Agency and interviewing questions (long)

Subject: Agency and interviewing questions (long)
From: Alisa Dean <Alisa -dot- Dean -at- MCI -dot- COM>
Date: Mon, 9 Dec 1996 16:38:00 -0700

Linda Castellani writes:
> I'd like to hear how people choose what samples to send. And
>how you present them to the client.

> What do you, Melissa (or any of you), look for when someone
>submits samples, that lets you know whether or not they are worth
>interviewing? What impresses you? What guarantees a call from you?

Having been on both sides of the hiring desk, here my "few" thoughts
on the matter:


o I ask for writing samples because it gives me the "flavor" and style
of a writer. I was interviewing for a contract TW position of writing
a user manual for a commercial electronic product. The basic audience
level was anyone who has a TV. I kept asking for someone who can write
in a non-technical, layperson style - someone who can explain complex
concepts in a simple manner. Several people interviewed well on the
phone, agreeing with my concepts. However, when I reviewed their most
"user friendly" document (having asked for it in advance), it was still
several levels too high for my audience. I wouldn't have known this
without seeing samples.

o I usually trust the person's claims regarding technical expertise
with tools. However, there have been times when I was discussing some
of the techniques that we have used, and the person looked very confused
about some of the basics. This is a warning sign. If I'm not sure,
I may ask for specific details about how they created parts of the
samples they provided.

o In the samples, I look for a professional format and style. I browse
for typos, inconsistent formatting, arrangement and organization of
data, look and feel. Is there an index? TOC? Changing headers? Is the
phrasing in the same style that I want? Are there obvious errors in the
information (usually, I don't have time for this one)? I ask
the candidate about how the document was created, why this format was
selected, how much control and how content did they have, what tools they
used, did they work with others or did they
do a solo job, did they have to coordinate with other departments
(such as marketing), what type of and how many edit cycles was done,
and whatever else seems pertinent for the job I'm filling.

o If I feel that the corporate culture may be a factor, I discuss
briefly some of the ins and outs of the company, the overall "personality"
of people, and check to make sure that the candidate will fit. For
example, if I want someone who can communicate with some very casual,
but busy engineers, I probably don't want someone who projects an arrogant,
superior attitude (this was one reason why I turned down a particular
candidate). I also am concerned whether the personality of the candidate
will fit with mine.

To blow your chances with me, do any of the following:

Interrupt a lot with inconsequential information.
Never answer my questions (that is, don't ramble on and on, eventually
fading to silence, and still not answer). This demonstrates poor
communication skills (duh), and I will notice.
Be overbearing, pompous, condescending, gender-biased, age-biased,
ethnic-biased, or any other type of person that I would avoid normally.
Not understand your own samples.
Present a good sample, claim it as your own, but under questioning,
admit that you actually did about five pages in an Appendix. (This
ties back the "Lie" part.)
Not be able to discuss the concepts of good communication, design,
and audience-aimed documentation.

During my history of hiring, I have encountered all of these in various
combinations, and each time, removed the candidate from the potential
list to the "thanks, but no thanks" list.


o When I interview for a position myself, I bring 3-4 samples of varying
types, including a very graphical user manual and my monster 500 page
reference manual. I briefly discuss the design, use, and concepts
of each manual. I feel this provides a cross-section of my talents.
If I knew in advance what type of position it will be (such as highly technical,
marketing, or training), I bring the samples that are closest. I've
brought *.hlp files on floppy that the client could invoke and view.

o Regarding the proprietary property - most times, I have been given
permission to display samples, as long as I did not leave them and
as long as I did not display them to direct competitors of my clients.
I *always* ask first. If the client is unhappy about not having more
time to review the sample, ask if you can provide copies of a few "safe"
pages. Or, make up your own samples, using the same format but with
your own content. Make up your own product and document it. As long
as there is nothing copyrighted or proprietary that you don't own yourself
within the sample, there is nothing wrong with this.

o I have lost several pieces of my portfolio by leaving them for review.
In one case, one Windows manual that I had created was given to *another*
TW that had been interviewing for the same position. He apparently
claimed it as his own. I was very upset about this, especially since
my interviewer could not remember which person he gave it to. My strong
recommendation is to *never* leave anything behind unless it is clearly
labeled with your name, address, and phone number. Even then, you
take the risk that while it was being handed around, it ended up in
some unidentified some file cabinet, desk, or circular file (or in
the hands of a competitive, dishonorable TW).

o During the interview, I mention that I have some samples of my work,
if they want to review it. They always do. When it seems appropriate,
I bring up each sample in turn, briefly discussing what it was for,
how I created, why I did this way, and some of the obstacles that I
overcame during it. I allow them to handle the samples, but if they
ask to keep them, I usually say no and explain that I have lost samples
before. They are usually ok with it. (Note: I do plan to create a 5 page
baby manual that I would feel comfortable leaving, maybe a self-selling
brochure. Hey, how about an HTML or *.HLP file that I could give a
copy on floppy to the client?)

I've never been asked to send samples in advance, but if I were, I'm
not sure I would feel comfortable with a few pages. It is taking my work
completely out of context. Also, which pages? I have about 1000 in
various documents. How can I know what the client will want? They
may have a specific document in mind for now, but if they knew what
I was capable of, it may expand their desire for me (or lessen it,
as appropriate).

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