Interview questions (was: Re: Lying applicant)

Subject: Interview questions (was: Re: Lying applicant)
From: Bob Johnson <bob -dot- johnson -at- CELERITYSOLUTIONS -dot- COM>
Date: Mon, 21 Sep 1998 14:18:07 -0400

Jane Bergen [janeber -at- CYBERRAMP -dot- NET] asked, among other things:

>But what ARE some good questions to ask during a Technical
>Communicator interview?

I faced the same questions when I interviewed a candidate for a job not
too long ago, when my company decided to expand our documentation
efforts. Fortunately, I had belonged to a networking group while I was
looking for work myself, and I turned to the facilitator of the group
for some advice.

One thing he told me (though I already knew it from being in the group),
is that biggest trend in interviewing is "behavior-based interviewing."
The idea is to get away from vague, open questions such as "What do you
see yourself doing in 5 years?" and "How much experience to you have
with Frame?", to questions of substance. Usually, these are questions
designed to elicit descriptions of past (and sometimes future) behavior.
Some examples might be "Tell me about a situation in which you had to do
X" or "Tell me about how you responded when you faced Y situation."
These kinds of questions can be both technical and non-technical.
Technically, they might deal with learning, using, or evaluating tools.
In non-technical terms, they can be about situations or procedures or
designs: "Tell me about a time when you had to complete a project, but
were not getting cooperation from a SME." In no case are the questions
end points, but points of departure for deeper exploration of the
candidate's abilities and skills.

Other behavior-based questions examine fit with corporate culture, such
as "Describe the best and worst boss you ever had. What did you like
most and least about your last job? What two ways of communicating with
supervisors (or peers) have you found most effective?"

Another track is to present hypotheticals: "How would you respond in
such and such a situation." These are obviously weaker than evaluations
of past behavior, but still useful.

I know of at least one major producer of consumer electronics that uses
these techniques; a number of members of the group volunteered to be
interviewed so trainee interviewers could practice.

Anyone who is being interviewed should be prepared for these types of
questions. Even if you're not asked these kinds of questions, preparing
for them helps you organize your thoughts to give concrete answers to
more general questions. And they can help you take more control of the
interview, which should be a two-part exchange, anyway.

BTW, Jim Chevallier recalled having an applicant who claimed to be an
expert in Word, but begged off answering any questions. I've been using
Word for nearly 10 years in its various forms, and know it pretty
thoroughly, even tested as an expert user when I was temping. But I had
a lot to learn when I changed environments (from academia to business),
since the change in environment required me to use different
capabilities of the application. And I still learn something new, if
not daily, at least a few times a week. Just because someone's an
expert does not mean they know everything about the tool.

Bob Johnson
Documentation Specialist
Celerity Solutions
Dedham, MA

My ravings represent the opinions of no deranged imagination save my
own. RLJII

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