10 Inconvenient Interview Questions Technical Writer Can Face and How to Answer Them
The job change is the stressful event of one’s life, and the top stressful moment is a personal interview. This article is based on real technical writer interview questions shared by Glassdoor.com users.
What Job Interview Questions to Expect
You can face three types of tests during the interview.
Professional questions. Prepare to talk about how would you document a feature or service, write the executive summary based on a prompt. It can be a big task for a week or short article to write on the spot. For example, you can be asked to describe how does the camera works or how to use an ATM machine. Also, the interviewer can ask you to fill the technical report or edit a writing sample.
Portfolio & experience questions. Be prepared to talk about your last projects and writing samples you brought. Example of questions: What role did you play in developing this sample? Who else worked with you on this project? How long does it take for you to write a 1000 words document? What tools did you use for developing technical documentation?
Behavioral questions. The employer needs to make sure that you are able to work under stress. Behavioral questions help the interviewer understand your thought process and decide if it suits the company.
Questions That Technical Writers Faced During a Job Interview
1. Tell me about yourself.
Wrong. Retell your biography. “I am married, I have three kids…”.
Right. The pitch should include an explanation of why you do fit the job. Use Present-Past-Future scheme: explain what are you doing for now, what working background you have and the way the current vacancy responds to your plans for the future. The total length should be about 2 min.
2. What are your weaknesses?
Wrong. “I could not find a balance between work and personal life, and that is why I spend all my time at work”, “I am paying too much attention to the details just to make sure that everything is perfect”, “I am very punctual myself, that is why I irate easily when someone does not meet the deadline”.
Right. Name a real weakness, just not a critical one. For example, a technical writer can mention fear of public speaking, lack of foreign languages. Also, you can say that you usually get lost during a phone conversation and prefer to write five emails instead of one short call. After naming a point, explain what are you doing to overcome it.
3. Tell me about a time you disagreed with a co-worker on a project and lost.
Wrong. “I can not remind it ever took place because I usually work well with everyone”, “It was not only my fault”.
Right. Everyone is making mistakes. More important is to see that you can learn from it and can to take responsibility for the team process. Remind a real case and use a STAR technique to explain it.
The STAR technique means
Situation. Describe why the conflict appeared.
Task. Explain the purpose of your actions.
Action. Name what did you do.
Result. Share the outcomes and what conclusions you have made.
4. Tell me about the time you changed a policy that wasn’t working.
Wrong. “I have always worked in companies with well-performing working processes, so there was nothing to change”.
Right. The purpose of this question is to track your way of thinking. If you really have never changed any working processes, then tell about a hypothetical situation. For example, “I have never had to change the workflow, but if that were necessary, that’s what I would do”.
5. Tell me about a time you had to work according to a policy you disagreed.
Wrong. “I prefer not to work in a company that frames me with the rules I do not agree with”.
Right. The problem of the previous answer is that it makes you look unflexible and a difficult person. For example, you can tell about a situation in which you did not like the policy but learned more about it, so that you could understand its aims better. You might still disagree with the policy, but at least you would understand what it made for, and that is why you coped with the situation.
See also - How to become a technical writer
6. Tell a story about how you have dealt with criticism in the past.
Wrong. “I am not paying attention to such things”, “Probably it took place, but it was long ago, so I do not remember the details”, “I prefer everyone working on own field, and not telling the other people what to do”.
Right. Aim of a question is to indicate your ability to learn and accept the mistakes. Remind the case and underline that you are open for feedback, appreciate it, and use it for growth.
7. What is your greatest professional achievement?
Wrong. “Well, my good work is the greatest achievement; I received no complaints”.
Right. The employer wants to hear the exact numbers, so whatever achievement you name, it should be measurable.
Inventory your working processes, think about measurable results you can display. Here are some ideas:
- The project required X days of working, I have finished it in Y days, so timeliness improved by Z%.
- Worked as a part of the Document Management Team that reduced documentation and simplified the user interface that resulted in $X saved.
- Authored two 500+ page software user guides in X weeks; it is still in use.
8. Why should we hire you?
Wrong. “I am smart, qualified, and I want this job”, “You are doing great things; taking part in it will help me to grow as a professional”, “I have dreamed about this job since I have finished school; I will do my best to make you proud of hiring me”.
Right. Focus on real benefits you can bring to a company. And do not sound desperate; if you make it seem like hiring you is a big favor, the interviewer is likely to prefer someone who performs it as a benefit to the company. Instead of it show the company why both of you would fit well together.
For example, “I know you are working at A, for a great aim of B. I am very keen on B. I have experience with it, so this is how I can enforce your team”, “Based on the interview, I can say that you are looking for a person with qualifications X and Y. I have already implemented it at my previous job, and it resulted in Z. I will bring that experience to your company”.
9. What would you do if you only had two weeks to complete three weeks of work? What would you do if it turned out you didn’t have enough time to complete the project?
Wrong. “I will try to catch up to the deadline, and show what I managed to do by the end of the term”.
Right. This question is about how you handle priorities and work under pressure. Tell that you would review the tasks priorities with your manager and see if it is possible to delay or distribute some of them. If you are ok with overtimes, you can also mention it.
10. Are you OK with working 40+ hours a week?
There is no wrong or right answer. If you are not ready for overtime, then it is better to underline this at the beginning. Do not answer positively only for getting a job.
Instead of Сonclusion
- The optimal length for an answer is 30 sec-2 min.
- The hiring process in big companies takes up to 5+ weeks, about a week in small teams.
- The multistage interview can include phone interview (about 30-60 min length), video interview, full day face to face interview with 4-5 persons.
- Qualification test. Prepare for basic programming technical questions, interpreting part of a code, language skills test. Also, get ready for common technical writing questions like what is the lifecycle of a document.
- Writing task. You can be asked to write a short article, edit the writing sample, or fill the technical report.
- Collect 3-5 the most successful writing samples: developer guides, API reference docs, “getting started” guides. Be prepared to speak on each sample, for example, how much time did you spend for the project.
- Prepare to answer questions about the resume. It’s better to be able to know 100% about one project than to know 50% about two different projects.
- Some vacancies require coding skills, so besides a writing test, you can receive also coding one.
- Think of the situations where you have succeeded, failed, and been challenged in some way.
- Prepare your questions about the company.