That's right. I'm taking the stand that, all other things being relatively equal, hiring the best writer is always the right thing to do when faced with a tough choice between worthy candidates. I was reminded of this when I re-browsed through "Rework" by the gang at 37 signals, an interesting software company that's dedicated to writing productivity software that's easy to use. Rework includes a brief chapter that speaks the truth - hire the best writer.
Why does hiring the best writer make sense? Let me count the ways:
1. People talk like they write and vice versa. If someone has trouble putting a good, topical sentence together, you can bet that they're going to have trouble talking to folks verbally at times.
2. Have you heard of this thing called email? Apparently it's a somewhat important business tool based almost entirely on the ability to write.
3. Apparently when used incorrectly or without context provided by effective writing skills, email can piss people off faster than Rush Limbaugh at the Democratic National Convention. Advantage: Writing skills with a sprinkle of judgment.
4. The ability to use the written word to share ideas, motivate and gain acceptance makes any employee more valuable to your organization. Writing skills can influence almost anyone - customers, fellow employees, media outlets and competitors to name a few - and we don't pay enough attention to the value it provides in the hiring process.
When I say hire someone with writing skills, I'm not talking about someone who can write term papers, because let's face it, no one reads those. I'm talking about the ability to write down some thoughts in an engaging, personable, influencing manner. You know it when you see it.
The problem is you probably don't see it in the interview process. So you need to create a way to engage the candidate in a writing exercise that doesn't even feel like an exercise.
My favorite way - pick something you didn't talk about in person on the candidate's resume. Drop them a note and ask a detailed question about the school or company you're referring to. Make sure the question is detailed enough to warrant a 3-4 paragraph response, and make sure you ask for some opinion as well to get the level of detail you need.
Example Email to generate writing sample: "Rick, have an interview coming up with a kid who was in the Forestry program like you at (you guessed it readers) Wake Forest. Based on this guy's limited experience and the fact he's applying for an entry level role, can you drop me some notes today to help me understand the top three things a kid coming out of that program should have competency in and maybe your thoughts on the transferability of that degree to an entry-level customer service role? You'd help me a bunch with the notes you provide. Thanks in advance, KD"
I'm not asking you to lie. I really did have a Forestry grad that interviewed for a support role. As far as you know.
Keep it truthful, but find a reason to ask for the detail related to something. And make sure you make it clear that you want it in a response to the email.
Then take what comes in and judge accordingly. Add it to the overall profile of your candidate (save the email, you folks who say I'll get sued, blah, blah, blah...) and make your hiring decision accordingly.
And hire the best writer when all other things are relatively the same.