From: "Ned Bedinger" <doc -at- edwordsmith -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 12 Apr 2004 10:59:06 -0700

For those of you (Nora?) who are not yet seasoned
in the art of interviewing, you may need to adjust
your sense of integrity to accomodate one or more
forms of "the bureaucratic gauntlet" interview.
Here is an example:

I have my resume posted all over Hell's Half Acre.
My resume has 50+ specific key words that capture
the essential features of my skill sets. I am not
claiming expertise in these skills, but I will
describe what I know and stand by my claims if
pressed. These are general terms like software
package names, technologies, disciplines:
"CORBA", "Design Specification", "HPUX","MS
OFFICE", "OLE", "ORACLE", "Requirements
Specification", "SGML", etc.

IT placement agencies search for candidates by
doing key word searches on resumes posted on When "Requirements
Specification" is the job requirement they're
searching on, my resume comes up.

When they call me, I make a judgement based on
limited information, about the suitability of the
job for me, and I can turn it down or start
spinning to persuade them to send my resume along
to the Personnel Department of the hiring company.
Either I want the job or I don't. Either I am
prepared to go all the way or not. This condition
holds until the end of the process. It can

When the Personnel Department's IT recruiter calls
me, they have a more edified set of requirements.
Maybe they know that the Hiring Manager only wants
to interview people who have created Requirements
documents from scratch. Maybe I have updated
existing Requirements documents for 5 years but
never exactly created a new one. I know all about
Requirements documents and this is exactly the
sort of job I want. I say "Yes, I have done
that." It is more reliable than asking "Why?"

They pass my resume up to the Hiring Manager, and
I tell them the same thing. The Hiring Manager
wants to see my writing samples, and I show a
Requirements document that I have owned for one
major revision. It is mine, though I didn't write
the original. I own any problems that bleed
through from previous versions--the revision IS
mine. Showing this as my work is not an integrity
issue, it is the most accurately descriptive way
of positioning my skills and job responsibilities.
I HAVE to look out for myself and make the most of
opportunities because no one else is doing that
for me. At any point in the interview sequence, I
could have said "Oh, I don't know if I am
qualified. I've done a lot of this, but I
inherited the main diagram and only made a few
changes to the interface requirements section.
Maybe I'm not really qualified for the job." And
that would be the KOD (Kiss of Death) for me in
that interview process.

I give no sign that I am not the author of the
original document. They don't try to penetrate the
mystery surrounding original authorship. It does
not seem to be an issue, but if it was I would
fend off any attempts to discount my role in
creating this document. As I said, I have all of
the responsibility for it now.

I get the job.

I do the work. I bobble it a couple of times
because I've never before started a Requirements
doc at the point where I have to sit down with the
software architect and ask the questions that nail
down the rationale and the overview of the
project. So what? Next time I will be ready to
move the project forward more efficiently. I have
moved my skills and career forward, and THAT is
what I am ALWAYS striving to do. It is no small
point that I have also helped my employer to
provide me a little OTJ training. It isn't like I
am incompetent! I have helped them avoid the
costs and time needed to find the sartorially
splendid perfect tailor-made match for the work.
I know best. I value my reputation, I know they
can dump on me if I fail to perform, and I know
that my off-the-rack suit fits the job good

My experience as tech writer, and especially as a
contractor, is that the writing is usually
deferred by the team until it becomes inevitable.
They wait until the last minute (and often until
it is too late), then they cast about for an
outside writer who will take the blame for any
problems meeting deadlines. They rationalize A
LOT, telling their managers that a tech writer
should be able to do miraculous documentation
things in a few short months. And indeed, I can.
I arrive on the job and assess the state of their
"institutional memory"--Do they have any notes or
documentation to work from? Are there SMEs or
have the ones who really understand things moved
on? Am I on my own or do the team understand what
I need to get the job done? If they have been
blowing off all efforts to keep records, I
immediately adjust my goals--they get what they
deserve: my best effort given nothing to work
with. Their integrity is questionable in my mind,
and my job will be orders of magnitude harder
because they are slobs about anticipating
documentation requirements.

Still, my integrity is unquestioned. I have not
gotten in too deep. I have been in this position
so many times (having to climb fast and learn
quickly), and I have developed the mental muscle
necessary to get oriented to the project and hit
the ground running: I have uncanny insight about
IT projects. I soak up project knowledge like a
sponge and I record information that they barely
recognize as important. I get to the meat of the
project faster than they can get me the answers to
the questions I ask. I can take their information
and their corporate templates and crank out their
documentation. I can survive in the crucible
they've unwittingly created for a tech writer,
where the pressure is coming from all sides to get
buy-in and cooperation, solve the problems and
reconcile expectations with results I can provide,
make the software work, and have the deliverables
available online and in print by the deadline. I
am a tech writer. I don't let them tell me what I
can and can't do.

So I am expensive. But I know the work, I work as
advertised, and I am available on short notice.
The fact that I jumped over some mickey-mouse
requirements does not impugn my integrity. No
issue of moral terpitude is at stake because,
let's face it, the interview process is all about
dithering. Sometimes more, sometimes less, but in
business I am the realist and the interviewers are
usually the ones who own the risks that attend
their own inaccuracies about requirements. Their
"integrity" is swiss cheese because they have
obstructive requirements that do not serve the
long term or other company goals. But a tech
writer's integrity is all about being ABLE to do
the work. IT Recruiters found me as a match
because I have the skills I say I have, even if
dithering of the requirements is nescessary to
make it so. We're entitled to some acclimatizing
on a new job no matter how
obsessively/compulsively the job description has
been written.

I'll wager dimes to donuts that any examples that
claim to show otherwise can be reasonably spun as
failures of management to make a fair estimate of
time required to complete documentation tasks.
There are industry standards for page production,
and most managers have never been to the station,
let alone ridden the clue train to understand tech
writing productivity. If you've been attacked for
integrity issues as a writer, look at your
productivity, it is a fair defense for a

----- Original Message -----
From: "Nora Merhar" <nora -at- helloworld -dot- sh>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Cc: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Sent: Monday, April 12, 2004 8:23 AM

> >>The integrity of one's closest colleagues
> >>on a job is of primary importance.
> I'm confused--whose integrity is being
questioned? What is dishonest about
> holding back unnecessary information at an
interview? What IS dishonest is
> claiming that you've worked with a DTP that you
haven't worked with, or
> created a particular document from scratch when
you've only edited
> SME-provided information.



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