RE: Why they don't ask for candidates by technology skills.

Subject: RE: Why they don't ask for candidates by technology skills.
From: Rose -dot- Wilcox -at- pinnaclewest -dot- com
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 19 Feb 2003 11:51:03 -0700

After years of hiring writers, I have come to believe
that even after analyzing resumes and carefully
interviewing prospects, hiring new writers is still
often hit or miss--regardless of whether or not the
writer has worked at many companies or just one or


Depends on what you mean by "often hit or miss". If you are saying that you have only a 50/50 chance of getting someone with the proper skills for the job, I disagree. If you are saying that with even a good system for hiring that you can definitely let some "not so good of matches" through I agree.

My idea of a good hiring/interviewing system:

- Decide on the set of characteristics and abilities you need for the job. Take into account the make up of the current team, clients, SMEs, and other constraints. (Are they going to have to write for a pre-created style? Are they going to be challenged by diverse technical subjects. Are the SMEs great to work with or do they have some barriers there? etc.)

- Screen resumes but be open-minded. For instance, I'm pretty close minded about multiple typos, but if a resume was otherwise good, but with one typo, I might interview the person. (However, in this job climate I might be tougher since we have a lot of time in between jobs now so our resumes should be sharper!) How they react to hearer about the typo might be clue to me about their personality and fitness for the job.

Also good technical writers come from many different backgrounds, so I probably am not going to throw it away based on educational or job experience criteria, but will be looking for clues that they have some form of left brain / right brain mix.

However, I would throw away resumes riddled with typos or very badly designed resumes.

- Writers should all have some sort of samples. If they cannot bring samples because of confidentiality, they should have created their own. I would not hire a writer without seeing samples.

- I would design questions based on all the characteristics and abilities I am looking for. They would not for the most part be yes/no questions. They would be situational questions, such as "what would you do if a SME continued to disregard your requests for information?" There are no right/wrong answers to such questions. I am looking for people who think and come up with ideas, not a set answer. I can also tell a lot about personality fit based on these answers.

- I do ask a few qualifying questions, such as grammar/style, design, tools, and/or technology depending on the job I'm hiring for. There are some right/wrong answers there but there is a range. I wouldn't necessarily disqualify someone for an "off" answer, but it gives me some information about their approach to writing, etc. For me, a person who lose more points for brazening out with a wrong answer than just saying, "I don't know, but I would find out by....".

- I would team interview writers whenever possible. Seeing how they interact with other members of my team is as important to me as testing their writing skills and abilities to learn. Also I have a few areas of "blindness" where people can get on my good or bad sides subconsciously and I need other opinions to make up for my human ability to be swayed.

- I usually ask a "human" question like "what book did you last read?" just to see if the person can converse and relate. But this is because the jobs I have usually interviewed to fill required good team players. I doubt if I would ask that if the job didn't require that level of humanity. However, I do think most jobs require this now. I could be wrong....

- I always go over the samples brought with the writers, and ask questions about them. I ask what parts did the writers do, I ask background info on the sample, etc. This gives me a lot of information about the person, including helping me to ascertain about the meaningfulness of the samples.

Even with this stringent approach, I have hired inappropriate people who couldn't work up to snuff a couple of times. However, I think this method increased my chances of hiring an appropriate person for the job significantly. I didn't go over references at that time, since I was dealing with consulting agencies who were supposed to have done that. (Yeah, right.) The two examples I can think of who didn't work out... both of them hit areas that I was prejudiced in favor of... so I was swayed by "wanting to believe in them". In one case, my team interviewer also had the same blind spot and in the other case I disregarded the misgivings of my team interviewer. (In both cases, I had only one other person interviewing with me rather than the usual three I strive for.)

BTW, I had pre-prepared questions, shared them with my co-team interviewers, discussed strategies before interviewing, and would "debrief" after the interview as well.

Rose A. Wilcox
CHQ, 14th Floor
Tranz1 QA/Documentation
Rose -dot- Wilcox -at- PinnacleWest -dot- com

Nothing is really work unless you would rather be doing something else.
James Matthew Barrie (1860-1937)
Scottish dramatist and novelist


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