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Jit Team

My recruitment adventures: practices for hiring technical writers 2/3

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This is a continuation of my series about hiring technical writers and practices I experienced throughout the years of being a technical writer.

First failure at a tech writing interview

Up until then, I cleared all the tech writing recruitments gracefully. However, the time came to fail and learn from my mistakes. I had a one-hour-long conversation with a hiring manager after which I was given two short tasks writing a user manual and editing a microcopy in the UI. In the first task, I was given screenshots of a new feature in an application and my job was to write up a manual. In the second task, my job was to correct the following UI copy:

Expired license.

Error!

The changes cannot be merged

because of these conflicts:

Conflict 1

Conflict 2

Make sure that you are

connected to the Internet

before proceeding.

The current user is not allowed

to change the whitelist.

I sent back the assignment and was staged for another interview — an interactive exercise, you may think of it as live coding but for technical writers. The task looked like this:

Exercise runsheet

Thanks for participating in this exercise with us. There are three parts to today’s session:

Familiarization

Time: Up to 20 minutes

Outcome: You don’t need to create anything. Just play around with the website and get familiar with it.

Ask us any questions that you have — we are here to simulate the types of interaction you can expect in similar projects at {company}.

Analysis

Time: 20 minutes

Outcome: You will have five minutes to tell us about a typical user of the website.

Provide an example of a person who uses this site — including at least their name, age, job/role and what they are trying to achieve.

At the end of another 15 minute block, we’ll ask you to answer the following questions:

How does the website help and support your user?

What is the voice and tone of the website? Where is that evidenced?

You can use any of the materials in the room or your computer to track your thoughts & process.

Brainstorming

Time: 20 minutes to prepare, 10 minutes to present

Outcome: A proposal for how you would improve the UI/UX of the task you have identified for your user. You should build on your previous analysis and cover:

intended site improvements

stakeholders to involve

possible success measures

Please use any of the materials in the room or your computer to prepare your presentation.

We will contribute to the process as much as you want — you can ask us questions or bounce ideas off us as you work.

I had never done this kind of exercise before and had no clue what to expect. I was given the above-mentioned handout 5 minutes before the interview started.

I opened the link to the website and went on a click-craze around it to find out as much as I could. My interaction with interviewers was minimal because I didn’t know what questions I should ask. In the end, they wanted somebody with UX experience and I didn’t have that experience at the time. It was a really good failure because it showed me what else there is to learn and opened my eyes to what fields technical writers sometimes need to operate in.

My first job after my 2-year-long internship

To my and probably your surprise, this recruitment process didn’t require any assignment to be completed on my part. There were 3 long-ish interviews:

  1. the one with the head of the technical writing team
  2. the one with the head of the technical writing team and engineering team
  3. the one with the head of the technical writing team, engineering team, and their boss

They asked me all sorts of technical and soft-skills questions. Questions that you can easily find by googling “technical writer interview questions”. Here are two videos that walk you through the questions that you can expect to be asked when applying for a tech writer position.

Comeback to a company in which I did a 2-year-long internship

After leaving, I got a phone call from my previous manager with an offer to come back to a newly created UX team in the company. The recruitment process consisted of two stages

  1. the one with a senior principal engineer and a technical writing manager
  2. the one with a senior principal engineer, a technical writing manager, and two technical writers

The first round of the interview was an introductory one. The senior principal engineer walked me through the project and the technical writing manager gave me a task to complete. The task was completely unrelated to the project I was supposed to work on. The project was, generally speaking, about AI but… wait for it… I was given the editorial task of editing a specification and manual of a chassis management module. I was also asked to provide my writing samples.

In the second round of interviews, the technical writers asked me the standard, run-of-the-mill interview questions for tech writers. After a couple of days, I received an offer from that company.

I applied for a job that never existed

A start-up company I applied to for a tech writer position turned out to be a swindle. The gist of the fraud was that I successfully passed the interview process but I was told that they couldn’t seal the deal with their clients and hence there was no job for me. The company’s unprofessional action to look both for a client and an employer for them has really flabbergasted me. Nevertheless, I don’t regret going through the whole recruitment process and spending a couple of days solving the tasks.

The recruitment process consisted of 3 stages:

  1. introductory talk with a hiring manager about general tech writing topics
  2. solving the assignments
  3. discussing the assignments with the hiring manager

The first task was to write instructions for using a PC mouse that never had any experience with a personal computer. The second task was to take three .xml files with content that only varied slightly and create one .xml file with the varying content from those 3 files as variables that could be passed as needed.

