At a few points in my career, I’ve had to turn down job opportunities. More often than not, external factors like location, salary, or timing were behind the decision. This had hiring managers asking me a difficult question: “How do we find someone else like you?” Finding the right technical writing candidate can be hard. Because the profession ranges from the mostly administrative to the highly technical, finding a candidate that fits the position is challenging. Even then, perfect on paper doesn’t mean they’ll fit the atmosphere or the team the way you’d hope. So the question stands. How do find the technical writer who’s right for you?
Create the right job positing
It seems simple, but you’d be surprised how many companies overlook their online job postings. I’ve seen posts as bare as “technical writer who writes about technical things”. That isn’t grabbing anyone’s attention. You want to make sure whoever is reading is engaged and walks away with a clear understanding of what the position is and what you expect. Not many people will apply to a job when they’re not sure what it is. So here are the components of a great job positing:
- Position Overview: In a few brief sentences, cover what the position is, who they’ll be working with, and where they’ll be working. Make sure that from the get-go, people will not be caught off-guard with the work location or the type of work involved. Bonus: If you’re looking for someone outgoing, trying putting a little personality in here. Try talking in first person or starting with an attention-grabbing anecdote.
- Responsibilities: Cover what you want your technical writer to do. Be specific. Any technical writer worth their stuff will recognize a generic job description from a mile away. Take some time to figure out what you expect from your technical writer and what they should expect from you.
- Qualifications: This is probably the toughest of the sections. Be purposeful with what you put here. Why do you want 3-5 years of experience? Do you need them to know a specific software immediately, or is it something they can learn on the job if everything else fits? Be open minded to the possibilities. Remember that many people will scan your qualifications and simply leave the page if it doesn’t match up to their resume. If you’re feeling unsure, try putting “Desired Qualifications” to describe your dream applicant.
- Company: This this is listed fourth for a reason. Talk about your company last. I don’t care if you’re Google or Ma and Pop’s Tech Writing Shop. Nine times out of ten, the position matters more than the company. Take some time at the end to write a bit about your company and benefits package, but remember that this posting is about attracting a candidate for a position and not bragging about what an awesome company you are.
Ask the right questions
So your positing attracted a few people and you’re ready to do some phone screenings and interviews. Do you have any idea what questions will help you most? Here are a few suggestions that specifically target technical writers:
- Why did you become a technical writer? This question immediately tells you most of what you’ll need to know about the candidate. You’re looking for someone who enjoys what they do and wants to pursue it for a while. Gage their enthusiasm and personality from this question as well. If they’re not happy or enthusiastic about their career, don’t expect much more from them on the job.
- What is your favorite thing you’ve learned on the job? Technical writers are learners. In our jobs we are exposed to subjects beyond our expertise, but we have to learn them to write about them. This will give you an idea if the candidate is a learner and if they lean more to the technical or writing side of things. Listen and read between the lines.
- What is the most difficult project you worked on and how did you handle it? Every writer has one project that just threw them for a loop. Compare that project to the work load you expect them to handle. See how they managed the situation and judge whether it was done well or poorly. This is your chance to look at their autonomy and general business sense (both of which are good qualities in a technical writer).
- Can you provide a writing sample or take a writing test? Sometimes the proof is in the pudding. While this may deter some candidates, samples and writing tests are the most direct way to judge an applicant. It will also help you envision their work in your setting. Bottom line? You’re hiring a writer, so maybe looking at their writing wouldn’t be a terrible idea.
Above all else, don’t settle. Too many companies become so discouraged during the process, they compromise and hire a candidate they’re not in love with. Remember that technical writers will most likely interact with a large number of team members, so personality and experience are equally powerful factors. Ultimately, a person who doesn’t mesh in both areas will either fail at the position or move on. Keep an open mind when screening candidates, but trust your gut during the hiring process. Otherwise, you may end up with someone underqualified or unable to perform the work as you expect. Next thing you know, you’re interviewing for the position all over again.
About the Author
Greta Boller is a technical writer located in the Washington, D.C. area. For more information, please visit her bio page.