Five Types of Questions to Avoid in Technical Writing Interviews

I’ve written about good questions to ask technical writing candidates. There are, of course, many more good questions you could ask. There are also many bad questions you shouldn’t bother with. Here are five types of questions you should avoid.

Questions asking candidates to demonstrate their impact in a previous workplace.

There is no easier lie in a job interview than what an unbelievable asset they’ve always been. You’re handing them free PR time and gaining no real information.

Questions about dealing with stressful situations.

Like the previous question, this one is just inviting a lie. Of course they were calm, thoughtful, endlessly polite and helpful. Skilled interviewers can read between the lines to get some real information from an answer like this, but if you’re a technical writer and not HR, you’ll probably get it wrong.

Questions asking them to rate themselves, or explain why you should hire them and not one of the other candidates.

Rate themselves against what? And how are they supposed to know why they’re better than the other candidates? There is no honest answer to these questions. Some may be more skilfully delivered than others, but they’ll still not be informative. A question that doesn’t get you information is a waste of time, and a skilful answer is only useful from a lawyer or a fiction writer.

Questions about their ethics and reliability.

Once again inviting a lie. And the less reliable the candidate, the better the lies.

Questions about why they decided to become technical writers.

Would you really base a hiring decision on this answer? Maybe they’ve always dreamed of being a technical writer. Most likely, they fell into the field somehow. What matters isn’t why they took their first job in writing, it’s why they took the second and third; a question about why they remain technical writers might be useful.

One final note: it’s fine to ask what tools they’ve had experience with, but I wouldn’t dismiss candidates just because they’re inexperienced with the tools I’m using. It takes years to become a good writer, and only a few days to learn a new tool.

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