The first task made me think a little out of the box, while the other task made me delve a little deeper into an old standard in the tech comm — DITA that I’m not a big fan of. The hiring manager’s perspective on DITA and my reluctance to use DITA in my projects gave rise to a fruitful discussion.

All in all, I wish to believe that emails sent to me to update me on their clients’ situation were reassuring, however, it didn’t change the fact that the company acted unprofessionally.

Probation days before getting hired

One of the most interesting recruitment tasks I was given as a technical writer was when I applied to a company that offered a Saas product with most of its functionality for free.

While working on these tasks, I could liaise with a data scientist from their company. That sheer possibility simulated, to some extent, real-life work that a technical writer would be faced working in that company.

The homework task looked like this:

1. Create your own free individual account at {product} and get familiar with the Hello World example.

2. As a preparation for the following tasks, it would be useful to:

- create 2 extra projects

- log to each of the projects 5–10 runs and log to each run numeric field (with a name e.g. ‘accuracy’) and track some random floating number to each run from 0 to 1.

3. Propose docstrings and names for the following methods

- method_1

- method_2

- method_3

def method_1(workspace, projects, token=None):
all_runs = []
for name in projects:
project = <product_name>.get_project('{}/{}'.format(workspace, name), token)
all_runs.append(project.fetch_runs_table().to_pandas())
return pd.DataFrame().append(all_runs)
def method_2(workspace, projects, bar, token=None):
field_name, threshold = bar
assert(isinstance(field_name, str))
all_runs = method_1(workspace, projects, token)
if field_name not in all_runs.columns:
return pd.DataFrame()
return all_runs[all_runs[field_name] >= threshold]
def method_3(*args, **kwargs):
runs = method_1(*args, **kwargs)
runs['sys/creation_hour'] = runs['sys/creation_time'].dt.hour
return runs.groupby(by='sys/creation_hour').size()

4. Write an end-to-end how-to-guide for a Project Manager, assuming they cannot code, to help them understand at what time of the day do their data scientists create the most runs.

5*) (extra) Propose the 4th method that a Project Manager could use to understand at what time of a day the particular project member creates the most runs?

A company that bought my recruitment assignment

A recruitment task I received from this company was refreshing in my experience since I never specifically wrote any text to be optimized for SEO (Search Engine Optimization). My job was to write an article on migration testing according to a specification I received. I felt a little bit like a software developer who got a task in JIRA with all the acceptance criteria laid out for him/her.

The task contained main guidelines and technical elements that I was supposed to include in the article.

Main guidelines

What is the main keyword for the text

  • migration testing

What are the supporting keywords for the text

  • migration testing services
  • data migration testing
  • migration testing company

What are the three main ideas we want to get across

  • How do our migration testing services work and what is their purpose in a company
  • That we are awesome in migration testing and what quality service we can offer you — what values you can get when you hire us etc.
  • We have experience in this field

Value — why am I reading this and what value does it hold for me?

  • You are looking for an outside company to do migration testing services for you
  • You want to know more about migration testing — what is it, why is it important, what benefits it provides to the company
  • You are looking for alternatives to established companies

Sources — make sure to research these sources

Technical elements

What is the desired length of the text: 1200+ words

Headings to use (paragraphs):

  • H1 Migration Testing
  • H2 Migration testing — what is it?
  • H2 Benefits of migration testing services
  • H2 Why is data migration testing important?
  • H2 Why hire a migration testing company? Check out our previous migration testing projects!

Keywords to use and their occurrences:

  • migration testing: x20
  • data migration testing: x7
  • data migration: x13
  • post-migration testing: x3
  • migration testing services: x6
  • migration testing company: x4

FAQ Section in the blog post/article

  • How do you test data migrations?
  • Why is a migration test required?
  • Why is migration important to testing?

Keeping track of keyword occurrences adds a different layer to writing which makes the writing process a little bit programmatic as in you have to strategically figure out the layout of the text and embed these keywords as variables.

Sometimes there are no recruitment tasks

There were companies that didn’t require me to solve any recruitment task. We had one or two calls during which we talked about a problem the company was facing. One company asked me to solve online numerical and diagrammatic reasoning tests. After passing these tests, I had a job interview.

Conclusion

Each company has its own modus operandi for recruiting. Seeing and going through many recruitments for tech writer positions made me think of how I would conduct my own recruitment process. It didn’t even last long before I had to put my thoughts to the test. In the next blog post, I will share my thoughts about conducting a job interview for a technical writer and share my experience of my recruitment interviews as a recruiter.

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Adam Czapski

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