Re: Agency and interviewing questions

Subject: Re: Agency and interviewing questions
From: "Shrock, Kelley" <KSHROCK -at- COSSYMWEST -dot- CO -dot- SYMBIOS -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 20 Dec 1996 14:52:00 MST

I've gotten behind on reading mail, but I'd like to weigh in on this idea.
We use this technique as part of our interview process for senior writers,
but with a "real" SME as the interviewer. FWIW, we have received positive
feedback on this part of the interview from the people we've hired. And we
use the same engineer each time, a technically sharp guy who also happens to
have excellent people skills. We don't ask the candidate to do any actual
writing because of the time limitation, but by talking through some
technical issues with an engineer, we are able to assess the candidate's
ability to work under pressure, to gather information, and to handle (and
learn) unfamiliar material. In our last interview process, this phase of
the interview surfaced some issues that caused us to reject a candidate who
looked great on paper (including writing samples) and did a good job
discussing the "theory" of technical communications and handling specific
Kelley Shrock
Symbios Logic, Colorado Springs
kelley -dot- shrock -at- symbios -dot- com
Subject: Re: Agency and interviewing questions
Date: Monday, December 09, 1996 2:45PM

Have any of you ever been given a test when interviewed? I have used this
technique in the past and have been pleased with the results. Simply set up
a fictional task requiring a fairly simple procedure to written for it.
Pick a task that will take an hour or less to document. You, as the
interviewer, doubles as the SME. This precess reveals a lot about the
candidate, such as:

1) Does s/he ask about a style guide?
2) Does s/he ask intelligent questions about the task?
3) Does s/he work well under pressure?
4) Did s/he document the procedure thoroughly?

The test should not be the only criteria for evaluating the candidate, but
you will find it to be a very effective way to weed out imposters.

Beware: Senior Tech. Writers may be 'offended' by this tact. The good ones,
however, will simply use it as a way to show off their talents.

Roger M.

>Here are some answers to the questions Melissa Hunter-Kilmer posted on

>>Are writing samples usually brought only to the interview?

>Yes, usually.

>>If so, how the heck can you tell in advance if the person is worth

>The resume itself can tell you that. Not only would you look at a
>applicant's experience and education, but also how the candidate
>prepared the resume. Is it well written, edited, and formatted? Is it
>professional looking? Did the applicant organize the information well?
>The applicant's resume can tell you a lot about his or her writing and
>formatting proficiency.

>>Does anybody have some hot tips on how to tell if an applicant has such
>high-level skills?

>When you interview the applicant, ask questions about how he or she
>performs certain tasks with PageMaker. Here's where the samples can be
>helpful: You can point out interesting formats and ask how the candidate
>did them. Also ask how the candidate learned those particular skills. It
>will reveal a lot about the candidate's abilities and willingness to

>One more thing about writing samples: I don't depend on them a lot for
>making hiring decisions. For starters, you don't know how much of a
>manual is the applicant's own work. I've come across job applicants who
>claim that a manual they did was theirs, even though it might have been
>heavily based on boilerplate, and the applicant did just a few changes
>(and heavily edited ones at that). I'll look for the basics in a writing
>sample: professional appearance, a clear and active writing style, good
>organization, and easy-to-follow procedures. I put more emphasis on the
>interview and ask for specifics about how the candidate perfomed certain
>writing tasks.

>Hope this helps.

>Matthew Stern
>Sr. Technical Writer
>Platinum Software Corporation

>e-mail: mastern -at- platsoft -dot- com
>Personal web site:

>Opinions expressed here are solely my own.

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