Meeting Notes from the September 2018 San Francisco STC Meeting: “Hiring Panel: Ask Hiring Managers your Questions”
by Frank Welsch and Karen Schwarze
At the September 19, 2018 meeting of the San Francisco STC chapters, technical communicators had the fortune of hearing first-hand from a panel of hiring managers and recruiters who volunteered to answer questions on the minds of technical writers. The panel participants were:
* Andrew Brown, Director, Technical Documentation at Splunk.
* Michael Rutledge, Staff Engineer at Scality.
* Helena Jerney, Information by Design.
* Andrew Davis, Synergistech Communications, technical content developer recruiting.
Cheryl Solis, senior manager of Information Development, was scheduled as a panel member but could not attend due to an injury.
David Hulbert, President of the San Francisco STC Chapter, asked the following questions. In the conversation that ensued, the audience not only got answers to Hulbert’s questions but also gained insight into other areas of the hiring process.
Do you control the budget for hiring technical writers?
The consensus of the panel seemed to be that the compensation package range for technical writers is controlled by other groups in the company.
Michael Rutledge said that he does not control the compensation budget of technical writers that he hires. He estimated that hired writers in the Bay Area earn 90-95% of the average salary for comparable positions as reported on Glassdoor.com. He finds that he can stretch the hiring budget by hiring writers more economically in EMEA countries.
Helena Jerney offered up her experience as well. While she does not have direct control over the hiring budget, she can influence the amount.
Does a bachelor’s degree or professional certification make an employee a better worker?
The panel unilaterally expressed the opinion that a degree or certificate is not necessarily a barometer of how well an employee performs.
What can you say about resumes that you reject?
This question evoked a chorus of opinions stating that a candidate should demonstrate interest in the company and the job role. And the resume should reflect the candidate’s research into the company and job description.
Jerney said the obvious: A technical writer resume that shows poor attention to spelling and grammar is an automatic turn-off. She also observed that if the resume does not demonstrate direct experience in the qualifications posted in a job description, the cover letter should convince the hiring manager that the candidate has sincere interest in the position
Andrew Brown expressed his opinion that a cover letter should accompany a technical writer resume when a candidate applies for a position. A good cover letter is a natural complement to the resume of a technical writer as the letter conveys communication skills that are part and parcel of the technical communicator role.
For Rutledge, the cover letter and resume as a package should demonstrate that a job candidate has done some research to be generally acquainted with the company and the job opening.
Do keywords in a resume play an important role in the hiring process?
Rutledge thought it was more effective to tailor the resume to a specific job opening than to concentrate on matching keywords.
Do you ever let an employee work remotely 100% of the time?
Everyone on the panel said yes—with a qualification: the speakers don’t let new hires work remotely from the outset. The panel expressed the need for new employees to work onsite for a while to build trust with the company before telecommuting.
But once a technical writer has established their credentials and working relationship, the managers seemed enthusiastic to let an employee work offsite. In fact, it was voiced that in some cases remote employees were working too many hours!
Jerney also noted, “99% of the time I get outstanding results from employees who formulate a flex-time arrangement.”
What non-technical traits do you look for in a job candidate?
The panel concurred that passion for technical writing and inherent curiosity about the subject matter are crucial traits.
Andrew Davis recommended that a technical writer could demonstrate passion for technical writing by documenting an open-source technology that lacks information deliverables.
What are your favorite interview questions?
One of Brown’s favorite questions is “How do you define success in a technical documentation project?” And he wants to hear the word “user” in the answer.
Brown and other panel members also expect the candidate to interview them as much as they interview the candidate. The best interviews involve a 2-way dialogue. Brown mentioned that he is particularly impressed when the candidate ends the interview with the question “Was there an interview question that I should have asked?”
Other Words of Wisdom
The discussion among the panel spontaneously segued to other issues about the technical writing hiring process. These “digressions” provided candid tips for writers who are applying for work:
- Ask for a salary above the range that you are comfortable with. When the company comes back to you with a lower salary counteroffer, you can negotiate a more realistic salary and show to the hiring manager that you are accommodating.
- The afternoon is generally a better time to interview than first thing in the morning. During the morning, people on the hiring team often are distracted by a barrage of emails that have come in overnight.
- Hiring managers prefer resumes that have been submitted through internal referrals from current employees. Generally, hires who come through internal referrals work out better.