RE: Hiring Question

Subject: RE: Hiring Question
From: "Pradeep" <ninkozi -at- gmail -dot- com>
To: "'TECHWR-L'" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 13 Dec 2005 14:31:43 +0530

This has been a most interesting thread...
I am in India and I was, till recently, working for one of the largest
software multinationals here. When I joined, the company was just setting up
the Technical Documentation team here. The director of this company
specially flew down from the US to hire the first few people and the hiring
strategy was an interesting mix of tests and interviews - after being
grilled twice for more than 2 hours on everything from grammar to C to
databases to attitude, I was asked to meet the director, who talked to me
and hired me in about 5 minutes!
Later, when I was put in charge of hiring, the hiring priorities were
clearly spelled out to me: "hire for attitude, train for skills".

When I was put in charge of hiring, I had some quick learning to do - how do
you measure attitude? What would happen if I hire someone with attitude but
no technical skills and the poor writer is asked to work on a highly
technical project?
We set up a process, went through a series of cycles as we refined it and
finally came up with something that was, for us, an optimum mix.

The process is roughly like this:
When a writer applies for a job, check the writers grammar skills through an
online test. There was the danger of plagiarism, but we figured a way around
it, but putting in a mix of questions for qualitative and quantitative
rating. You had to write an article giving your opinion on some idea or
concept. There were grammar questions, there were comprehension problems,
there were information organization problems... the works - all in a two
hour test.
If a writer passed the test (roughly 60-70% flunked it here), there was a
short 20 minute interview, where we quickly assessed the writer's attitude,
communication and technical skills. If the writer passed this, there was a
longer 45 minute interview to assess the writers technical skills, to map it
against the requirements we had. Another 45 minute interview was for
attitude and a surprising number of people flunked it here.
Having successfully passed this gauntlet, the writer recd a quick 5 minute
call from the director and then the offer was made.

Once a writer joined the team, there was a 2 month training period, where
everything from the styleguide to working processes to technical training
was provided. As soon as the training got over, the writer was thrown into a
live project - to sink or swim. They all swam.

We ended up testing and interviewing around a thousand writers and finally
hired around 25 in one year - only one did not work out and the fault was
mine - I knew she would need addnl training before she was thrown into a
complex project and failed to provide it - it left her managers unhappy, it
left her unhappy and finally, she left. My bad. :(

Some lessons we learnt on the way:
*India has a lot of very, very good documentation people, but also a number
of really bad writers :)
*Attitude is the most difficult aspect of a person to change, so never hire
anyone with the wrong attitude. For our requirements, we looked for people
with honesty, assertiveness, persistence and attention to detail.
*Training is important- experienced writers look upon training as a
refresher course, freshers look upon training as a ticket to a better world
*Training should be continuous - on the subject matter, on writing, on TW
process and best practices.
*Hiring is tough and stressful for the interviewer too - if you make a
mistake as an interviewer - you might have to work with that mistake.

Long mail - am tired - bye bye,


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Re: Hiring Question: From: Peter Neilson

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