Re: real tech writers? RE: Out-of-Work Tech Writers and Switching -- Careers

Subject: Re: real tech writers? RE: Out-of-Work Tech Writers and Switching -- Careers
From: "Doc" <dlettvin -at- attbi -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 27 Jun 2002 06:38:14 -0400

Hey Rosie--
I feel your pain about hiring.

I remember getting a resume from someone who claimed to be an excellent

An ingenious numbskull wanted to show me that he could "light a fire" under
my organization and to demonstrate this he, in blithe ignorance of postal
regs, taped a book of matches to his resume.

I have a quirk about hiring.

It's not that I don't trust what people tell me ... it's not that I have no
way of confirming that someone's portfolio is indeed their own work ... it's
not that people shade the truth ...

Well, yes it is.

After I interview someone, I hand them five pages of a manual. I tell them
that it is not current, that no one currently employed at the company wrote
it and that diplomacy is not needed. I give them a red pencil and say, "Fix
anything you find that's wrong." I tell them not to worry about completing
it, that it is not a speed test. Then I leave them alone for 15 minutes.

What I don't tell them is that, for me, the results of this test are more
significant than any degree. It tells me:
* How they react to surpises
* How they work under pressure
* If they recognize good and bad explanation
* If they are fearless editors
* How they solve problems

The pages are from a manual written by an engineer with a strong academic
background (I'm sure you're getting the picture) who eschewed such
meaningless trivialities as bulleted lists, numbered steps, short sentences
and the active voice.

The results are amazing. Most people who got as far as the interview did
reasonably well. One person (whom I immediately hired) never finished the
first page. She threw down the pencil, and said, "If you want me to do this
right, give me a computer and let me rewrite it. Another that I hired
slipped out and found the copy machine. He finished working on the first
page and he was at the top of the list anyway. But the next morning I got a
FedEx envelope with all five pages marked up and a rewrite.

I had a purported TW say that they wished they had written it.
I had another say it was beneath her dignity to take such a test.
Another found a single comma infraction and a few spelling errors.
Another put the paper down and told me that he would not work under that
kind of pressure.

One charming guy looked me straight in the eye and told me that his
portfolio was all that should concern me. I asked him if one of the manuals
was all his own work, and he said it was.
Unfortunately for him, the manual had been written by an aquaintance of mine
who (like me) has a habit of inserting her signature in the manual as a kind
of "easter egg". When I pointed it out to him, he confessed to having
rewritten it. I called my friend to check it out and she told me that he had
never worked on the project. <joke>I almost hired him for his incredible
chutzpah, but I came to my senses and sent him down to interview in Sales &
Marketing. </joke>

BTW I encourage my writers to "sign" their work. I won't tell anyone else's
easter eggs but on a manual that I have written I will find a list of
usernames or computernames that need to be fictionalized. I change the names
so that the ragged right edge is an acrostic. Reading the last letters of
each name downwards, you will see "dwlmadethis" or "docfecit".

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