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© Ugur Akinci
When a reader asked the “best way” to get ready for a technical writing assessment test and job interview I realized how hard it is to give a satisfactory answer.
The reason is, the appropriate and really truthful answer depends not on a single but the following four variables:
(1) Historically Specific Job Market
When I first applied for a technical writing position back in the late nineties, for example, the job market was red-hot. That’s part of the reason why, although my previous experience consisted of 4-years of newspaper reporting, I was hired without much difficulty by a software company.
I remember telling the recruiter: “If you don’t hire me, I’ll definitely go work for somebody else since I’ve made up my mind to work as a technical writer. Yet, I’d much rather work for you because I really like this place. So the choice is yours.” (Imagine using that line today in a typical job interview!)
Back then, the IT industry could not employ enough people. It was a great time to find a job in this booming sector because the demand for workers far exceeded the supply; just the reverse of the current trend.
The way this affects job interviews is this: back then most interviews were not too hard because the recruiters desperately wanted to hire people to fill in the quotas. These days, however, the recruiters are not as motivated to hire in a hurry. There are people with graduate degrees who are willing to work as cashiers at shopping malls. So within such an environment job interview questions do get tougher since the recruiters can afford to be particular and hard-to-please.
(2) The Specific Company and the Audience
The nature of the particular company where you’re interviewing also makes a big difference in not only the “severity” of the interview but also the type of questions that you get asked.
For example, if it’s a company that generates documents mainly for its “internal clients” (like developers, engineers, field technicians, management, etc.) then you might be asked more proof of your technical skills. Perhaps you’ll be asked even to know a computer programming language or two to communicate better with the developers. If for example you are expected to write any API documentation or design specs, you might be expected to furnish a more robust proof of your “technical background.”
If, on the other hand, you’ll basically be serving “external clients” and the consumer public, then your “presentational skills” might get more scrutiny than your familiarity with programming and engineering skills.
(3) Your Track Record and Seniority
This is in part indexed to the second variable. Whether you’re just a beginner or a senior technical writer really makes a difference in the way you’ll be interviewed. If you have not even written a single technical document in your life, don’t be surprised if you’re asked to take a “writing exam” to prove that you know how to write a technical document. However the same condition would be a bit insulting if you are a technical communicator with ten or fifteen years of e3xper4eienc under your belt.
Again, it’s one thing to show up for a job interview with no portfolio; and another if you sit at the table with a rich assortment of user manuals, specs, help files, perhaps even technical illustrations, and more.
As a rule, the less you have to show (or already published) to prove your writing and design skills, the more the interview will be skewed in that directions.
Here is a good way to imagine how to interview might go like: put yourself in the shoes of the recruiter. What kind of questions would you ask a candidate like yourself? That should give you an indication or two about the possible direction your interview might take.
Here is a good post by my co-communicator Tom Johnson, addressing technical writing hiring managers. It’s got some good insights that you might also benefit from:
(4) Non-Technical Aspect of any Job Interview
The last variable covers the aspects of a job interview that usually has nothing to do with technical writing. If you expect every question to be about technical writing, think again. You’ll also be asked stock questions of the trade like “why should we hire you?” or “tell me about yourself” that can open a can of worms if you are not prepared for them.
I’d recommend you watch these excellent videos and others linked at the sidebar to prepare yourself for those kind of questions as well:
What do you think about this post? Has it been helpful to you in getting ready for that job interview? What has been your experience? Please feel free to share and contribute…