RE: Screening tests

Subject: RE: Screening tests
From: Abby Matsumoto <amatsumoto -at- signalsoftcorp -dot- com>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com
Date: Fri, 08 Sep 2000 16:00:15 -0600

Beth,
I disagree that a test is no substitute for writing samples and a good
interview (at least as far as writing ability and organization of
content go). For years, I've given a writing test to interviewees and
it's been quite insightful. Remember, writing samples are sanitized
versions of someone's work; they could have been edited by numerous
people and authored by more than your interviewee. A writing test is
your chance to see what someone can do on their own.

I've had several instances where the tech writer gave an excellent
interview, but the writing test showed his/her ability to organize the
information was not that great. I've had other cases where two
candidates were equally impressive in their skills and interviews, and
the writing test showed who was a more skillfull writer. In another
case, the tech writer was unable to accomplish *anything* in the
allotted time, and asked for more time (not a good candidate for
fast-paced organizations!).

A writing test is subjective, so it's difficult to measure what is good
or bad other than the expectations you set. I document software, so I
usually give them a few paragraphs from a design spec (preferably
muddled and vague) and ask them to take 20 minutes to write something
for a user guide. What I want to get in return is something that is
organized and clearly and simply written. I also hope to get questions
(or notes on the writing sample) from the interviewee afterwards about
how such-and-such really works because the spec was too vague. This
tells me they didn't take the spec at face value.

Abby Matsumoto


-----Original Message-----
From: Scudder, Beth [mailto:beth -dot- scudder -at- retek -dot- com]
Sent: Friday, September 08, 2000 3:06 PM
To: TECHWR-L
Subject: Screening tests


Hi folks,

I'm going to be working on putting together a screening test for
technical
writers applying to work for us. I'm looking for any input you all may
have
on this.

What my manager wants to measure with this test:
*Microsoft Word Proficiency
*Writing ability
*Organization of content
*Ability to write a procedure taken from a paragraph

We're planning on having the applicant use a computer to demonstrate MS
Word
proficiency, and we could do other parts of the test on the computer, as

opposed to in handwriting. I haven't determined too many of the basics
yet.

I know that no test will tell you who is the best writer, or weed out
some
of the sneakily bad ones, and it's no substitute for writing samples and
a
good interview. I also know that lots of people out there loathe this
kind
of test, but it's not my policy, so I'm looking to make this as painless
and
efficient as possible by hopefully keeping it short and obviously
useful.
(Personally, I didn't mind too much when I had to take a similar test
for a
previous job; as long as the test wasn't stupid like the ones some temp
agencies use.)

I would be interested in hearing suggestions or comments that
specifically
pertain to having a test measure the items listed above. For example,
I'm
not sure what I would say distinguishes an advanced Word user from an
intermediate one, or an intermediate one from a beginner. I might have
more
of a clue with the remaining three items on the list, but I would still
like
to hear advice, suggestions, and stories.

TIA!

--Beth






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