In “Rework” by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, the authors recommend that when making a hiring decision, if all other considerations are equal, go with the better writer. That’s good advice, particularly for businesses that want to compete online. You need a good writer who understands your services and products and can tell the inside story.
The pen is mightier than the mouth
An engineer who can write for a lay audience is far more valuable than one who cannot, but an engineer who can write only technical documents—although that may be part of the job requirement—is less valuable than the former employee who can also write blog posts or Facebook updates. And since search is based on text, if you think you should hire someone who is a great verbal communicator but can’t write a coherent sentence, forget it. You’ll still need that employee with good writing skills to create a text summary of the audio or video that your “communicator” delivered.
How do you know who’s good?
You need a sample of the candidate’s writing in order to judge their skill. Do NOT use their resume, since that could have been written by anyone. As part of your interview process, create a simple test whereby each candidate needs to describe the same thing, such as one of your products or services. Give them each the same background materials as a basis for their description and provide each with the same amount of time to complete the test. Having set up the test properly, you’ll be able to compare apples to apples.
Need some help scoring the test?
If the winner of your writing test isn’t obvious, here are a few ideas to help narrow the samples down to the best one. If you know a professional writer, tell them what your goal is and have them look over the top candidates and make comments. There are also some online tools that can help. Writing Tester will evaluate any text you paste into a field and return two values: you’ll see the reading grade level of the sample, and a “readability” score. Ideally, the reading grade level shouldn’t be too high for the sample (say 8-12) since you’ll want to communicate to as many people as possible, but the higher the readability score the better. You can also have candidates take a quick online test that presents multiple choice answers to given sentences that may or may not be correct; click here to try it out.
The big takeaway is that writing skills are more valuable than ever in business due to the importance of online marketing and social media. If you already have this skill set covered, great! But if not, you might want to look for good writing skills in your next hire.