Subject: Certification
From: John Bell <jbell -at- TELE-TV -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 29 Dec 1995 10:15:58 EST

Tom Kiersted wrote:

> But why do we need a set of certification standards? Without a
> standardized test, won't the marketplace sort it out?

The problem is the marketplace isn't sorting it out. Writers I have failed
out of my company can get another job without needing to improve their
skills. There is no strong incentive for them to improve, so they don't

A writer who is released due to poor work performance can find other jobs
because of the following factors:
- Their resume lists yet another paid experience in a high-tech company
- They have a strong writing sample (due to the work of their editor!)
- There is a strong demand for tech writers (at least in the D.C. area)
- Many high-tech employers do *NOT* know how to judge a writer's
- Reference checks are hampered by legal concerns

This ties into what Guy McDonald was saying in his "Damn Lawyers" post.
My previous employer limited what I could say about former employees and
contractors during reference checks. All I could tell a prospective
employer was: Dates of employment and job title. If they wanted to contact
our HR group and had a SIGNED release, we could verify (but not volunteer)
the former employee's salary. These restrictions applied not only to
managers, but to all employees.

This policy protects the bad workers. If they get fired, so what? My
company won't tell the prospective employer that.

I got a call from a company that was looking to hire a writer that I had
to fire because of poor writing skills. The hiring manager was
convinced he had a good candidate, and it took a great deal of self-control
to answer according to my company's guidelines. I felt like I deceived
the hiring manager by withholding information. I heard from a Friend of A
Friend that the writer was in trouble at the new job. Of course it took
five or more months before this happened. That poor employer just wasted
five months' salary finding out what I had already known.

If more companies take on policies like my last employer, then hiring
managers have very few ways of evaluating the suitability of candidates.
How would you judge a writer's competency when you can't get good information
from the references, the writing sample may have been written and/or edited
by someone else, and the resume was prepared by an agency? (Ducking the
flames from the resume writing thread :-) )

The main reason I favor certification is that it can serve as an independent
way of identifying candidates that have at least a certain level of skill.
Surely I can derive my own test, but I am not skilling at creative good
objective tests (not that I've tried, I just think I'd do better at

--- John

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