RE: job interview question: ethical issues about portfolio

Subject: RE: job interview question: ethical issues about portfolio
From: "Dan Hall" <dhall -at- san-carlos -dot- rms -dot- slb -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 14 Jan 2002 13:19:44 -0600

I second Keith's observation, from both the
interviewer and interviewee sides.

Frequently in the past my samples were given a cursory
scan (don't know what they could tell in the 30 seconds
they spent - other than overall "feel'). I also don't
leave samples behind, so I'm guessing they were going
more on answers to interview questions. When I'm the
interviewer, the same thing applies. I look at a sample
to see if they have provided something that looks
reasonably like a technical document - organized logically
and presented cleanly. From my cursory peek at their
writing, I can only get an idea of their skill - and
that assumes that they bring _their_ work.

IMO, samples are overrated, anyway. A prospect could
bring in anything, and it'd be difficult to tell.
Assuming they looked at the doc and knew about the
structure and topic, they'd probably fool most of the
people, most of the time.

You can get a much better idea of a person's ability by
asking questions (again, IMO). These generally are pointed
at making sure the prospect has a grasp of what's involved
in writing technical documents (research, organization, and
writing, for starters) and who knows a little bit about the
oddities of whatever tool(s) we're using. If they can answer
questions with specific, detailed answers, they generally
know what they're talking about.

Amusingly enough, I once had an interview with the CEO of
a small company that was hiring their first technical
writer. He spent about ten seconds thumbing through the
sample I brought. Then he took me into a conference room
where there was a projector showing a slide of their
application architecture. His one question: "What can you
deduce about our product from this?" I spent a second or two
analyzing, then lead him through what I thought their
product did and how. He didn't want to know if I could
write - he assumed I could. He wanted to know if I could
get my head around their technology. I got a job offer, but
had already taken something more interesting.

My $0.02


Dan Hall
Sr. Technical Writer
SchlumbergerSema RTEMS

-----Original Message-----
From: bounce-techwr-l-72045 -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com
[mailto:bounce-techwr-l-72045 -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com]On Behalf Of
kcronin -at- daleen -dot- com
Sent: Monday, January 14, 2002 2:34 PM
Subject: Re: job interview question: ethical issues about portfolio

All this discussion of portfolio contents has made me curious: how much
attention do your interviewers actually pay to these materials?

Are you submitting these materials in advance, or going in with them in
your briefcase?

In my experience, nobody does more than briefly scan these items. They
don't really READ them; there isn't enough time. I never leave the
documents behind, and I've never been required to send in a sample in

Thus, it seems like some of you are excessively worried about something
that will just consume a small portion of the interview. Or is my
experience unique?

I've made sure my writing samples were perfect, correcting any mistakes I
may have identified after their initial publication. (Thus, those docs may
not be "authentic," but they're pretty.) I have "sanitized" some work to
change product and company names, and I've been very careful to not show
any technical information I thought anybody might steal (although again,
the few moments they allocate to skimming through the document would not
afford them the time to do so).

For editing and layout, I've shown before-and-after examples, using a
manual I did not write or layout to compare with the one I did. Again,
both those documents go home with ME.

If I were asked to provide a leave-behind document, I would either
sanitize one or write something not product-specific.

But how about you? What have your prospective employers actually done with
your portolios?

Thanks for any input!

- Keith Cronin


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