Re: Interviewing a technical writer -- LIST OF QUESTIONS

Subject: Re: Interviewing a technical writer -- LIST OF QUESTIONS
From: skwpt <skwpt -at- yahoo -dot- com>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com
Date: Wed, 28 Jun 2000 09:46:21 -0700 (PDT)

Susan, I pulled the info below into a document from
the TECHWR-L archives and various emails. I apologize
in advance for not being able to cite the authors with
the exception of Stephen MacDonald:

Interviewing Questions FAQ
General Questions
When interviewing candidates more experienced than
you, you might try prefacing your questions with
remarks such as "I'm sure you must have done this many
more times than me, but how would you do..." and so
on. This approach confronts the experience issue head
on, and gives you an opportunity to gauge the
candidate's attitude toward working with a less
experienced writer.

* Have you worked with an outside printer vendor

* In the past, how have you prepared documentation
projects for printing by an outside vendor?

* How do you make a PostScript file for use by an
outside printer vendor?

* Name some of the biggest challenges you?ve had to
meet as a technical writer. How did you meet those

* Have you set up documentation management systems
with any previous employers?

* How have you managed your own documentation projects

in the past?

* How have you prioritized your documentation projects

in the past?

* How are you proactive when learning about new
technologies you?ve had to document for publication?

* Have you ever been asked to perform tasks that were
outside your primary responsibilities before? If so,

what were you asked to do? How did your efforts make

a positive difference to your employer?

* How do you add value to your documentation projects
so that the final product exceeds your employer?s

* Professionally speaking, what do you consider your
greatest strength(s)?

* Professionally speaking, what do you consider your
greatest weakness(es)?

* Could you give me an example of a time when you were

able to turn one of your weaknesses into a strength?

(Or, could you give me an example of a time when you

overcame a particular obstacle? From this, you could

pose more questions such as: why did you consider it

an obstacle?)

* How do you resolve differences of opinion or
personality clashes with a coworker? (Be careful,
though, about asking someone about dealing with a
difficult manager. You may cause the candidate to
wonder why the question was posed - and to think
twice about taking the job!)

* Tell me about a time when your opinion clashed with
a coworker?s. How was that situation resolved? (This

is a good way to discover a little bit about the
candidate?s character and how compromising he/she

* What would you do if your boss gave you a technical
writing job and the SME did not respond to your
first two emails requesting information. What would
you do if the SME continued to be difficult to
contact or work with?

* Do you contribute to publications on your own time?
(This type of question will help you determine the
candidate?s writing skills.)

* How do you work/get along with editors? What do you
think of the editing process?

* What do you do when you need information and don't
know where to find it?

* How would you go about suggesting improvements to a
document written by a colleague?

* What technologies related to technical writing are
you interested in?

Synergy/Ability to Get Along with Current Employees
When interviewing candidates, always consider whether
he or she will fit in with your current employees. If
possible, take candidates to the area where he or she
will be working, and let each employee have 5 minutes
or so to chat with the candidate. Employees can get
together after the candidate has left and share their
impressions. This employee involvement has less to do
with the candidate?s qualifications than his or her
ability to fit in with the group. You may also want to
have some of your developers meet briefly with each
candidate and give you feedback.

Some people view writing tests as unfair, feeling that
few writers finish a new piece of writing start to
finish (writing, editing, and revising) in a single
day, so it is unfair to expect a candidate to do so.
On the other hand, writing tests can give you a sample
of a candidate?s raw material. If you do choose to
give a writing test, make it simple. Have candidates
write a short how-to from a list of suggested topics,
for instance.

* Give tool-specific tests: For example: You are
hiring someone to develop online help, and an
applicant claims to be a RoboHelp expert. Give the
applicant a short RoboHelp assignment, and see how
he or she is doing after a set period of time.

* Give overall writing skills tests: For example: Give

an applicant 20 minutes to outline the steps of an
everyday activity (making a pot of tea or filling a
car with fuel) for a reader who is unfamiliar with
that activity. In addition, have applicants mark up
a badly-written document - it is a quick way to find

out how experienced they are at turning engineering-
speak into good copy.

A common misconception is that you don't have to be as
rigorous in your standards for interns as you are with
full-timers. You do. People often hire interns based
on good writing samples and recommendations, only to
find that they lack basic skills. Tougher standards
can be a good skills assessment for internship
applicants, because they often realize where their
skills need improvement.

* Editing tests: Don't expect interns to be able to
edit at your level, but they should be able to
recognize major problems (or at least flag those
problems as questions that should go back to the
writer). They should also be able to proofread with
accuracy. Allow them to bring a dictionary to the
test, and loan them a copy of the AP style guide.

* Writing tests: Writing samples that have been looked

over by editors or teachers are fine, but you don't
necessarily know how the material looked before it
was "cleaned up." Writing tests can help you
discover how "raw" an intern?s material will be (and

how much teaching and/or cleaning up you may have to


* Give intern candidates a simple, non-company
specific project to set up. This exercise will show
you if the candidate has the requisite
organizational skills - or at least the right
thought processes - to be helpful. Let them work on
the project prior to coming in for an interview, and

allow them to call or email with questions.

Hope this helps

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