Summary: Qs for entry-level tech writers

Subject: Summary: Qs for entry-level tech writers
From: Emily Skarzenski <71220 -dot- 341 -at- COMPUSERVE -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 3 May 1995 11:23:39 EDT

A few weeks ago, I asked for some help on compiling a list of questions to ask
job candidates for an entry-level tech writing position. Nine people (both
interviewers and interviewees) sent me responses. (Thanks again to all of you
:-). Although I ve summarized, this is still a long post--beware!

Emily Skarzenski
Head Technical Writer
Fastech, Inc. - Broomall, PA
71220 -dot- 341 -at- compuserve -dot- com

Regarding tests:
Five people specifically mentioned that entry-level candidates should take a
brief writing test. This opinion was shared by both interviewers and
interviewees. (The other four responses didn't mention tests at all, either for
or against.) Some people suggested types of tests to give:

- Describe how to use a particular feature in the company s software product.

- Develop a flow chart of an action or process and ask the candidate to write a
brief one paragraph statement describing it.

- Show a picture and ask the candidate to write a brief one paragraph statement
describing it.

- Give them a paragraph or two with common grammatical mistakes (no spelling
errors) and have them mark corrections.

- Give them a few paragraphs and have them highlight the words that should be
included in a glossary or index.

Regarding portfolios:
Five people feel that any candidate who s truly interested will have assembled a
portfolio even if they ve never worked officially as a writer. This portfolio
can include spec work, work done for internships, class projects, and so on.

Regarding software tools:
One person cautioned strongly not to be software-specific. That is, if a
candidate knows a particular word-processing package but it isn t the one your
company happens to use, that s okay.

Regarding skills:
One person s company evaluates candidates in the following skills. Skills are
weighted by the factor shown in parentheses after the skill:

- Writing skills (3)
- Interpersonal skills (2)
- Electronics (2)
- Working with standards (3)
- Project management (1)
- Multitasking (2)
- Computer skills (3)
- Design skills (1)
- Teamwork (2)

Several people contributed specific questions.

- What type of degree does the candidate have? English, Arts or similar is a
step in the right direction (unless the writing is so technical that another
kinds of degree is mandated).

- How does their resume and cover letter look? Are they clear, easy to read and
pleasing to look at? You can get resumes and cover letters prepared
professionally, so ask if they did just that.

- How is the candidate s personal appearance? Not dress code (suite, tie,
dress); look for neatness, grooming, etc. If they are personally sloppy, chances
are it will show up in their work.

- Think of a project where you (the candidate) were given an unfamiliar object
to write about.
a. How did you gather information and organize it?
b. How did you validate or test your work?
c. How successful was the outcome? How do you know?

- Describe a writing assignment that didn't come out well. What did you learn
from the experience?

- Describe a project that you have worked on that has required graphics.
a. How did you determine what graphics were needed?
b. What type of graphics were used?
c. How were they produced?
d. How were they merged with the text?

- Our company works with predetermined formats, templates, standards and
guidelines. Describe a project where you worked with similar requirements.
a. Describe a situation where these requirements were in
conflict with what you were trying to accomplish.
b. How did you resolve it?

- How would you approach the following scenario: your review copy has come back
from engineering with conflicting comments on technical issues.

- Describe an instance where you received positive (constructive) criticism of
your work. How did you respond? Describe an instance where you received
negative (nonconstructive) criticism.

- Do you have examples of situations that forced you to make judgements with
regard to prioritizing issues and assignments? What factors do you take into
consideration when making these judgements?

- Recall a situation where you were a member of a team. Describe a problem you
ran into and how you resolved the problem.

- What interested you about the posting? Why do you think you might want to
work for our organization?

- What type of personal characteristics do you feel are necessary for success in
the writing field?

- What type of hardware/software have you used? Do you use any particular style
manual for editing?

- Describe how you work with pressure and deadlines.

- In what kind of work environment are you most comfortable?

- Tell me about your career goals. How are you preparing to achieve them?

- Tell me about your role in producing each of your writing samples.


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