Re: Advice needed for an upcoming interview

Subject: Re: Advice needed for an upcoming interview
From: "Monique Semp" <monique -dot- semp -at- earthlink -dot- net>
To: "Anonymous" <anonymous -at- techwhirl -dot- com>, "Techwr-l" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 23 Apr 2013 07:37:20 -0700

Here're some thoughts; sorry it's so long a post, but you raised so many excellent questions that showed how much you prepared (so do the same for your interview, and you'll be golden :-).

last 4 hours

Whenever I've had these long interviews, they've actually been a series of shorter interviews. Person A for :20, people B & C for :40, and so on. So think of it as several mini interviews and it becomes much easier. Each mini interview includes a time of introduction, some Q&A by both parties (see more below), and wrap-up and thanks. So in some ways this is easier than just a two-hour interview with one person.

technical skills are my weakest attribute (shamefully, I
don't know any programming languages).

Time to change that mindset to "I've got so much more than just the technical part of this job," and then proceed to tilt your answers to things like your research skills ("oh, for that domain, I generally consult the O'Reilly books, the <whatever website is helpful>, the following Linked In groups, etc." As well, play up your understanding of what the user needs to know, which even in the case of API and SDK docs is rarely the in-depth architectural details. And even if it comes down to "well, since you haven't programmed how will you deal with providing code samples", explain how working with QA and incorporating demo code are approaches that work well. Working with QA is essential, and saying that you'd want to talk to them about their test code, test bed setup, and the like will show your understanding of how things happen in the dev(eloper) world.

And as to the programming languages -- pick a language (ideally one in the same family as your potential job's API, but not essential) and run through a quick tutorial or two (there are tons online and in user groups). That will give you sufficient domain vocabulary to show not only that you can pick up the technical points, but will show that you prepped for you interview. And, it'll give you something to talk about: "oh, to learn <language-A>, I created a mini program that did <whatever it did>."

What kind of questions should I be prepared for
Yes, this is important, but I feel that it's equally important to ask plenty of questions of your own. This is less stressful than the feeling of being interrogated, and again shows that you really understand their world, which is all anyone really wants. Especially if you ask about their pain points (such as "what are the most common types of support questions or forum questions that your users are asking"), you'll again show a real knowledge of how to help them, which is what they're really hiring you for (not to replace their developers who program all day every day).

regular expressions? Any suggestions for reading up on those?

Again, I have an O'Reilly book, "Mastering Regular Expressions". And you have time to get and glance at it if you use the O'Reilly Online service. As well, I use a tool called RegEx Buddy ( to help me if I have to actually build a regex. But regardless, they have a lot of documentation on their website that should give you confidence.

fundamental questions.
That's what we all have to start with! And especially since you're still getting into the field, nobody expects you to be the giant expert on everything! Basically, if you show an enthusiasm and aptitude for learning the technical, that will get you far! Every recruiter I talk to (whether direct at the hiring company, somebody unknown to me via LinkedIn, or agencies/job shops) says over and over how hard it is to find "technical" tech writers. So it sounds to me like you'd be somebody's ideal -- a tech writer with solid writing skills who already has some technical experience and has taken the initiative to learn!

Good luck!
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