12 Technical Writer Interview Questions and Answers
Technical writing demands an appropriate balance of practical experience, qualifications, and the right skillsets. Recruiters often find seeking a candidate that ticks all boxes difficult. To filter away unfit candidates, they leverage tricky technical writer interview questions.
Apart from any preliminary assessment, the job interview can make or break a candidate's shot at being hired.
If you're a job seeker with an interview lined up (or a recruiter who's hiring a technical writer for the first time), keep reading. In this article, we'll list down the 12 most commonly asked technical writer interview questions, along with appropriate answers. If you want to understand the Q&A via video, watch below. Otherwise, skip ahead.
Let's jump right in.
What to Expect in a Technical Writer Interview
Interviewing for a new technical writing job can be extremely nerve-racking, especially if you haven't had any luck lately or a dream employer is interviewing you.
Even the most experienced candidates tend to lose their cool.
And when the interview is for a competitive position–such as that of a technical writer job–you need to bring your A-game.
Depending on the organization, you may be interviewed by an existing tech writer, subject matter expert, and/or an HR professional.
After conducting research on the web, interviewing candidates who recently appeared in interviews, and recalling our own experiences, we've noticed that technical writer interview questions can be classified into the following two types:
- General questions
- On-job/Technical questions
There may be no particular order in which the interviewer asks a potential technical writer those questions. And even if there is, it's difficult to notice it at the moment the technical writer is asked.
Stay calm, collect your thoughts before appearing for the interview, and take your sweet time answering the questions.
Essential Technical Writer Interview Questions
Now that you have a basic idea of what to expect in your technical writing interview, it's time to get a little specific and look at the actual list of questions and answers from actual technical writer experiences.
Let's start off with some basic, generic questions without any specific answers.
Here are a few that you can expect in your interview:
1. What Drove You to Pursue Technical Writing?
Technical writing isn't as commonly heard of as other writing and editorial jobs.
Despite having a knack for it, some promising technical writer candidates never get the opportunity to explore this career path.
And a few of those who do, the technical writer may discover that they're really not cut out for it the hard way.
To understand the candidate's career goals and ensure that they align with what they're looking for, recruiters will often ask a technical writer why they chose this career.
There's no right or wrong answer here. Simply explain your journey, passions, and what drove you towards this field as a technical writer. Think of a concise and engaging way to tell your story.
2. What Are the Characteristics of Good Technical Writing and Technical Writers?
Some might argue that this question leans more towards the job-related category, but the answers may vary.
To provide a more specific response, counter the interviewer with a query asking exactly what type of technical writing they are referring to, and more importantly, who is it meant for.
If they give you a type, adjust your answer accordingly.
In case they ask you to provide a generic answer, here are some solid characteristics to list:
- Technical writers should create great technical writing for a specific target audience with specific goals
- It should be as unambiguous as possible (leaving no room for doubts)
- Ideally, the content should be ever-green
- Graphics should be leveraged to complement the writing
To make your answer airtight, also highlight that the definition of "good" writing will always vary from company to company at the end of the day.
3. Are You Comfortable Collaborating with Other Team Members?
Technical writers have to collaborate with various team members, including, but not limited to designers, web developers, subject matter experts, and sometimes external leads.
Naturally, the ideal candidate should be a team player. If you're not so big on collaborating with other members, the job won't exactly be easy.
You also don't want to answer with a simple "yes." Elaborate a bit – share an example of the different jobs/projects you've worked on where you had to collaborate with one or more people.
Need more help with technical writing interview questions? If you're interested in learning more about the technical writing role and landing your dream technical writing job, then check out our Technical Writing Certification Course.
4. Why Do You Wish to Work for Our Company?
This is one of those questions that are often heard in interviews, irrespective of the position or career.
As with all the aforementioned technical writer interview questions, this one doesn't have an ultimate answer.
But to win the recruiters, and show them that you've done your homework, conduct some research and find out the accomplishments of their company if you already haven't.
You may also express that you look forward to working in an environment that promotes professional growth, and that working side-by-side with talented people has always been one of your priorities.
Job-Related Technical Writer Interview Questions
In a typical interview, most of the questions that hiring managers ask are to test your knowledge about the field.
