11 Technical Writer Interview Questions and Tips

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You’ve written up a perfect resume and hit it off with the hiring manager in a quick introductory call. Now, it’s time for the big interview! These days, that’s more likely to take the form of an hour-long Zoom meeting than making the trek to an office building and meeting with (gasp!) real, actual people.

Over their 30 years in the talent and services business in Raleigh, Ronnie Duncan and Adrian West have helped thousands of technical writers, instructional designers, and corporate communication pros find their career path and prepare for technical writing position interviews.

Whether you’re throwing on your finest shirt and running shorts in front of the laptop or breaking out the trusty Interview (Pant) Suit, they have a few common technical writer tips to help you nail the final step of the technical writer interview.

To help you land on the technical writing project of your dreams, here is a list of the most related writer interview questions. It will give you an idea about what to expect and how to answer them to help you nail the interview. 

 

Interview Questions for Technical Writers

 

1. Can you describe your experience as a subject matter expert writer with different types of technical documentation?

The interviewer wants to know how well you grasp your experience working in this field, such as the range of documentation types you’ve worked with – user manuals, installation guides, policy documents, release notes, API documentation, etc. 

The interviewer also wants to know how you differentiate between audiences. Highlight your experience on different projects, your understanding of why different documents are necessary, and who they are for. For instance, user manuals are for end-users requiring operational information, whereas API documentation is for developers needing technical details. 

You can also describe your specific role in creating good technical writing. Were you responsible for gathering information, writing, editing, formatting, or all of the above? This helps the interviewer gauge your independence and areas of expertise. Name any software tools or platforms you’ve used in the creation of these documents, such as MadCap Flare, Markdown, Adobe FrameMaker, etc., to demonstrate your technical proficiency.

2. What makes a good technical writer?

To become a technical writer one should have empathy for the user and anticipate questions and potential confusion. Here are a few signs of a good technical writer:

  • Clarity and precision: a good writer should be able to convey and share complex information in an understandable way. 
  • Customized content to fit the needs and knowledge level of the target audience. 
  • Verifies facts and data and provides a sound foundation for the content.
  • Adapts their writing style and content based on the document’s purpose and audience. 
  • Meticulous grammar, style, and factual accuracy. 
  • Clear information presentation, with a logical and coherent structure that makes sense to their audience. 
  • Always learning: about new tools, technologies, writing techniques, and writer skills trends. 

3. How many words can you write in a day?

The interviewer is trying to see how productive you are. Too many words might point to sloppy work; too few might show that you are not efficient in your writing. 

You should be honest and realistic. You can also explain that the number of words depends on the complexity of the task. You can give an average, like “I typically produce between 500 to 1500 words of high-quality, well-researched technical content per day.” 

Talk about time management and how you multi-task on different writing tasks and projects. 

4. How do you work best: independently or within a team?

Acknowledge the value of both. Both have their place and utility. Express your comfort and effectiveness in both scenarios. Give examples and describe a time of independent work and transition into team collaboration projects. Mention how you provided valuable insight and how the end project was a team effort. 

Conclude by stressing your adaptability and your ability to assess a situation to determine the best approach: the point is to show excellent technical writer skills and you can achieve that. 

5. How do you handle conflicts or differing opinions?

Being part of a team means that there will be differing opinions. Be honest and acknowledge that all teams face conflict: it’s inevitable in the workplace and you are well-prepared to handle it. 

  • Highlight your ability to communicate clearly and effectively. 
  • Mention that you listen actively to understand all perspectives fully before responding. 
  • Underline your ability to handle negative feedback efficiently.
  • Explain the steps you take to resolve disagreements and provide past examples from your work life.

6. Do you know how to interview subject matter experts to gain information?

Writer interview questions of this kind aim at two goals: whether you know how to tailor your writing to specific audiences and how you extract necessary information from experts. 

  • Mention how you research the subject matter beforehand to be informed about the topic so you can ask relevant and detailed questions. 
  • Discuss how your questions are open-ended when necessary to elicit detailed responses, and how you use follow-up questions to dig deeper into the subject. 
  • Explain how you document the information, whether it’s taking notes, audio recording (with permission), or even summarizing key points back to the expert for confirmation. 

7. How do you think we can improve our documentation?

The interviewer is trying to gauge how prepared you are for the interview. Did you get to know the company and culture environment by doing research? Did you take a look at their documentation? Did you read about the industry and how competitors present their documentation? Are you familiar with the industry?

  • Show that you are well-prepared. 
  • Acknowledge any strengths you’ve observed in the company’s existing documentation. This shows that you value what has already been accomplished. 
  • Mention ideas for improvement based on new platforms, general best practices, accessibility, and inclusivity. 
  • Discuss metrics of success to evaluate the effectiveness of the documentation and improve upon it. 
  • Recommend establishing stronger feedback loops with users and technical support teams.

8. How do you ensure that your documentation meets user needs and usability standards?

A technical text is meant to be understood by its audience, otherwise it’s useless. This interview question is the perfect spot to show how well you understand and study your audience before writing for it. 

You understand user needs and collaborate with stakeholders including subject matter experts (SMEs), product managers, and user experience designers. 

Explain how the documentation meets established usability standards. This could include following best practices for readability, such as using clear headings, concise language, and helpful visuals. 

Describe how you collect and incorporate feedback through surveys, user testing, or direct user interactions to constantly improve your writing. 

9. Can you tell us about a failure you faced?

We all make mistakes, the interviewer included. What they are looking for is to understand how you react to failures. Do you break down? Do you learn from them? Do you improve your writing? The good thing about mistakes is that we learn from them, so tell them how your mistakes have made you a better technical writer. 

