RE: Evaluating Candidates Using Tests, Logic Questions, and Similar

Subject: RE: Evaluating Candidates Using Tests, Logic Questions, and Similar
From: "Malcolm Mclean" <mclean -at- syndesis -dot- com>
To: <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 17 Nov 2006 09:51:51 -0500

A large part of the evaluation process we have used in the past is based
on the candidate's writing samples, and on the candidate's ability to
identify vague/ambiguous or incorrect information in a functional

Our interview usually goes like this:

1. Manager and a senior writer talk to the candidate for 30-45 minutes,
covering all of the expected initial questions

2. Manager excuses him/herself for 20 minutes or so, taking the writing
samples (this is prearranged with the candidate)

There are two resons for this - a. the candidate gets to ask questions
that s/he might be reluctant to ask a potential manager (with the
guarantee from the manager and senior writer that the manager never gets
to hear what questions were asked or what answers were given); b. the
manager has time to review some of the writing in sufficient depth to
ask sensible questions about it

If the candidate objects to the samples being removed from the room, the
manager stays in the room and tries to ignore the others (;=)

3. Senior writer leaves. Manager now "interrogates" the candidate about
the writing samples - determines how much the candidate knows about what
they said they wrote - can the candidate explain concepts/principles
related to the domain etc.

We have several times had candidates with good samples they claimed to
have authored who seemed to know very little about the subject matter.
In a couple of cases, in this part of the interview, the candidate has
said that, well no, actually they didn't write that part ... This is not
a completely black and white situation, I know, and we listen to
reasonable explanations - e.g., I wrote that 8 years ago, and have
forgotten a lot of the background.

4. Manager presents the candidate with a short sample of a spec that has
been used here as a source document for a writer to work from, and asks
the candidate to come up with some questions to ask the author of the
spec. The spec we use contains some "strange" things, e.g., a statement
that two alternative sort orders for objects in a display are "similar".
If the candidate doesn't question some of the more strange statements,
the manager highlights some and once again invites questions.

The point of the invitation to question is that identifying problems in
a source document, and framing suitable questions to disambiguate the
information, is a large part of what a writer needs to do in our
environment - and in any other TW environment I've ever worked in. A TW
who cannot do this effectively is unlikely to be successful in an
environment like ours.

Btw, the problems in the spec are, we believe, ones that any competent
TW, almost without regard to specific domain knowledge for our industry,
should be able to identify.



On Wed, 15 Nov 2006 16:05:15 -0800
Joe Malin wrote:

-----Original Message-----
From: Joe Malin <jmalin -at- jmalin -dot- com>
Subject: Re: Evaluating Candidates Using Tests, Logic Questions, and

... Snip ...

I think a two-hour writing test has no value, since it is completely
unrelated to a tech writer's normal work activities. Either make the
test fifteen minutes, or make it take home overnight. Fifteen minutes
will tell you if someone is naturally organized and gifted; overnight
allows you to give a much harder assignment that shows more completely
the writer's overall abilities.

Here's another one: give the candidate two pages of writing to edit. If
he or she doesn't ask any questions, flunk 'em.


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