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Why this matters:

Technical writers may come from engineering, computer, medical, government, or manufacturing backgrounds. They must be competent writers, first and foremost, with a knack for conveying important information in a simple manner. Some technical writers have backgrounds in journalism and communications. Whether a candidate’s writing training was formal or informal, this question gauges interest, skills, and passion.

What to listen for:

  • Ability to address end user pain points through clear, concise writing
  • Passion for writing or prior work experience in a technical field
  • Desire to share knowledge, break down complex topics, and better people’s lives

Why this matters:

The “technical” aspect of the technical writer position varies by industry and deliverable. For example, internal engineering manuals require a different audience than an instructional manual for consumer electronic equipment or a scientific research paper for a medical journal. Technical writers may come from within the industry or from another technical field, but this question illuminates what led a candidate to apply.

What to listen for:

  • Preparedness and familiarity with the job description, company website, and field at large
  • Ability to comprehend complex concepts, whether in this industry or another technical field
  • Interest in current news, areas of research, and topic exploration

Why this matters:

Technical writers work with a variety of tools on a daily basis. It could be as basic as Microsoft Word and Notepad++, or more specialized like Agile, ClickHelp, FireShot, Flare, FrameMaker, MadCap, RoboHelp, Scrum, Snagit, or Visto. Knowing how to use authoring, publishing, screen capturing, image editing, spell check, and graphics creation tools may all fall under the job scope of a technical writer.

What to listen for:

  • Familiarity with one or more tools of the trade that suggests an ability to learn new software
  • Inquisitiveness into what tools the company uses and an expressed willingness to learn
  • Personal career goals to remain up to date and gain greater efficiency

 

Why this matters:

Technical writers must have organized processes for achieving excellence in their work. Processes may vary from individual to individual, but the particular answer a candidate provides can give insight into their behavior — specifically how organized, detail-oriented, methodical, and thorough they are. Sometimes a candidate will share a personal story to illustrate their work method, which can be a nice highlight.

What to listen for:

  • A penchant for research, interviewing, organizing, and gathering data before writing
  • Emphasis on editing, fact-checking, proofreading, and formatting correctly
  • Personal anecdotes about how this candidate has approached projects in the past

Why this matters:

Technical writers work closely with designers, web developers, subject matter experts, editors, and supervisors. The ideal technical writer candidate is a team player who is committed to professionalism and capable of receiving feedback with grace and adapting their work. The way a candidate describes a difficult time provides clues as to overall disposition at work, whether the glass is half empty or half full.

What to listen for:

  • Display of respect for superiors, professionalism, and a collaborative approach to work
  • Willingness to understand feedback, get to the root of a problem, and come up with solutions
  • Maturity in self-analysis, with a healthy separation of identity and work product

Why this matters:

Breaking down complexities into clear, digestible tidbits is a required skill for technical writers. Sometimes they deal with audiences that have little to no knowledge of the topic. They may come up against resistance in presenting new processes to a team who has always “done it their way.” Writers may need to convey information to an irate manager or customer. The answer reveals transferable brand ambassador experience.

What to listen for:

  • A situation that had a happy ending, resulting in audience understanding
  • A cheerful manner of speech, with little evidence of frustration, exasperation, or resentment
  • Desirable strategic behaviors, such as providing additional research, charts, or a new approach

Why this matters:

While this is a difficult question, candidates can discuss controllable factors that do not reflect poorly on character. For instance, technical writers often find instructions to be inaccurate or disorganized, but use their skills to improve the end result. Individuals may also discuss work standards, such as whether they dislike “when others do not act as team players” or “when others only strive for the bare minimum.”

What to listen for:

  • Patience and compassion in discussing bothersome incidents or others’ shortcomings
  • Troubleshooting skills and a desire to find innovative ways to overcome irritation in the workplace
  • Communicative abilities to set boundaries, get changes made, and relieve stress healthily

Why this matters:

Good technical writers are typically avid readers. Knowing what material a candidate is digesting will provide clues to personality, interest, and intellectualism. In most technical environments, being well-read is an asset. This interview question is aimed at soliciting a unique personal fact or characteristic of the applicant.

What to listen for:

  • Curiosity: books that are philosophical, classic, trending, or about uncharted areas of intrigue
  • Passion: books that tie into a present situation, lifelong interests, or beloved hobbies
  • Drive: books that provide insight into ambition, goals, dreams, and leadership attributes

Why this matters:

Technical writing carries a heavy mental load. By nature, the job demands many hours of staring at a screen, reading, interpreting, researching, and using technology. Ideal candidates will have strategies in place for coping with stress, resetting their minds, and achieving quality work despite the rigors of the profession.

What to listen for:

  • Creative solutions, such as listening to music, stretching, meditating, or taking a walk
  • Goal setting, organizational techniques, and setting up a distraction-free workstation
  • Commitment to healthy work-life balance, family time, or taking scheduled vacations  
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