When sourcing a technical author, ensure their experience matches your requirements. You need to source one who has the right knowledge, background and expertise. At the interview, they should talk through that experience; if not keep searching until you do.
Productive years as a Technical Writer
An experienced Technical writer can only be an asset to your team or project. The longer their tenure, the broader and more in-depth their experience will be. However, the only way to be confident is to read their CVs carefully.
Do they use Social Media or have a website?
Check out LinkedIn for their profile; If you cannot find one or a website describing their experiences, what have they be doing?
During the interview, did they communicate?
During an interview be wary of a candidate who sits, listens, and says very little. An experienced TW will respond to your questions and may offer suggestions on how to elevate the project with innovations you may not have considered.
Read the CV and be prepared to discuss the project. I have arrived at an interview to find the interviewer has not read my CV. I have a simple rule regarding my experience; if you cannot see it on the CV, then I have not done it. That does not mean that I will turn down unfamiliar tasks.
An essential part of our job is the ability to communicate with SMEs to gather the right level of detail for the documentation. If the documentation appears vague, it might be time for a chat.
Do you want a contractor or permanent TW?
You may build a team, and you need a Technical Writer to keep the documentation up to date; a person who will grow into the environment. However, I would caution against using a Technical Writer permanently unless you are sure there will be ongoing work.
Work cycles can dip, so be careful how you use the Technical Writer. During one of my earliest contracts, the project engineer referred to me as a secretary and treated me as one as did the rest of the team. In a much earlier role, my line manager used me to shift boxes and to clean the stock room and a general dogsbody.
A proactive Technical Writer between writing, researching and interviewing could improve the company’s documentation. However, once they get on top of the tasks, the role could become routine and repetitive. There will be the odd spurt of activity within the working life cycle; hence, why the position of Technical Writing lends itself more so to contract work rather than permanent work.
To summarise: if you use a permanent Technical Writer ensure you have plenty of contingencies within their job. To avoid your TW developing itchy feet, I would suggest that you discuss additional tasks that may add value to their experience. Allowing a member of staff use them for jobs, which an office junior should cover will not go down too well.
A word of caution
Unfortunately, our profession can attract its fair share of triers. You can reasonably expect CVs from candidates who have had minimum experience preparing ad hoc documentation. Unfortunately, that minimal experience will NOT be enough to perform the job.
Many recruiting agents have a minimum expertise sourcing Technical Writers. When they speak to prospective candidates, they hear a few buzzwords and place candidates forward for a role for which they are not suitable. Be sure to check that they have the right experience and background.
Applying the following advice may help you avoid problems:
Be careful hiring a Junior Technical Writer or one that has worked in a permanent position for the last five years.
Why: a permanent position can be very repetitive, which means the Technical Writer’s experience may be severely limited. That also goes for junior writers, for high-profile projects hire a seasoned contracting professional, who can talk through the project with you. In my experience, there is a world of difference between a contract Technical Writer and one who has chosen permanency.
Finally, budgets – ensure you are buying the experience you need. In the world of Technical Writing, the price you pay determines the standard you buy. By using the wrong candidate could be a costly mistake.
Where else can you source a Technical writer?
If you prefer to source a Technical Writer, you have found me. However, I may not be suitable for the role. Check LinkedIn, Social Media sites and the online Job Boards. Ask other companies and fellow professionals if they have used Technical Writers and if so, what was their experience. They may have recommendations which in the long run could save you money.