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When In Doubt: Hire the Best Writing Skills...

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.Home school

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.

Comments

Paul Shewmaker

Kris I love your blog and read it every day. You usually write well with very few grammatical flaws. Ah, but the irony. In a post about writing well you dropped a word and you used the wrong indefinite article... twice! Re-read your Example Email. Regardless, you're always engaging, personable and influence me daily. Thanks!

Alison Green / Ask a Manager

Paul, as someone who wrote professionally for many years and hired/supervised writers for many others, I'd say with some degree of authority that dropping a word in no way indicates anything about someone's writing ability :) If you're hiring a proofreader, sure. A writer, no.

Kris, I love this post. Maybe it's my bias toward good writers, but I think this is right on -- great writing tends to indicate an ability to organize thoughts and convey them clearly and concisely, two things that I'm glad to have in pretty much any employee.

KD

Hey Paul - LOL, thanks for pointing it out. I corrected what I could find (bold), but your point raises a bigger question. Do you reject based on a dropped word, typo, etc., or do you view based on the overall quality of what the person is trying to say?

Alison - thanks for trying to protect me!!

Paul - you could have a typo and I'd hire you just for dropping the indefinite article phrase in your comment!! And of course, for the "ah, but the irony"... Thanks as always for reading and comment more often!

All good - KD

Todd Raphael

This may have been what Paul was referring to, but you'd want to say "a kid who was in" rather than "a kid that was in ..."

And "an entry" and not "a entry"

I agree with Alison that this doesn't mean the person is a bad writer, nor am I saying this is some big issue. But you do want someone who's careful with what they say, and sometimes the proofreading can be an indication of that.

KD

Hey gang -

Again, underlined what I missed in the proof. The question is whether you would still hire me or not.

I get it all the time - people overestimating the importance of omissions. Forest for the trees... When it comes to "a kid that was in", I'm not an expert in the proper usage of English. Would never DQ a candidate for that, which once you get out in the real world, is more style difference than black and white fact.

Full Disclosure - I write so much, it's hard to see the typos I've created at times - my wife generally serves as a great copy editor, and she's out this week. Bad week to be out, she's on a performance improvement plan...

KD

SGaspary

Great advice. As someone who does hire writers, I don't necessarily need to ask candidates for additional written commentary, but I love the concept for when I need to hire for a different type of position.

It really does make me cringe to see how many people cannot write simple communications. But it also surprises me how many people can get away with it.

Philip Turnbull

As a recent grad it really astounded me how terrible some of my group member's writing skills were in University. Don't you have to pass English to get in? Nice post.

www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=632019852

Written english/spoken english don't match up. I prefer to write like I speak. I can't tell you how many readers say that they can hear my voice when they read my blog. I love that.

Larry P. Price

As of 4:20pm Central Time, July 27, 2010, I have to agree with all of the comments I've read here (the article/blog too). I'm going to take a moment to expand the discussion (if anybody is interested).

1) How do we make this work the other way? I definitely would have reconsidered the last job I had if I had an opportunity to read the "bosses" writing before I accepted his offer.

2) I strongly advocate the internet as a source for finding this type of insight. A prospective employer is welcome to ask for a sample of my writing (or to trick me into writing a sample for them). But, they'll gain an even greater appreciation for me as a person (and as a writer) if they look at my "public" profile on facebook and other internet locations.

(I have no silly fantasy that anything I ever write or post online is private/secure.)

(And, yes, I fully expect some employers to disqualify me when they realize my world view doesn't conform with theirs; I leave that outside the workplace. But, if they can't leave their conflicting world view at home, the employment might not have worked out anyway.)

fran melmed

yay. and i agree with the kitty lady. writing as you speak is the single best way to connect with an audience. unless of course, you're a foul-mouthed oaf.

f

Michele

KD, You're hired, just for the statement about Russ Limbaugh alone!!!!

Email and wordprocessing programs have made us lazy when it comes to proofreading. I also agree with one of your responses where you stated that you write so much that you don't see the typos.

Writing the way we speak is a two edged sword. I know some people who speak and write the same and both their verbal and written communications require a pocket dictionary. By the same token there are others who write and speak as if they've never seen a dictionary.

I like the writing sample idea to find that extra something...all things being equal of course.

Jordan Spizike

Today I will introduce our website to you,there are some good products we are selling,they are really suitable to you,hope they are also good for you,thanks.

Tom Logue

KD, to answer your question: when I'm hiring for a position that has been advertised as "requires excellent written communication skills" and "must be extremely detail-oriented," anyone with a typo in a cover letter or resume gets dropped immediately. If I can't trust them to submit mistake-free writing when they have plenty of time to review it, then I can't trust them to communicate appropriately with my clients when the pressure is on.

BoyerDeann

According to my own exploration, thousands of persons on our planet receive the business loans at well known banks. Thus, there is a good possibility to find a credit loan in all countries.

Leadership Development

While you are talking to a big audience your speaking must be clear. Dont expect that all who are listening you have English as their mother language there may be many from other countries (Pakistan,Africa,China) who may give you a big business. So speak in the way that anyone could understand you easily. Thank you.

Account Deleted

Kris Nice post,thanks for informative post ,but i think we should use software for better writing,Remove all unnecessary functions and focus on your writing. Literal is perfect creative, novel and book writing software.

Insights Discovery

There is a lot of truth in hiring a good writer...but I must admit that some of the best sales guys I have come across have not always had the sharpest writing skills, but there inter-personal skills have been second to none. I'm not disagreeing with what has been said, but just thing other factors can be just as important

nalysale

communication is the act of relaying a message to others.Writing skills are must for every one and for every business to develop.Communication is the key to personal and career success.

Minecraft Torrent

Communication is undoubtedly an essential thing to convey your thoughts no matter if it is related to business or any other purpose. Good writing skills means you will stand out from others while convincing on a particular matter. Nice post.

Rahab Mumbi Muigai

Hiring a good writer is a great hiring strategy that is very rare in interviews. I have always admired people who can speak and write well. Nice article

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