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My recruitment adventures: practices for hiring technical writers 1/3



This series of blog posts present real-life examples of hiring technical writers in Poland. I share 6 recruitment tasks that I had to solve for companies that recruited me for a tech writer position. In the last blog post of this series, I’ll put myself as a recruiter in the picture.


We’ve all been interviewed before and I would assume attending interviews is stressful for most of us. But that’s just life’s rich tapestry. In this series of blog posts, I will concentrate on my recruitment interviews as an interviewee and interviewer for a technical writer position. The aim of this blog post is to shine some light on the recruiting practices for technical writers.

If you’d like to get to know what technical writers do, head over to one of my previous posts.

My first interview

Days before the interview I was reading up on what computer memory was, what a pointer was, and how memory related to CPU and disk space. My first tech writing interview was for a big tech company that was inventing memory-related technology.

When I entered the company’s building, a recruiting manager greeted me with a smile and led me to a conference room where our interview would take place.

My recruiting committee consisted of a software engineering manager and a chief software architect. The vacancy was for a technical writer intern in a team where there was no technical writer before.

The first thing they checked was my English skills. We had a small talk and they asked me a few questions about my previous experience. After a warm-up, the time came to ask some technical questions. Since I had no previous experience in IT except for hacking and cracking some computer games when I was a kid, the questions were pretty general and gave me a lot of leeways to elaborate on the topic e.g. how does memory in computers work? What is memory? What is a pointer in C? etc. After a theoretical test, I was handed a task. My objective was to correct code comments from a fragment of their source code developed for managing persistent memory. I could ask the architect anything I wanted. And that was it. The interview took an hour and a half and I completed it successfully.

Almost a Malta resident

After almost a year of interning, I applied for a knowledge engineer (a.k.a. tech writer) position at a different company. It was a company from Malta and it also entailed relocation to Malta. The folks there were in the managed cloud hosting business and needed a tech writer who would write knowledge base articles (KBs) that would help users leverage their managed cloud hosting services.

The first round of interviews was with a hiring manager who asked me about my previous experience, asked some general HR questions, and told me a whole lot about Malta and what my future job would look like. After an hour-long interview, I was given an assignment. My task was to use their managed cloud, document two user flows, and create a diagram for the chatbot’s interaction with a human. I managed to dig up the instructions for the tasked assignment:

KB1: Build a knowledge base article, showing how a new client can register himself/herself over <product name>, log in for the first time over their new account, and build a new Wordpress enabled machine.

KB2: Using the previously built machine, create a new knowledge base in order to help a user to login to his MySQL database and create an index over any table. The user should be able to login to MySQL through an SSH Tunnel from over a remote client.

FL1: Using any visual diagram tool of your choice, plot a chatbot flow which illustrates a story to interact with a client, by welcoming him, gather the client’s personal details and schedule an appointment with a human agent.

I had complete freedom to choose a format (text, video, etc.) in which I would deliver the content and was given 3 days of unlimited use of their platform — I remember extending it a couple of days longer. I sent back the assignment and received information that I’d be meeting with the product VP and my hiring manager as the final stage of the recruitment process. The interview was mostly for the product VP to get to know me and hear what I’d been doing so far in the tech comm field. The interview came to an end and I heard back from them in the following week. The answer could be summarized as “yes but no”. They were happy with my performance but they couldn’t hire me because of the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here comes the plot twist. A couple of months after the pandemic started, they contacted me and asked me if I wanted to resume the recruitment process. I agreed and they requested me to do another recruitment task.

As you are aware {company’s product} offers its services over a number of infrastructure providers such as DO, AWS, and Vultr. This choice might be a bit complex to understand when you have someone which doesn’t understand how much power he would require for Y applications on his server, with X concurrent users on each page, or why should he even be bothered to locate his server in EU rather than in US or Asia. What I need from you is to create a Knowledgebase entry which can help its consumers understand their requirements, how to evaluate them, and then walk them step by step on selecting and building the right serversize, region, cpu, mem size, and any plausible/feature service which might be fair to suggest to the customer at this stage.

The KB should;

Include any possible comparisons which are visually appealing and easy to digest.

Introduce customers to all our providers and give proper assertive reason why they should go for AWS, or Vultr High Frequency, or DO, etc. (tip: you need to identify the provider weaknesses and strengths, yet we don’t want this to show in the writeup, as we don’t want to create a comparison sheet rather help the customer make better choices).

Due to the sheer amount of information you’re going to speak about its going to get long — build a strategy to keep the KB as short as possible while meeting the expectation.

I completed the task. They were delighted with my work of labor, gave me another task, an editorial one and at the end of the day, they told me they couldn’t hire me because they had an internal issue with HR. My application came to them through a recruiting agency. The hiring manager reached out to me directly for a remote job during the pandemic, but HR didn’t want to hire candidates through recruiting agencies. So, the manager didn’t bother to talk things over internally first and I took the brunt of this poor decision making.

A company providing tech writing services

After my Malta disappointment, I kept on hunting for a more paid job than my intern’s salary. Mind you, at this point in time it was more than one year of being an intern. I found a tech comm company that hired technical writers and outsourced them. I applied to them and completed the whole process successfully. It looked like this:

  1. get-to-know each other call
  2. assignment
  3. call during which we discussed my assignment
  4. decision

A simple process that didn’t require going through the hoops. The assignment consisted of 3 exercises:

1. The content for this exercise is an FAQ that has been written in a way that is unclear and wordy. This FAQ, for a communications system, is intended for members of the public to read.

Please edit the content so that it is clear and easy to understand. You may remove any content that you think is irrelevant.

After you have done this, please add brief notes about the approach you took to rewriting this content, and why. Include an explanation of your decision to remove any content.

2. Technical Writers need to be able to contribute to the usability of software user interfaces. The content for this test is part of a user interface from a software tool that manages data about professional service suppliers and the projects they work on. This part of the user interface enables users to define payment settings for a supplier.

Please take a look at this user interface and identify 10 areas that may cause difficulty for users, and then recommend ways to make these areas easier to use or easier to understand. If you’re not sure about the usage or meaning of an area, you can note your assumptions or the questions you would want to ask to confirm your understanding.

3. This exercise tests your ability to plan and write user information. It uses the same user interface example as exercise 2.

There are two parts to this exercise.

Part 1. Your list of topics and the best format for them

Please list the five most important information topics you would create for users of this user interface, and explain why these topics are important. Also suggest the best format for each (e.g. online help, web pages, PDF user guide, FAQs, tooltips, video, embedded user assistance). If you like, you can add notes about your decisions here too.

Part 2. Your example topics

Write at least two of the topics from your list above. It’s not too important whether your understanding of the user interface is accurate; what we’re interested in here is your ability to plan and write user information.

If you need to make assumptions about how the user interface works or what the text in the interface means, you can add notes about this after your topics.

I was thrilled at the prospect of working alongside other technical writers since at that time I only liaised with software developers. However, when I received the job offer I did not receive a salary high enough that would satisfy me. So, I kept looking.


This is the end of part 1 of my tech writing recruitment adventures: practices for hiring technical writers series. In the next article, I’ll carry on writing about how other companies approached hiring me for a tech writer position.




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Adam Czapski

Adam Czapski

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