How I hire writers

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Good, creative writers are the backbone of our business. We try to hire and retain the best of them.

Our interview process is aimed to make the process efficient and objective. This ensures that we do not have to waste time in our hiring process and get back to real work ASAP. I outline the process below; in case someone else is interested.

Resume Screening

We offload this responsibility to HR. It is easy enough. We let HR know the keywords we are looking for (lifestyle magazine or sports column), typing speed needed etc. and they do the short listing for us.

Phone Screen

We spend a quick 10-15 min assessing if the candidate deserves our time and next interview round or not. My favourite questions include:

  • spelling of conscientious
  • explain oxford comma
  • repeating a tongue twister; I like the “Betty Botter bought a bit of butter” one.

Once I am convinced of their hold on words, we move to round 3.

The Interview

Here we take a deep dive into the writer’s command over the intricacy of the language. Sample questions:

  • Questions about rules in ‘Elements of Style
  • More spellings and grammar questions.
  • A few puzzles to test their creativity.
  • Some domain related question, for e.g. ask sports writer, the dates when the last football world cup was played.
  • Question on lexical roots of some words.
  • Google for ‘English interview questions’ and use some questions from there.

The Result

We have found that we are able to hire great writers from this process, who are able to create award winning content, whether it is a short article or a book.

How does it sound to you?

If you find the above useful, you can stop reading now, and go back to hiring creative and talented writers using the above method. Good luck.

For the naysayers

If you are not convinced, or worse your blood is boiling, you know what I am really talking about.

If we cannot hire writers using the above process, how do we, time and again try to hire developers using this very process?

Good spellings and knowledge of grammar rules does not indicate a good writer, and there are tools (spelling/grammar check) and (editorial) processes to take care of that. What’s important is: can the writer weave an interesting story? Can she take a vague story line and give life to it? Has the writer played with different styles of writing and know when to use what?

Similarly knowing information that is readily available and does not need to be committed to memory, does not reflect on one’s programming ability. What is important is can the programmer create good, bug free, long lasting solutions within the environmental constraints? Is she creative and has a knack at technical problem solving. Is she passionate about it?

My favourite question is normally mimicking or generalizing a real problem we have and then doing a deep dive to see what approaches the person takes at solving it. The type of questions she asks, the assumptions made, the pros and cons of the solutions presented.

This tells me the difference between someone knowing all the words and spellings but unable to write a coherent column vs. a person who knows how to write a best seller and maybe even tell me that a best seller is not the right thing for the current needs.