Some organizations may emphasize more on other questions to check if you're a good fit for their culture, and test your competency via a separate assessment.
But why take the chance? This is your opportunity to revisit some core concepts/experiences, prepare for potential technical questions, and impress the recruiters.
Here are some of the popular questions to expect:
5. Tell Us About a Challenge That You Overcame.
Recruiters like to throw this question to see if you've ever been in a stressful situation in your job (and assess your response to test your definition of a "challenge").
If you have some prior experience, think of the most difficult challenge that you had to overcome. This could be anything, ranging from not having the appropriate tools to work with to the unavailability of an SME.
Define the problem, explain why it seemed like a real challenge, and then discuss how you overcame it.
6. Do You Have Experience with Any Content Development Tools?
A technical writer has to rely on a bunch of content development, management, and authoring tools to do their job.
Having experience with these different software tools, such as MS Word, WordPress, RoboHelp, etc. is a huge plus.
Mention all the relevant programs that you have experience with.
Furthermore, ask the interviewer about the programs that they provide to their in-house technical writers. If they name a software that you're not familiar with, be honest about it, but at the same time reassure them that you'll learn to use it.
7. What are the Specific Roles and Responsibilities of a Technical Writer?
As with every other job on the planet, the exact technical writer job description varies from recruiter to recruiter.
While the recruiter must have already shared the job description with you long before the interview, they might also be curious to know what you believe are a technical writer's typical roles and responsibilities.
The most important ones include:
- Create and manage personas
- Interview subject matter experts to ensure technically sound content
- Communicate with the designer and/or any other member of the team to finalize the content
- Perform editorial work and report to the supervisor(s) about progress
List anything that you feel a technical writer should be paid for.
8. What is Topic-Based Authoring?
As the name suggests, topic-based authoring is a concept in technical writing that focuses on creating content on specific, narrow topics.
With topic-based authoring, the goal is to keep the scope of the content limited to the topic at hand only. This enables faster delivery of information, reduced resources, and the ability to use the content in different contexts.
To learn more, this old piece by IBM on topic-based authoring will prove to be extremely helpful.
9. Explain the Concept of the Document Development Lifecycle.
Document development life cycle (DDLC) is a systematic approach to content development. Its goal is to make highly complex technical documentation into easy-to-digest, unambiguous writing that effectively serves its purpose.
DDLC consists of the following phases:
- Content development
The approach can also be applied to regular blogging.
10. Do You Have Any Practical Experience with [XYZ Area]?
Ideally, a technical writer is also a subject matter expert. Time would otherwise spend interviewing other people.
While this isn't always a requirement, having a technical background can help you give a competitive edge.
The recruiter might ask you if you have experience with the concerned fields, such as computer science/IT, engineering, etc.
11. What are Some of the Technical Writing Projects You've Worked On?
Another technical writer interview question doesn't apply to those with no prior experience.
The person conducting the interview may spontaneously ask you to talk about the different projects you've worked on in the past.
In the moment, you may get confused and end up underselling yourself. This is your chance to share your best work with your potential recruiter.
Some companies may also ask for writing samples prior to the interview. In such cases, the recruiter may also offer constructive criticism.
12. What Specific Skillsets Do You Bring to the Table as a Technical Writer?
A great technical writer should have a diverse skillset.
Technical communication skills – especially writing skills – are prerequisites. This means you don't need to bring them up (the recruiter already knows that).
Instead, highlight any other in-demand important skills that you might have, such as HTML, API development, graphic designing, etc.
The trick to acing your interview lies in anticipating the whole process, creating a list of all the possible questions the recruiter might ask, and brushing up on your knowledge. That's pretty much it.
Also, remember that an interview is supposed to be two-way communication. Follow-up with your own queries once the recruiter is finished to learn as much as you can about the company.
If you are new to technical writing and are looking to break-in, we recommend taking our Technical Writing Certification Course, where you will learn the fundamentals of being a technical writer, how to dominate technical writer interviews, and how to stand out as a technical writing candidate.
Josh is the founder of Technical Writer HQ and Squibler, a writing software. He is considered one of the top product influencers in the world by Product School and one of the top technical writers. He has been writing software tutorials, manuals, handbooks, and white papers for over eight years. You can connect with him on LinkedIn here.