Re: Criteria for entry-level writers

Subject: Re: Criteria for entry-level writers
From: "Gibson, Stephanie" <SGibson -at- QWIZ -dot- COM>
Date: Mon, 27 Oct 1997 09:59:20 -0500

If you require a portfolio of previous work, do a little digging and
question the candidate about the content within the samples. I started
doing this after I interviewed a writer, was very impressed by her
samples, then found out she had only been a contributing writer (small
percentage) on a couple of her samples. They had been written, for the
most part, by a senior writer at her last company and this person simply
retrieved all the available samples she could get her hands on for her
portfolio. While checking her references, this information came out.
It seems that the senior writer was promoted to manager and didn't like
the fact that this person gathered up material on her way out the door.

If you flip through the material and ask questions like: "How long did
it take for you to compile your data on ###?" or "I see you've written
about @@@. What areas did you find difficult to research?" After this
type of questioning, I've had a couple of candidates confess during an
interview that the material wasn't actually theirs. This was after they
told me they had written the material, then later tried to say the same
materials were samples their previous company had created.

At my old company, I actually had a manager ask me for samples of
manuals I had written to add to her portfolio as she was preparing for
an interview elsewhere.


> ----------
> From: Jean Weber[SMTP:jean_weber -at- COMPUSERVE -dot- COM]
> Reply To: Jean Weber
> Sent: Sunday, October 26, 1997 2:41 AM
> To: TECHWR-L -at- LISTSERV -dot- OKSTATE -dot- EDU
> Subject: Re: Criteria for entry-level writers
> To me, "entry level" means someone with some relevant knowledge and
> skill=
> s,
> but not necessarily any directly relevant experience. =
> "Relevant" knowledge and skills for a technical writer will, of
> course,
> vary with the requirements of the job (some might need technical
> knowledg=
> e;
> others might not). I'd put writing ability first, and I'd expect a
> candidate to have done enough research to have some idea of the style
> that's common in the industry -- which may not, of course, be the
> style m=
> y
> company is using. If you're applying for a job in the software
> industry,
> all you have to do is pick up the manual for any Microsoft product --
> or
> even a third-party book for, say, Word, in a bookstore.
> I'd look for someone who is sufficiently interested to have some
> knowledg=
> e
> of the buzzwords in the industry. Anyone can find this out from common
> computer-related magazines. For example, I wouldn't expect someone to
> kno=
> w
> how to code in HTML, but I would expect them to know what it is and
> what
> it's for, at least in very general terms.
> For practical reasons I'd want someone who was familiar with at least
> one=
> common word-processing program (not necessarily the one my company
> uses);=
> depending on the work, some familiarity with any dtp program and any
> graphics program would also be on the list. I'd want someone to be
> comfortable enough around a computer that they wouldn't have to ask
> extremely basic questions. ("Where's 'x' hidden on this system?" is
> quite=
> legitimate, I think, at any level.) =
> I think anyone seriously looking for a technical writing position
> needs t=
> o
> put together a portfolio of work, not necessarily produced on a job,
> and =
> be
> prepared to discuss it at an interview. I recommend to editing
> students
> that they select a few pieces of someone else's published writing (in
> a
> government brochure, for example) that they think could be done
> better, a=
> nd
> rewrite it, then put the "before" and "after" versions in their
> portfolio=
> =2E
> A writing candidate could do the same. I used to show stuff I'd done
> that=
> I
> was *not* happy with (because I had to follow someone else's
> instructions=
> ,
> which I didn't agree with) and point out what I would have done
> different=
> ly
> if it had been my decision.
> As Marv Cochrane put it, I also look for "someone who seemed genuinely
> interested in the tasks we had, who seemed eager and able to learn,
> and w=
> ho
> would be a good personality fit within our documentation and software
> development teams." =
> <soapbox>
> Age, by the way, is no barrier for finding good entry-level
> candidates.
> I've known middle-aged workforce-reentry people with no degree but
> lots o=
> f
> life experience (often including part-time office work of various
> sorts)
> who could write rings around folks with far more "education" and
> "experience" -- and who may have even gone to school when schools were
> still teaching grammar. If you want someone to write for an audience
> of
> bookkeepers or typists, someone with that background may be exactly
> what
> you need. (Such folks are often, by the way, also real good at the
> tediou=
> s
> maintenance tasks that drive less-patient -- and usually younger --
> peopl=
> e
> up the wall.)
> </soapbox>
> Jean Hollis Weber
> Sydney, Australia
> mailto:jean_weber -at- compuserve -dot- com
> ~~
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> Archives:,
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