Hiring a technical writer is the first step to improving your org’s documentation. Finding the right person to complement your team’s writing goals is very important. This essay will explain how to find talent that matches your team’s documentation objectives.
Where to Find the Right Candidates?
Look for folks who are in your community or align with your mission
The best technical writers are the ones that are already familiar with your project or your team’s tool stack. If you host your project on GitHub, look at those contributing to your codebase or documentation. Working with an intern? Consider hiring them as a technical writer. You might spend less time training them because they already know your organization’s workflows.
Search for someone who believes in your mission. The person spreading the word about your accomplishments inside and outside your Discord is an ideal hire. You can teach skills, but it’s harder to infuse passion and interest.
Slack Channels and Coding Communities
It’s also a good idea to find candidates that are familiar with your technical tools. If your team’s application is written in Rust, advertise your technical writing opportunity in the Rust Discord channel.
It’s also helpful to look at general technical writing communities like Write the Docs and the Society for Technical Communication. Note that you will get many more applications from these communities! So be clear about what you’re looking for in a candidate.
Project Skills and Remote Work
Skills and Project Goals Should Inform Your Search
Make sure you are clear about what kind of technical writing talent your team needs. Go to your proposal and look at your project’s scope. Are you completing a content migration? Are you trying to boost the awareness of your project through content and social media? Look for a candidate with experience in the documentation problem you’re trying to solve.
We have collaborated with Alex Manochis in the past. Alex is a contributor of volesti library. This is very important for our project since the technical background in both computational mathematics and templated generic C++ programming is a rare skill. We understood this while examining technical writers’ proposals, where Alex was clearly the best candidate.GeomScale, Season of Docs 2022
Optimize for Working Remote
When hiring a technical writer, take into account time zones. If most of your team is located in the Alberta time zone, it might be difficult to have regular meetings with a technical writer based in Sydney, where there is a 16-hour time difference. If you are dealing with such a drastic time difference, brace yourself to occasionally have meetings outside of normal business hours.
Asynchronous standups are a great way to monitor and manage daily progress. During an asynchronous standup, the team shares:
- What they accomplished
- What blockers they’ve experienced
- What are they going to accomplish tomorrow
In a traditional standup, folks would literally stand up and give a rundown of their accomplishments, blockers, and future tasks. With remote teams however, much of this communication happens via Slack or Discord.
Loom and sending a short video is helpful when your team is trying to explain a complex concept that can’t be covered in standup. It’s also helpful to occasionally include a loom in your GitHub PR to explain your change.
Finally, you can use the huddle feature on Slack or Discord to hop on a quick call.
Be Realistic about Time Frames
Great hires come in different skill levels. Google Season of Docs strives to ensure that both parties grow during the process of the program. If you’re working with a more junior writer, starting them off with small, tightly scoped tasks is important. Break your project into chunks where the deliverables and deadlines are clear to both parties.
The best way to assess a potential writer is to give them a writing assignment related to the task at hand. Do you need help with information architecture? Have the candidate write:
- What are some of the informational architecture issues they’ve spotted in your documentation?
- What are some of the ways they would address these issues?
- Have them give some examples of sites that have effective information architecture. Briefly describe what makes this information architecture effective.
Take the five best submissions, and invite them to a second round of interviews via Google Meet. Have the interviewee walk through their written proposal.
A Word About Large Language Models (LLM) or Generative AI
Large language models are deep learning models that can recognize, summarize, translate, predict, and generate text based on a massive dataset. This technology is applied in applications such as Bard and Chat-GPT. Many writers have used generative AI to assist them with their writing. We discourage Generative AI due to the potential copyright infringement implications.
Job Description and Managing Applications
Writing a Solid Job Description
A clear job description attracts quality talent. When hiring technical writers create a job description that includes a problem statement, necessary skills, and what you want the candidate to accomplish by the end of Google Season of Docs.
Briefly talk about your company’s goals and work culture.
Dive into the position. Be as specific as possible. Don’t forget to add the *why* behind this job. For example, why do you need to migrate your documentation? What documentation pain points do you want to solve?
Skills and Qualifications
Avoid the temptation to turn this into a wish list. Stick to 3-5 skills. It’s helpful to encourage candidates can apply even if they don’t have all of the listed skills. This can increase the diversity of candidates. Many women won’t apply for a job unless they have 100% of the listed qualifications.
– skill 1
– skill 2
– skill 3
Outcomes and Milestones
It’s helpful to explain your project’s goal and break the goal up into milestones. This decreases the anxiety about what is expected of the prospective technical writer and gives them more insight into the job’s day-to-day.
– first milestone
– second milestone
– third milestone
Keep Track of Your Candidates
Hiring can be an overwhelming experience. Past participants have received up to 500 applicants vying for one spot! You can make this easier by keeping a spreadsheet of promising candidates.
You can access the full version of the template here. And here’s a video on how to use the template.
A positive hiring experience sets the tone for your working relationship with the technical writer. Be clear on what documentation problems you are trying to solve before writing a job description and talking to potential candidates. Also, keep in mind that this is a remote-first partnership. Tools and techniques such as Slack and asynchronous standup help ease the challenge of working in different time zones. Finally, remember that you are part of a bigger community. If you have any additional questions about hiring, you can always bring them up in the Write the Docs #season-of-docs Slack channel.