Hiring Question

Subject: Hiring Question
From: David Loveless <daveloveless -at- gmail -dot- com>
To: TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Sat, 10 Dec 2005 14:28:56 -0700

Over the last three years, I have hired multiple technical writers and
interviewed at multiple locations for myself. I have always used
writing/editing tests in my hiring decisions, and have more often than
not been subjected to the same.

So I began to wonder, in your opinion, do tests have value and what
value? Are there problems?

Here's my answers, but I'd like to know yours.

I think that tests have value. As one interviewer once said, "Hiring a
writer based on interview skills is like hiring a football player
based on verbal skills." Harsh, but not without value. On the other
hand, I have been subjected to tests that are so insanely long and
complex that I feel like I should have been paid for my time. The
tests I administer to my candidates are timed, short, simple, and
(most importantly) done in the comfort of the candidates home instead
of in an unfamiliar office with unfamiliar equipment. One recent test
that I was offered involved editing by hand a document over 15 pages
long (both substantive and mechanical) AND a technical writing test
where I was supposed to create a procedure doc not for a simple
operation but a complex series of operations with multiple objectives
in mind. All told, the total test would probably have taken me well
over 5 hours. Fortunately, I had the brains to walk out (especially
since, as I found out later, they were only offering $12.50 an hour
for contract work).

On a further note, I find editing tests irrelevant since most, if not
all, editors/writers will not turn in their work blind. They will have
access to spell checkers, dictionaries, and hopefully other
editors/writers. I find that you can get a pretty solid feel for their
editing skills based on their cover letter, resume, communications,
writing samples, and writing tests. After all, those types of
documents are more accurate in terms of how they would actually create
documents for you since they were created at the author's own pace,
style, and using technology familiar to the author.

One more question, would you ever test specific types of software? The
answer is an obvious "duh" for many people, but as one of the wisest
men I know once said, "You can teach anyone to use RoboHelp,
DreamWeaver, whatever. But you can't teach anyone how to write." That
being said, we require DreamWeaver at my current employer, but I have
never hired a writer (I've hired five over the last two years) that
knew it because I can teach them what they need to know in a few
hours. It's the writing I'm more concerned about because I couldn't
teach them everything about writing in a whole semester of classes.



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