Re: Hiring an entry-level writer

Subject: Re: Hiring an entry-level writer
From: Bruce Byfield <bbyfield -at- progeny -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 19 Feb 2001 17:53:04 -0800

"Smith, Martin" wrote:

> When I wrote the job description and filled out the forms to begin
> recruiting for the position, I was determined to avoid placing the kind of
> add that I have come to loath over the years--mainly ones that focus solely
> on a grocery list of software applications.

Rather, I want to recruit
> someone who can write clearly, possesses the technical aptitude to
> comprehend the material, and wants to begin a technical writing career. I
> plan on sending the new-hire to a week-long FrameMaker class and refuse to
> disqualify people who don't know how to use the program. At the same time, I
> think candidates applying for the position should be prepared to submit a
> writing sample, even if they don't have a portfolio of previously published
> work.
> I was wondering what kind of advice others on the list might want to offer
> when it comes to recruiting entry-level writers, as well as helping them to
> succeed once on the job.


You're showing good sense in not focusing on tools.

As for other advice:

-Get candidates to talk about their writing. Try to assess their
sense of structure. In my experience as a writer and a teacher, many
people can write a decent sentence or short paragraph. An awareness
of structure is much rarer and more valuable.

-Look at non-writing experience for some knowledge of project
management, such as organizing a conference or teaching a course.

-Look for a broad experience of different types of writing, not just
genres related to the job. They may be a sign of flexibility and of
structural awareness.

-Look for a generalist with a well-rounded set of interests, rather
than a narrow specialist. All too often, in my experience, a narrow
specialist includes someone with a certificate or a degree in
technical writing. Someone who would say, "It's not my field," or
has an inferiority complex and cringes when asked to do something
new isn't likely to thrive.

- Look for someone whom you can get along with - not as a friend,
necessarily, but as a colleague. It's my belief that good writers
don't do well in rigid structures, so I'd suggest someone who can be
a junior partner, rather than a subordinate - someone whose opinion
you might solicit once they learn what they're doing.

Of course, I'm urging you to look for perfection, but you might get

Bruce Byfield 317.833.0313 bbyfield -at- progeny -dot- com
Director of Marketing and Communications,
Progeny Linux Systems

"As through this world I travel, I've met with many men,
Some will rob you with a six gun and some with a fountain pen,
But as through this world you travel, as through this world you
You won't ever see an outlaw drive a family from its home."
-Woody Guthrie, "The Ballad of Pretty Boy Floyd"

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