The Tough Job Of Evaluating Technical Writers As Part Of Job Screening

Almost all companies that hire technical writers conduct some kind of test before considering to hire the writer. The test could involve creating a technical writing sample. Here are some of my thoughts on why it is important to do proper evaluation before hiring a technical writer for a position.

The Cost of Not Testing Before Hiring

The cost of not testing a technical writers skills before hiring can be multivariate. Weeks wasted in training the writer to write properly and months wasted in teaching the writer to pick up important skills that are needed for a write to do a good job. And not to mention the lost productivity and the lost time of the manager.

Most Important Skills

The primary job of a technical writer is as you might have guessed writing. This may not be something the writer does 100% percent of her time, but this is what she gets noticed for.

  1. The ability to understand a concept
  2. The capacity to listen carefully to another person
  3. And to communicate what was said and understood using the written word

These three skills are of paramount importance. Knowledge of tools, educational background, previous experience all become secondary compared to the skills listed above. Tools can be learnt and educational background does not matter to great extent. Previous experience with writing can be asset but any experience with clear writing is good to start with.

So, if there are easy to conduct tests that can help evaluate a person on the skills listed above, then it becomes very easy to screen good candidates from the not-so-great ones.

Ideas for Tests

To screen a candidate for the ability to understand a concept, one of the ways could be to show the candidate a video with technical content (preferably related to the position being hired for), and asking the candidate to explain the concept in his own words. Another method could be to keep a set of topics handy and ask the candidate to explain how it words. It is better if the set of topics are something the candidate has knowledge about even if little.

To test the ability to listen carefully, you could ask the candidate to ask the interviewer 5 questions and explain what she understood based on the answers given. Or have a someone volunteer to be interviewed, a set topics for interview predefined and some time for the candidate to prepare her questions. And some time for her to refer to her interview notes and prepare a summary of the interview.

And finally to test the ability to communicate the concept she just learnt, asking the candidate to talk about the concept for 2 minutes. And write about the concept in 250 words.

These three tests can be a good way to screen candidates before they are called in for more in depth interview.

About Writing Samples

Tom Johnson who runs the popular technical writing blog Iā€™d Rather Be Writing, says that one of the very good ways to make sure you spend time with only high potential candidates is to ask for writing samples from the candidate even before an interview. This writing sample can be a free form one where the candidate chooses the topic to write about or the candidate is given a topic which helps demonstrate his writing skills.

Some Example Sample Writing Assignments

  1. Write a brief document describing how to use a mobile phone to book a taxi or a cab. Use screen shots and diagrams where appropriate
  2. Create a user manual for dismantling and assembling the seat post of a bicycle. Use pictures where appropriate. Write the manual for kids aged 10 years and above.
  3. Create simple web page, that contains a tutorial for installing Skype on a laptop PC.
  4. Create a document that lists 10 features of a tablet device and how they are useful to a school teacher.
  5. Conduct an interview of a expert in the field of your choice and write up the interview as an article for a website.

End Notes

It is always better to invest the time in conducting a good writer evaluation before hiring, rather than getting burnt with candidates who may not be suited for the job you are hiring for.

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Written on April 2, 2015