Re: What Might a Writing Test Be?

Subject: Re: What Might a Writing Test Be?
From: Linda Castellani <linda -at- GRIC -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 27 Mar 1998 13:24:28 -0600

Once upon a time, when I was a tech pubs manager, I used to give a writing

It was very simple, and went as follows: I sat the candidate down in front
of a computer running our software. I showed the applicant how to get from
the operating system to the main menu, from there to the first menu
selection, and back out to the operating system. They got to see it and
sit with it as long as they needed to take notes and then they went away to
write about it.

All I really wanted to see was how someone would approach the task, what
they would choose to include, and how they would communicate about it both
in terms of the words they used and the way they laid it out.

It turned out to be not just a very good indicator of how they wrote, but
also what kind of personal habits they brought to the job. Some did a
sloppy job in pencil, some did a bang-up job with a computer. Some missed
the boat entirely. The most telling thing turned out to be how quickly
they got it back to me.

The results were so obvious that it just wasn't necessary to try and devise
a weighted scoring system for it.

Anyway, I hired three writers. One turned out to be excellent. One, a
junior writer, couldn't keep his mind off his girlfriend, and more than
once I got phone calls telling me that he was in the parking lot behind the
dumpster making out with her. More than once I discovered that he was
writing _Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas_ from memory on his computer.

The third, well, he was quite a story. He had been a journalist, and
wanted to make the transition to tech writing. His writing samples were
first class, his interviews impressed everybody. His writing test was
outstanding, and he returned it to me on the same day in spite of the fact
that he lived a considerable distance away. He wanted this job in the
worst way, and his salary requirements were very low. His references were
impeccable. How could I not hire him?

So I did. About his second or third day on the job, there was a meeting
with the developer of one of the products, an inventory control system. It
was pretty typical, long, involved, detailed. About 90 minutes into the
meeting, he left, to use the bathroom (I assumed.) When he didn't return,
I went looking for him, and found a note on my desk. "I didn't know it was
going to be like *this*! I can't take it." And I never saw him again.

I can't say that it's the fault of the writing test. All the applicants
could write. It was the rest of job that was their downfall. And I don't
know how you test for that.

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