Recruiting for a technical author

We’re at the stage where we can reasonably request another technical author to join the team. Since this happens so infrequently, we’re all a bit unprepared for what needs to happen. Development teams acquire programmers and testers so frequently that recruitment is a well-oiled machine, or at least a working machine. Not the case for technical authors. It’s like someone’s taken a mallet to our machine and springs and cogs have fallen far and wide.

We’ve had to consider:

  • What’s more important to us? An experienced technical author, or someone with the necessary domain skills in our business who can be trained up?
  • What projects they might be working on.
  • How we’re going to get them up to speed. I’ve been working on a learning plan and it’s eye-opening to see the things we’re going to need to cover with a new starter, that I take for granted.
  • How we’re going to evaluate a candidate’s ability to do the job.
This last point has been interesting. I’ve had a conversation with people on Linked in. I say a conversation, but it’s become a little argumentative. There’s clearly a lot of disagreement about whether it’s appropriate to test technical writers at all.

The arguments against seem to fall into these themes:

  • Some people aren’t good at being tested and will steer clear from posts that require the candidate to take a test.
  • It’s not right that a manager should make a candidate take a test. The candidate gets no right to test the manager if they’re capable of setting an appropriate test.
  • Concern that a tech writer may be getting tested and other roles don’t get tested.
  • Does the test discriminate against anybody.

The arguments for a test:

  • You can gain an understanding of how a candidate might approach a problem – would need discussion with the candidate after the test.
  • You can set expectations with the candidate about the kind of work you’ll be asking them to do.
  • You can assess whether the candidate can work with standards.
  • You can use tests to explain to managers why you might like to hire person x instead of person y. 
  • You can verify their basic skills like ability to proof read and find typos.
Despite the disagreement in my LinkedIn conversation, we are going to have some kind of exercise for a candidate. As someone who’s going to work with the newcomer, I want to see how easily we’re going to fit together. If they struggle to do even some basic editing, or explain to me how they’d approach writing a topic from scratch, that’s going to set some warning lights off—not literally, although that would be fun.

What kinds of issues have you had in finding a good candidate for a technical writing position?

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