RE: Tips for finding and hiring the right Technical Writer

Subject: RE: Tips for finding and hiring the right Technical Writer
From: "Rick Bishop" <rickbishop -at- austin -dot- rr -dot- com>
To: <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Sun, 23 Sep 2007 20:27:28 -0500

Sylvia: I've been recruiting and hiring TWs for about 9 yrs and I've
managed as many as 8 at a time. I'm currently also site lead over about 40
people. TWs tend to stay in place -- not as much turnover as other IT
specialties. I must say that really good tech writers are pretty hard to
find unless you are in Silicon valley or D.C. Most of the good ones are
already taken!

1. Your ads should emphasize the work environment - get a TW that fits in.
In the ad, include some exact direction on how to submit, to see if they can
and care to follow directions. A really good TW is a little bit anal.
Example - submit your cover and 2 page resume in RTF only along with a
single one page sample you are particularly proud of in Word or PDF format.
2. I always require one long or 2 short samples in advance of the phone
interview for experienced TWs. If inexperienced, I ask for any procedural
type sample, or any writing sample, even if they have to write it just for
Always have a phone interview and make it mostly just friendly chat. You
will be able to tell if they are the 'right' kind of person after 15 minutes
of conversation.
The resume must be absolutely perfect and very well written. You can excuse
missing punctuation on a Sys Admin, but not a TW.
If the resume or cover does not have a narrative summary, ask for one.
3. I don't depend too much on interview skills. That enthusiastic, chatty,
personable, friendly person should go to sales, not be a TW. Many of the
best TWs are reserved, nervous, even shy in front of an interview panel.
5. The best thing I've found is to try to scare them a little -- there is
lots of work, the big boss can be a real tyrant at times, and be sure to
tell them exactly what you are expecting of them and what you think their
skill levels are. If they are confident in their skills and abilities, it
will show thru any other inadequacies.
6. You don't know. You make your best guess and pay about 5k of the
company's money to find out if you guessed right.
1. The most important thing is the work. De-emphasize all that company and
personal junk and clearly communicate the standards and expectations.
2. Outsourcing -- isn't that what they call it when you work from home? :)
3. There is nothing wrong with MS Word in skilled hands for most
publications. By all means, put your stamp on the company templates, but be
sure to adhere to your chosen style guide(s). I design all our Word, PPT, &
Excel templates (30+) with help and input from other writers on staff. Be
sure you ask for their input even if you don't use it. Some of the really
great ideas didn't come from me.
4. Whatever you propose, remember that they care about only one thing --
costs. You are a cost center to be minimized, not a profit center.
5. Easiest, fastest, and cheapest solution: build your own intranet on the
file server. It doesn't have to be terribly complex, just a simple site with
some pages with descriptive links to files and file directories and the
ability to index and search the links is usually a huge step up for a small
organization. I've built this at 3 different places until they could afford
to move to an enterprise content management solution. We just moved into
SharePoint over the last year from a very simple 18 page intranet I threw
together on lunch hours when I first got there. When you have nothing at
all, just about any kind of organization will be welcomed.
mmm, I didn't intend to write this much, so feel free to use or discard any
or all. I wish you the best of success.

>>>>>>I would like to get some recommendations regarding:
1. The best way to write recruiting adds
2. Criteria for interviews. For example, I feel that a resume says a
lot about the Technical writer, both as far as format and contents
are concerned. If the formatting is not impressive, I always feel that it
says a lot about the Technical Writer. Am I being too harsh?
3. Interview skills
4. Test?
5. Recommendations - how do I know that I will be able to rely on that
person to get the job done?
6. Knowing that THIS is the right person

In addition, I would like some advice and recommendations on:
1. Management skills - now I will have to actually manage two
technical writers
2. Outsourcing
3. We are still using MS Word :-( and do have a template but I am not
very happy with it. My boss wants to redesign the first page of the
documents to look more professional.
4. I am pushing to move onto a more professional tool (Authoring tool
or Wiki for documentation. I am leaning towards Wiki). I need to make a
presentation to convince the management to make the move and to explain
are the pros and cons of each tool and why I think one is better than the
5. We don't have content or knowledge management and our company is
growing very fast. We are in different parts of the world and there is
often a lot of redundant work being done, which I think is very
and due to the fact that we are still using a file server instead of an
Any recommendation or useful pointers would be highly appreciated.
Thank you very much,


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