that’s going to work to make this stand out. Yeah, certainly aid in populating search for content that’s going out to the web, but I don’t really see it in a, it’s going to write these procedures for you because exactly, you need that level of preciseness on things that maybe aren’t yet documented. So it doesn’t have anything to rely on to explain it. So that’s interesting.
JM: Your audience has not been able to see me nodding my head during your entire answer. Another thing I want to comment on, I think people are grossly overusing the term AI. I was just speaking with a vendor yesterday about their system that’s supposed to be AI-enabled and a structured authoring system. And I said, well give me an example of the AI that you’ve added. And she goes, well, it will create a table for you. I go, that’s not AI, that’s a wizard. And we’ve had them for decades and she was the marketing person. So when I really pressed her on what part of that was artificial intelligence, she couldn’t answer me. She goes, I’ll let you talk to the engineer.
So I think there’s a lot of buzzwords going on and a lot of people talking about something they don’t deeply understand and they’re just using AI because it’s popular now. Now one more thing I want to add, if you remember, okay, we mentioned LavaCon, which is a conference on content strategy. Was it four years ago? Everybody was talking about chatbots. Oh my gosh, chatbots are going to be the next delivery platform. Everyone’s got to structure their content for chatbots. Next year, crickets. I have to say, from my little perch looking, my little crystal ball on where the industry is going, I said, oh no, this is going to be a flash in the pan. And I kind of feel the same way about AI at the moment.
BS: Yeah, I think it has a little bit more staying power because it’s more than just a delivery format. But I think that what we’re talking about with regard to AI now is probably not what we’re going to be talking about with regard to AI next year, five years later. It’s going to be a very different beast and it’s going to have some very different applications that I think what we’re seeing now, most people now are looking at it and saying, oh yeah, this is something that will generate a few paragraphs for me. And we’re talking about ChatGPT here. But there are other things where we’ve got cases where you can create artwork and such with AI as well. But again, it’s just pulling a bunch of different representations together and smoothing the edges and saying, ta-da. Whether it’s good or not is of course in the eye of the beholder because the AI doesn’t know what’s good or bad, it’s just going to do what you told it to.
JM: Agreed. The other thing that concerns me about AI is hallucinations.
JM: I ran ChatGPT and asked it to create tweets for all my speakers, and one of the tweets was about someone who’s not even speaking at the conference. A friend of mine had an AI write her bio and it said that she had a PhD in mathematics when she didn’t.
BS: Oh, I have a PhD as well, in case you didn’t know.
JM: So yeah, so,
BS: And I don’t. I don’t.
JM: But however, that’s creating a whole new job is fact-checking and editing the content that an AI… Now let me add one more thing. We’ll go on to the next question. Is that another valid use of AI that I thought was really clever was one of the banks would write an article and then run it through an AI and said, rephrase this as a CFO would want to read it in the terminology that CFO understands. Rewrite this in terms of how a financial analyst would want to read it. Rewrite this as how a consumer would want to read it. I thought that was brilliant use, again, not generating it from scratch, but taking an existing dataset and transforming it for a target audience.
BS: That’s an interesting perspective. Okay, so we talked a lot about AI. We talked a bit about people starting to look for less on tools experience and more on structured authoring and more, I’d say non tool specific skills. So what other trends are you seeing with companies looking to hire content professionals? Are there any other things that they’re looking for? And what can people do, I guess, to start sprucing up their resume and their experience to look for that next big gig?
JM: So my answer to this is going to be completely non sequitur and you’re not going to see it coming. Are you ready?
BS: Alrighty, let’s hear it.
JM: Take a class at improv.
JM: Improv comedy. I’ve studied improv, I’ve taught a workshop on it at the ESTC summit. Interesting thing about improv. I’ve heard people tell me, oh, I could never think fast enough to do improv, which is interesting because the first thing they teach you in improv is to stop thinking and start listening. Right. So one of the things that I discovered after taking a class at improv, I’ve never been thrown off by a question I wasn’t anticipating because part of the whole concept of improv is yes and. You take whatever your partner, boss, whoever gives you and go, yes and, and add to it. Right. And that’s also a great way, if there’s someone on your team that you don’t like their idea, you go, oh, yes and we can also do this. Right. And without just saying, oh, that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. That and take a class on public speaking, like at Toastmasters.
