Re: On-the-spot writing test during a job interview?

Subject: Re: On-the-spot writing test during a job interview?
From: "Dick Margulis" <margulis -at- mail -dot- fiam -dot- net>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com, kcronin -at- daleen -dot- com
Date: Fri, 12 Nov 99 16:44:03 -0500

Keith,

I was once given a writing test, and in another situation I administered one. I'll tell you about both experiences.

In the first case, an experienced manager of large-scale writing projects was staffing up. A recruiter gave her my resume, and I got past the phone screen. But I was a couple thousand dollars worth of air miles away; and before she brought me down for an interview, she wanted to see what I could do. So I was asked to go to a recruiter's office that was local to me (they were doing a favor for the recruiter who found me), and take the test. The manager had also required local candidates to take the same test, by the way.

The test consisted of a field report from a service technician that was to be edited and turned into something that would be informative in a lessons-learned kind of way.

I spent about five minutes copyediting and then wrote an oh-forget-it note in the margin, drew a large X through each of the pages, and proceeded to rewrite the entire report, longhand, on a furnished legal pad.

Apparently, everyone else who took the test labored through the copyediting chore, completely missing the point that the whole thing had to be resequenced into some sort of coherent order.

I got the job.

IN THE SECOND case, I was one of the interviewers for a new hire. I wanted us to bring in someone who, in addition to technical writing, could also assist with production editing of a variety of written material in the company.

With the author's permission, I borrowed the funniest single piece of writing I have ever seen in Techwr-L, a piece by Tom Campbell titled "Campbell School of Tech Writting announces a new course: STOP WRITING CORRECT AND START WRITING GOOD!" It is chock full of intentional and hilarious errors of all kinds.

I presented this piece to all of the interviewees, gave each of them ten minutes with it, along with the instruction that I was unconcerned with how far they got; I was only interested in how thorough they were.

Mine was only one input in the hiring decision. However, the person who did the best job on the test is the one who was hired. Beyond that, I found that the test was a good way of bringing attitude issues to the surface in a brief interview. Reactions ranged from "I should bill you for my time; I have years of experience and this is beneath my dignity; I'm a professional, y'know" to "I'm a writer, not an editor; this isn't the kind of thing I want to spend my time doing" to [the successful] "I'd be glad to.... Oh, this is really funny!"

My two cents.

Dick

---------- Original Message ----------------------------------
From: Keith Cronin <kcronin -at- daleen -dot- com>
Reply-To: Keith Cronin <kcronin -at- daleen -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 12 Nov 1999 09:10:40 -0500



What do you think of giving the applicant a writing test during the job
interview?






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