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Editor’s Notes
The marketplace for technical writers has often been challenging. In difficult economic times when companies seek to slash their budgets, it is often difficult for corporations to understand the need for a technical writer, let alone to understand the need to increase staffing in the documentation department. This article looks at the benefits of hiring technical writers, since their often diverse skill sets can be used across various departments in the organization.

With our economy still on the down slope, it is difficult for technical managers to justify keeping an excessive amount of technical writers on their staffs, let alone hiring new ones. In many cases, managers feel they don’t even need writers, arguing that everyone has writing ability. Of course, today’s technical writers not only write, they also perform many other tasks: programming, web development, training, and so on. Add to that the fact that many are also highly trained and certified in other areas besides writing.

In today’s working environment, budgets are smaller and there is more pressure to succeed than ever before. Hiring technical writers also comes with a new form of pressure. To prevent an economic downfall within your company, you must look at future employees as investments – those that have the potential to grow and benefit your company in a variety of ways. During the dot-com craze, filling technical-writing positions was quite challenging. Although there were numerous jobs available, there weren’t enough qualified people to go around. Since filling jobs was often the most important goal, some managers simply lowered their hiring standards. Today, we face the opposite problem. There are too many people looking for work, so we’ve had to raise the bar.

Keeping all this in mind, as we progress through this article, we’ll address some insightful questions, including:

Why should I hire a Technical Writer?

Hiring a technical writer with a variety of talents and training in an array of fields can be one of the best economic choices a company can make. These days, many individuals are not only trained as technical writers, but also have numerous other talents and experiences that will benefit you. For example, most technical writers today are just as (or more) computer literate and savvy as many high-level software professionals.

Sadly, even with a budget crisis, many companies still don’t invest enough time or resources in their hiring processes. Instead, too many managers focus on specific job tasks rather than the skills and behaviors necessary for success in that position. As a result, they do not have a clear sense of the qualities they need in a candidate. So, consider these points:

  • Sometimes it is better to hire an under-qualified person who is willing to learn, rather than someone who is over-qualified and feels the position isn’t challenging enough.
  • Hiring an invidividual who seems deficient in one area but an expert in another is not always a bad choice. Deficient areas can always be perfected.

Once you’ve decided to hire, make sure you offer a fair wage without over-spending. During tough economic times, you may encounter a technical writer who wants more money than you’re willing to pay. To avoid this situation, it is best to put the salary range in your advertisements. But make sure this range is affordable. This will prevent losing time from interviewing someone who wants something you cannot provide.

Can I afford to provide training during hard economic times?

Ideally, managers want to hire people who already have the exact training and background that a particular job requires. Sometimes we find the perfect candidate (one who can come with a hefty price tag), and sometimes we don’t. When we cannot find that perfect person, hiring someone who has lower qualifications but a good attitude and willingness to learn can sometimes be a better choice than hiring an over-qualified person with a terrible attitude and who feels he/she has learned enough. After all, a person’s attitude can be a good indicator of what kind of worker they might be down the road. Although training can always provide new skills, attitudes don’t always change.

If you cannot find an affordable candidate already trained in a variety of fields, find one who is willing to complete the necessary training. Then, offer to pay for all (or a percentage) of their courses. At first, this might not seem like a good idea – especially if you are trying to save money. But hiring one individual who is willing to learn can often be a far better investment than hiring five individuals who are proficient in only one area of expertise.

There are many affordable ways to provide training to future employees, including:

  • Computer-related in-classroom courses at community colleges and universities
  • Online courses from colleges and professional training companies
  • Conferences and workshops

Most community colleges and universities offer a wide range of reasonably priced courses that can benefit your business. And although many courses are still offered only in a traditional classroom setting, more and more accredited schools and professional training companies now offer distance-learning programs. These allow students to take classes online – anytime, anywhere.

Conferences and workshops are a great idea, too. When employees attend ongoing forums like this, they can learn a lot of different things in a short period of time. This not only gives them a well-rounded education, it also broadens their horizons and benefits your business in the process. Keep in mind, however, that depending on the conference location and accommodations, the trip can be fairly pricey. To help offset the costs, consider these ideas:

  • Offer an employee a bonus if they have their work published by an organization that will also send them to a work-related conference for free. Often, conferences offer complimentary admission to authors who are published in their proceedings and/or other related industry-wide publications.
  • Find other large companies (perhaps even some of your own customers, for example) to sponsor your employees. It’s a win-win situation, as this showcases both your company and theirs.

Last but not least, if, due to budget constraints and other factors beyond your control, none of the above options are available to you, you can always ask employees to research, gather, study, and learn from the free information available from a variety of education-based web sites. Of course, one must be VERY careful and selective, but more and more useful information becomes available each and every day.

How do I know what kind of Technical Writer I need?

As a manager, you must figure out exactly what your company needs. To do this, start by listing your top requirements. Then, during the interview process, do not become overly concerned whether or not the candidate has had the exact experiences you desire. Instead, consider looking for the most desirable traits, such as:

  • Problem-solving skills
  • Ability to manage time efficiently
  • Good social skills
  • Resourcefulness

A list of specific needs and wants will help you find an individual who fits your mold. Also, during the interviews, it is best to include one or two other colleagues in the process. Often, other employees can provide input on issues that you may not pick up on during the various interview stages. Your employees also know your business and will help give you better insight as to which candidate might be better suited for a position. After completing the interview, always be sure to thoroughly discuss each candidate with the other interviewers.

During the interview process, it is important to ask the candidate behavioral questions. Past behavior will help you determine how a person may react to future issues. Also, avoid asking candidates to list their best and worst traits. Instead, simply ask them a variety of hypothetical questions about situations that may arise in your office. Optionally, you might consider administering a psychological assessment test for each candidate. Although sometimes slanted, these tests can generate some useful information (good and bad) about a candidate’s personality.

How a person reaches his/her goals is just as important as the goals themselves. Skills such as persuasiveness, being financially responsible, and ability to work in different areas outside of their actual position are highly positive traits . It is also important to hire someone who is not afraid of working in a team atmosphere. The need to work in a variety of areas within one company or business continues to grow, as does the need to have good social skills.

Using your intuition when hiring someone can be very useful. Although being objective should always be a key factor in our decision making, we cannot ignore our true feelings about someone. Feeling compatible with a candidate will help maintain a good working atmosphere. But once again, keep in mind that it is also important to obtain insight from the other employees who are helping you conduct the interview.

Another thing to keep in mind is that although many highly qualified people don’t always make a very good first impression (due to nervousness and what not), they can still end up being your favorite candidates later on. Because of this, many managers prefer to hire people on a trial period. This trial run can be a good indicator of how the candidate will perform in the future.

Is it really important for me to hire a Technical Writer?

Clearly, it is important to continue hiring technical writers, as they will always continue to provide help in numerous ways – some of which you may not have even realized. But as we’ve discussed in this article, due to the ongoing financial instability of our economy, the process in which you select writers may have to change for your company. The idea of finding the ideal candidate must be re-shaped and the importance of hiring one candidate who is an experienced mulit-tasker must be carefully considered.