Even though a lot of the work we’re doing is remote, I see that 100% remote is probably going to start whittling down. And we’re going to have to either one, come back to the office occasionally or to be visible, right? Speak at conferences, speak at meetups, speak at your local STC chapter, right? Because rather than you applying for a job, and we’ll come back to applicant tracking systems in a second, write that down, that you want companies to come to you, say hey, will you come work for us? And the only way they’re going to do that is if you write articles, if you’re speaking at conferences, if you position yourself as a expert in your field.
BS: So raise your own profile, I guess, out there, LinkedIn, whatever, and build those skills to start putting yourself out there a little bit more.
JM: Oh my gosh, I cannot go on LinkedIn a week without seeing a blog post from Bill Swallow unless that’s AI generated and I should not be impressed.
BS: Oh, I don’t know.
JM: Okay. So I mentioned applicant tracking systems.
JM: Real briefly, and I actually have an article and a whole presentation on this that if you want to send that out in aligner notes at the end, we can do that. Real quick. When you apply for a job through a website, it goes through an applicant tracking system. And originally that was just a way to actually track where you are in the system. Well, with the advent of things like Indeed for mobile where you can create a profile and every time you see a tech writer job or a content job, you go apply, apply, apply, apply, apply, apply. So suddenly companies are getting hundreds of resumes that are not even remotely qualified. So again, added artificial intelligence into their applicant tracking systems to weed you out. So 99% of the applications that you submit will never be seen by a person. Right. Because not only are they comparing your resume to see if it matches the job requirements, they’re taking your resume to see if it matches the job description. Right.
So the first thing I tell people, stop applying for jobs through websites. Go to LinkedIn, find somebody who works there, even if it’s a recruiter, because every single recruiter has a LinkedIn profile and say, Hey, I see you have an opening for X, Y, Z. May I send you my resume? They’ll do one of two things. They’ll go, sure, send it over. Or they’ll go, no, go ahead, apply online and I’ll keep an eye open for the application. But now you have a human that can fish your resume out of the spam folder because you are qualified for that job. So that’s another thing I’ve seen change over the past few years, is just an explosion of AI applicant tracking systems weeding people out. In fact, I personally know five people that got jobs from personal referrals last year, and they did not get a single interview applying through jobs, through websites. So again, work your professional network.
BS: Sound advice. I will actually echo on that resume spambot approach to responding to job postings. A few years ago, I actually posted a job for a content, well, not a content developer, but a developer of content systems. So basically I did a plugin developer and I made the mistake of including Java as a desired skill, and I actually got several resumes for baristas come in.
JM: Oh, yes, yes. Absolutely. Yes. Yeah.
BS: And I was looking to see if there was anything, I mean, it piqued my interest because I had to look and see if there was anything in there that indicated that these people were interested in moving into some kind of a development role. And it’s like, no, no, they’re just interested in making really good coffee, which is fine, but it’s not what I’m looking for. Although I’d love the coffee.
JM: And I don’t even think that. I think they now have AIs where you could go, anytime a job opens that matches my resume, submit me. So you’re not even saying apply, apply, apply anymore. It’s the AI automatically submitting to a job that you’re not qualified and AI automatically rejecting you. Madness.
BS: So the computers are taking over.
JM: Yeah, Skynet.
BS: Excellent. Well, I think this is a good place to leave things, Jack. Thank you very much for talking, and actually, I’ll give you a moment to kind of plug LavaCon since that’s coming up as well.
JM: Oh, thank you. So this is our 21st year. We’ve survived two recessions and a .com crash. It’s the LavaCon Conference on Content Strategy. We do have a track on integrating AI into your content strategy, more specifically the benefits and liabilities of integrating AI into your content strategy. But it still covers content strategy and user experience. We’re going to be in San Diego in October. We have a discount code for your listeners. Anybody who registers using Scriptorium as a referral code gets $300 off registration, and it’s at lavacon.org.
BS: Excellent. Jack, always a pleasure.
JM: Thank you for having me.
BS: Thank you for listening to The Content Strategy Experts Podcast, brought to you by Scriptorium. For more information, visit scriptorium.com or check the show notes for relevant links.