RE: The writer who didn't work out

Subject: RE: The writer who didn't work out
From: "Brad" <kiwi -at- best -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>, "Henry Vandelinde" <vandelinde -at- wordtek -dot- com>
Date: Sun, 5 Dec 1999 10:53:08 -0800

> In our phone conversations, however, it came up that they had a
> writer 'who
> didn't work out.'

> Any thoughts on how direct I should be when I ask them and how far to push
> the issue? If anyone has any experience in this situation, from
> either side
> of the table, I would like to hear it.

First of all, consider yourself to be the *interviewer*. Interviews should
be a two-way means of communication. It's *your* duty to interview the
various levels management and staff to see if you want to work at that
company. If the prospective company's employees are not forthcoming with the
information you need for you to make an intelligent decision whether or not
you would want to work there, then that's a Big Red Warning Flag!

Consider asking them questions that invite them to offer both sides of the
previous writer's situation:

"I heard that the previous writer 'did not work out'. What were the problems
that writer faced? How did the writer's source material, availability of
subject matter experts, planning, coordination, and scheduling come into
play--if at all--in the departure of that writer? What solutions would
remedy the problems that the writer faced? Was the writer offered any
solutions? If they get too detailed with personal information about that
former employee, this will also give you a clue on their professionalism and
well they respect that former employee's privacy...and quite possibly
everyone else's privacy too!

Yes, the interview is a test for *both* sides!

Ask the prospective employer general questions to gauge how respected
writers are in that company. [Don't they all say nice things?] Then, follow
up with specific questions to see if their answers to the specific questions
reinforce their general answers.

How large is their writing staff? Ask them about writer turn-over. Ask them
about time and resources. Ask the employer about the importance of on-going
education and training. Often questions like these will shed some light on
how (or if) writers are respected at that company.

The interview is *your* research mechanism. It's not merely a decision of
the employer whether or not to make an offer to you, but it is also an
important means for you to determine whether or not you really want to work
with these people.

As an interviewer, I am very unimpressed with prospects who come to an
interview with a totally passive, "answer-only" mode of thinking. If we (the
employer) were to have made that "answer-only" prospect an offer, how could
that prospect possibly make an intelligent decision whether or not to
accept? How could an "answer-only" prospect be interested in the company,
its people, and the position without engaging in simple but intelligent
two-way communications?

Another note: Ask the employer to explain *their* qualifications for the
writing position. Are they using a generic "boiler plate" job description?
(I'm *not* going to get into the debate about specific degrees and majors,
but in the field of technical communications, skilled technical
communicators come from an incredibly vast array of educational and
vocational backgrounds. It *doesn't* take a specific degree in "X" or "Y" to
qualify a technical writer.) The job description will indicate how lazy and
shallow-minded the company is. The last thing we need is for our
qualifications to be pigeon-holed or stereotyped.


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