  • Select an example, describe the situation, and take responsibility. 
  • Explain the resolution and how you learned from the mistake. 
  • Conclude by sharing how this failure has influenced your practices moving forward. 

10. How do you stay mentally relaxed?

When a business is looking to hire a person, they want to know that this person knows how to take care of themselves. 

  • You can talk about how you manage stress, what makes you relaxed, and how you keep your mind alert and relaxed. 
  • Be honest but don’t give too many personal details. If you like cycling early in the morning because it clears your mind, mention it. 
  • Don’t be shy about the importance of regular breaks, friendly relations with colleagues, and how you manage potential work stress. 

11. What don’t you like about technical writing? 

Again, honesty is the best solution. You can show a side of yourself that might not be obvious to the interviewer. They might want to hire a technical writer, but still, they are hiring a human being, so they want to know how you feel about your work. 

  • Say all the positive aspects of technical writing that you like, so you start on a positive note. 
  • Next, pick something small but significant to the process and explain how it sometimes feels like a burden. Maybe you don’t particularly like the research involved when you enter a new industry field. Or it can be how to organize the feedback you get in a coherent way. 
  • Explain what you don’t like about this particular aspect and how you are trying to overcome it. 

Again, nobody likes 100% of their job, but we still do it. The interview question is geared towards you showing that you can deal with less pleasant features of your job.   

Interview Tips

Master technology

You’ve received the meeting link, and somehow, it’s not one of the seven virtual conferencing platforms you’ve already downloaded.

Rather than trying your luck moments before an interview, sign in and arrange a trial run the night before. If possible, hop on a meeting with a friend to help familiarize yourself with the program and ensure your camera and microphone are configured correctly.

Beyond functionality, you’ll also want to ensure your camera is set at a proper angle (eye level, ideally) and the room has good lighting. Also, confirm your audio is coming through loud and clear during the dry run.

Unexpected technical issues are an unfortunate reality of our new virtual world, and most people understand that the Technology Gods are occasionally unfair.

Still, it’s worth doing everything in your power to mitigate those factors and avoid giving someone the wrong idea.

“It immediately sets a perception that you’re not technical, not prepared,” Duncan said. “Neither of those are good things to start an interview.”

One more thing – it’s best to check your background and filter settings to ensure that your first impression isn’t made as a feline.

The magic question

At this point, you’ve seen the job description a hundred times and even heard it explained several more by a recruiter. You’ve done your research on the company, clicked through the website, and even looked up LinkedIn profiles.

Still, there’s one question that we’ve told every associate to ask at the beginning of each interview:

“I‘ve researched this company and the role in great detail, and I’ve read the job description, but I know that a lot is lost in translation. Would you mind starting this interview by giving me an overview, in your words, of what you need — the company, the role itself, and the most important thing you see for me to do in this role?”

Voila! If you’re lucky, the interviewer will, in a way, give you the answers to the test by telling you exactly where you should focus your efforts in the conversation.

Not only are you getting valuable information on how to position yourself, but you’re immediately establishing a good rhythm.

“Get the interviewer talking right out of the gate,” Duncan said.

Listen up!

We’ve all walked out of an interview cringing at just how poorly we represented ourselves.

Think back to the worst interview moments you’ve experienced. Chances are, you’re talking. And talking. And you might still be talking today if not for a well-timed interjection from the interviewer.

When humans get nervous, we tend to ramble on to avoid the introspection that comes with silence.

Fight human nature and bring your statement to a halt at the first opportunity. The interviewer will either pick things up, or you’ll face a few seconds of silence – both are better options than droning on.

“They’ll be doing most of the talking, and that’s a good thing,” Duncan said. “If you’re talking more than them, it’s probably not going well.”

Just how far should that ratio be skewed toward a candidate listening?

“If they’re talking 70 percent of the time, they’re trying to sell you on the job – that’s a good thing,” West said.

You’re the interviewer

Coming in with a list of prepared questions is the easiest way to ensure that you’ll spend more time listening than speaking. 

Besides, if you’re truly excited and interested in the opportunity, the interviewers will have far more ground to cover than you possibly could.

“They have a lot to tell you about the job, the company, their role, the role,” Duncan said. “You’re just there to tell them about you.”

Particularly in technical writing and instructional design, your ability to work with a subject matter expert is an important skill. In this setting, the interviewer is the SME in the company, and you’re simply trying to extract their expertise to create a better deliverable – the interview itself.

“You need to ask questions to dig,” Duncan said. “Your questions tell more about your ability to do the job, than the answers to the questions you’re eventually going to give them.”

With great questions, the interviewer will help you help yourself.

“The questions you’re asking them, to get them to give you more detail, will lead to dialogue,” West said. “It will spur them to tell you the answers to the test.”

Want to be wanted

Whether it’s an established Fortune 100 company or a start-up in Research Triangle Park you’re interviewing with, people are ultimately making the decision.

People have emotions, and whether conscious or subconscious, emotion will play a role in who is offered the job.

“People make these decisions emotionally and justify them logically – not the other way around – in spite of their best attempts,” Duncan said.

If you think you’ve found your dream job and couldn’t possibly be more excited, tell the hiring manager at the end of your interview, and speak with conviction. When you send your thank-you note later that evening, make it clear that this is an opportunity you wouldn’t pass on.

“Don’t be ambiguous about whether or not you would take this job. People are people, and even big companies fear rejection,” West said. “People have a need for being wanted, and if they don’t feel you want them, they’ll offer it to somebody else.”

TimelyText has employed and placed hundreds of instructional designers, technical writers and corporate communication professionals in North Carolina since 2003. Submit your résumé via our homepage, or reach out to info@timelytext.com to discuss how we can help you reach your personal and professional goals! Come find out why we’re more than a staffing agency.

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