Resumes and SMEs

Subject: Resumes and SMEs
From: Melissa Hunter-Kilmer <mhunterk -at- BNA -dot- COM>
Date: Mon, 24 Feb 1997 09:18:20 EST

What with all the discussion of resumes and hiring recently,
I thought you might be interested in my dept's recent search
for two contract tech writers.

These two positions were on the same project and I screened
resumes for both. I got maybe 100 resumes from several
head-hunters. (I had to work through head-hunters -- I wasn't
allowed to post to this list :-(, though I asked.) Here's
what I looked for:

* _Show me you can write and check your own work._ Make sure
your resume and writing samples are perfect. I got several
resumes from candidates who looked really good but wrote
stuff like "two years experience" (should be "two years'
experience") and "In my current job, I layout pages" (should
be "In my current job, I lay out pages"). Misplaced commas,
missing commas, obviously awful formatting -- all got the
boot. Persnickety? Yes indeed. The job is for a writer and
DTPer. We don't have a resident editor. The successful
candidate shows knowledge of the mechanics of writing. I'll
overlook one or even two problems, but more than that and I'm
inclined to think that you either don't know your stuff or
you can't take the time to check it.

* _Show that you can ask questions._ We had to find a
candidate who knew our DTP app well and could start without
coaching. (I don't like to do this, because I think there a
re lots of stellar candidates out there who can learn any a
pp, but that is the way this position was.) At the intervi
ew, I gave each applicant a DTP exercise that would have
taken me five minutes. I told each candidate to ask any
question s they wanted, because we are a cooperative shop --
we don't care how you get your answer, as long as you get
it. I meant it -- in my book, asking questions is a sign of
strength, not of weakness. Very few candidates asked any
questions, and those who didn't ask really should have. Only
one candidate finished it in less than half an hour. She
asked several questions. She's working for us now.

* _Don't tell me everything._ I didn't need to see every job
the candidate had ever held. One guy's resume got eliminated
*because* it did this, and it was in about 8-point type and
badly photocopied to boot.

* _Tailor your resume to the job._ This makes things much
easier for me. Trouble is, headhunters rarely do it.

* _Show me you care about quality._ I got excited when
applicants showed concern about their audience. We write for
end users. They are our clients. Convince me that you care
about serving their needs and I will definitely put your
resume in my "Oh boy" pile.

* _Demonstrate some kind of outside-the-job commitment to
your career._ Membership in STC or some other writing
association showed this. I feel the same way about
membership in techwr-l, so I asked about it but always came
up empty. :-/ Tell me about recent courses you've taken.

* _Omit non-professional stuff like club memberships,
political activities, marital status, etc._ It just isn't
relevant and *might* turn the interviewer off. Now, I don't
mean that you should leave off relevant volunteer work. One
candidate had done some volunteer writing for her church,
which told me good things about her. Just leave off anything
that could be considered controversial unless you want to
work only for like-minded folks.

At the interview, we asked the usual questions about jobs
people had done, challenges they'd met, blah, blah. Here's
THE question that really told me about an applicant: "You've
got an SME who has information critical to the manual, and
you have to get this information. The SME blows you off,
doesn't have time for you, is always in meetings, etc. What
do you do?"

Here are some answers I loved:

* "I do whatever it takes. I do my homework first and
explain to the SME that I really need only five minutes and
then I'll leave him alone. I arrange to meet anywhere, any
time the SME wants." (You got it, kiddo. Make it easy for
the SME.)

* "Gee, I've never had that problem. I've always made sure
that the SMEs knew I was part of the team -- I eat with them,
joke with them, listen to their complaints, share Dilbert
strips with them. When I need to talk to an SME, I just go
over and do it. We're all on the same team, after all." (Be
still, my beating heart! This is a team player and is
probably fun to work with!)

* "I use all methods of communication possible. I'll send
e-mail and voice mail. I'll put post-its on the SME's
monitor. I'll even wait outside the bathroom. Gentle
persistence usually pays off. If that doesn't work, I write
the manual with the knowledge I have and send it out for
review, with a note saying that I'm not sure about X. X gets
corrected in the review cycle." (Sound and practical advice.
Just make sure that this person isn't abrasive.)

* "I use food to bribe SMEs." (We didn't hear this one, but I
was always hoping for it!)

Here are answers I hated:

* "I go to the SME's boss and my boss and explain that the
SME is not giving me the information I need." (Ugh. This
tells me you're a whiner and complainer. Maybe it's
necessary, but tell me first how you'd try harder to get
stuff from the SME.)

* "Gee, I don't know what I'd do in a situation like that.
That sounds really tough." (Don't you have any imagination?
Maybe you've never had this problem, but what would you do
if you did?)

Just out of curiosity, what do you guys do when you're
faced with a difficult SME situation?

Melissa Hunter-Kilmer
mhunterk -at- bna -dot- com (standard disclaimer)

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