The case for paid projects, not free writing tests

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I first want to state that I’m not averse to writing tests for full-time or contract positions. Yet, in today’s economy, my time at the keyboard is tied to billable work. A request to take a writing test came to me once from a company. Looking at the information they sent me, they could submit my output from this test to their client as a deliverable. All the while, I could be out time and money for the effort, and the company has gotten the work done for free.

Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson in their excellent book Remote tell how they use a small project to test prospective employees for his company Basecamp.
 
The prospective employee gets compensated for their time and efforts. Keeping the test project small mitigates many of the risks. Likewise, a prospective employee gets compensated for their time and efforts.
 

For the Employer

It’s hard hiring technical writers. Companies make it harder by trying to create a writing or editing test that’s appropriate to what the prospective writer or editor’s duties.
 
Dummying up or fabricating an editing or writing test creates more drama than necessary in my experience. In fact, my only real objection to writing and editing tests are the manufactured ones. In my experience, they lack the reality that the writer/editor will face with the project, team, and the working environment.
 

For the Writer

More people think they know how to work with a writer than do. A small project can also help the writer vet the corporate culture and other elements that can be oversold in the interview process. Additionally, the longer I’ve been a writer the more I’ve come to believe that chemistry plays a small but (sometimes) pivotal role in a writer’s success with an organization. A test with a live and billable project can help test those waters as well for the writer and the prospective employer.
 
In the case of working remotely, the small project can be a great test of how the prospective employer or client communicates with people out in the field. Having worked remotely for companies across industries has shown me that some collaboration is part of the culture and some organizations just can’t support remote workers.
 

Final thoughts

A small project where the prospective employee receives some compensation for their time can be more of a real test than some manager dummying up a document and setting up a scenario that in no way relates to the technical writer job the company is trying to fill.

Do you give tests as part of the technical writer hiring process?

Image by rawpixel.com via Unsplash.com

An earlier version of this post was published on my old blog.

Published by

Will Kelly

Will Kelly is a technical writer living and working in the Washington, DC area. After years of contracting, he returned to full-time corporate job in 2016. He writes thought leadership content around cloud, enterprise mobility, and cybersecurity topics. Will's has written for Samsung Business Insights, Tom's IT Pro, TechBeacon, CNET TechRepublic, and other sites. Earlier in his career, he wrote technical documentation for end users, developers, and operations teams. His current areas of interest include multi-cloud solutions, mobile security, and managed services. Follow Will on Twitter: @willkelly.

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