What conducting interviews taught me about life

By definition, an interview is an interaction. By nature, it is an interrogation, where people question one another to explore mutual interests or growth goals. By application, I found it to be rather exhausting. Fortunately, by design, this all is purely subjective. Be it may, that is how we began searching for potential teammates. In this post, I mostly talk about what I learnt. I also rant about a few noticeable things.

The assessments and the shortlisting

It isn’t the first time I have helped my team in hiring. And, I assume, it wouldn’t be the last, either. But, unlike previously, I have encountered a few things that I had never encountered before.

In the post-COVID world, we send the questions online. And candidates are instructed to submit their answers in a couple of days. The submissions we received were based on two separate sets of written assessments (or question papers). We know that our written assessment isn’t easy. So, we selected those who showed even a little bit of promise. After all, the assessment is only an initial test, and we use it for sieving through to the candidates that might show some potential. I say ‘might’ because, in this case, we still had a lot of unanswered questions.

The interviews

We conducted several interviews over a couple of weeks. Yet, surprisingly, we did not find the candidates we were looking for.

For reference, we have a list of questions that can help create a conversation. On a ‘happy path’, candidates can expect us to crack a conversation with them, where we ask open-ended questions. When we do expect them to be exact, candidates can be specific. And we usher them to those questions appropriately.

The feedback

This one is interesting. A couple of weeks back, when we couldn’t select anyone, we chose to share the information on a (technical writer’s) regional WhatsApp group. After we shared this work opportunity, someone from within the technical writer’s community commented on the post. Here is an excerpt of it, “One feedback – Few of my friends and acquittances applied. Once single exam papers comes. I have see that too. and then one round and then poof… nothing happens. This is the 3rd time I am hearing this in the last one and half year. Has anyone from this group successfully got into from AHM (sic)? Am really curious. If no, then is playing pranks. or AHM TW are not up their standards, which i doubt. If anyone has got selected from AHM, please put here. I might be wrong in my notion.” (Please note that AHM, here, is an acronym for Ahmedabad, the location for which we were recruiting.)

Later, toward the end of the week, we received an email from one of the candidates whom we had interviewed. He had written, “I understood from today’s interview that I can’t be a potential candidate for further processes, as I haven’t don’t have relevant experience in developing technical write-ups (documentation). No problems with the decision, I respect that. However, wouldn’t it have been a better decision if this was considered before I was asked to develop content and attend a technical round? My whole purpose behind writing this email is to bring to your notice that there are some candidates like me, who do preparations before attending an interview — and the preparations take time. So my earnest request is that before you start screening a candidate, the top management should have a look at the resume before proceeding with any assessment process.”

The ranting

We took the feedback with due respect and diligence, and we will refine our hiring processes.

None of the writers had the skills we were looking for. Simple. The reverse of it, however, is equally true. Our attitude is subject to the side of the interview table we occupy. As recruiters, we take a few things for granted. But, sadly, as candidates, we assume a lot of things. The question is not if one side is more important than the other or who is right and more ‘just’ than the other. The question is whether we are ready to accommodate the other side in our own story.

If, for example, we email all those candidates whom we might have rejected in written assessments, will that not create an unwanted additional liability? Will the candidate, who raised this request, be able to justify the cost (in terms of time, effort, and money)? I agree that it makes sense to inform at least those whom we might have interviewed irrespective of their selection. I have been on the other side and it hurts when you do not receive any communication (good or bad, favourable or not). This questioning has no end. Would you not ask them why they rejected you if and when they tell?

In reply to the comments and questions, I have a few questions of my own:

  • Is the question paper (the written assessment, that is) the only round in the selection process? Even if it was, would we (as either candidates or assessors) be able to highlight all the mistakes, oversights, and shortcomings based on the written assessment itself? If only the resume or written assessment could guarantee success, we all would have hired robots for writing.
  • If we don’t select anyone based on the written assessments, people come back to us saying something similar to, “this is the 3rd time I am hearing this in the last one and half year”. If we consider them for the interview and then don’t find them fit for the role, the candidates might say, “wouldn’t it have been a better decision if this was considered before I was asked to develop content and attend a technical round?” These are two contradictory opinions. Is it wrong to give everyone a fair chance that is based entirely on their performance?
  • Did the preparation for the technical round not teach you anything? Candidates prepare for interviews, I agree. They must. They invest a lot of time and effort, I understand. How is the learning subject to the selection, then? Irrespective of the result of the selection process, did you not learn? If you have, the rejection email (or its absence) mustn’t bother you. If you haven’t, it is good that you didn’t make it.
  • If you get a better offer from another company, would you bother to give us a call or send us an email stating that you are rejecting our offer (and why)? I have seen cases when people didn’t turn up on the day of their joining. Only after they were given a call did they confirm that they joined elsewhere. Besides, what is the guarantee that you will not use an offer to bargain for another one? In such a case, do you inform the companies?
  • If all companies share their feedback on why they rejected you, what would that do to your confidence? Would you take all the feedback positively? What is the assurance that you wouldn’t bad-mouth the company or its selection process?
  • In most cases, people can learn from introspection. But did that happen here?

That’s enough ranting.

The takeaway

To begin with, the episode has taught me an invaluable lesson: hiring is tiring. The interview process seems similar to searching for alliances for an arranged marriage. Everything from behaviour to qualification to skills is taken into consideration.

Life is a race, and I don’t deny that you must run. And run fast. You must project yourself as a sprinter and a marathoner. What surprises me is that some of us don’t see the obvious. We are just too busy running after the outcome to even pay attention to the joy of running itself. Why can’t we enjoy the view as we run past our milestones of growth? This episode has taught me to not overrate success by equating it with heavier brand names, higher salaries, or longer titles. It has also taught me to not underrate or ignore my countless little successes. Each release, every new tool, and all the work items I closed in a sprint were extremely joyful moments. Every time I pumped my fist, a moment got added to my bucket of memories. I’ll say, stop running. Or, at least, learn to slow down every once in a while.

You didn’t plan to be ‘here’: you didn’t plan to be born as a technical communicator—a good majority of you, that is. You did not plan to be an employee of a certain company. You simply hope to do so. And that’s all the difference there can be. People, places, companies, designations, and salaries don’t define your success. They cannot. Life is not an outcome of only accomplishments. Life is a grand total of experiences. You don’t define your life by when you die, but by how wholesome you’re finding it to be. The episode has taught me to not bother about the destination when I can enjoy the journey.

Each company has its template for candidates. Selection or not, it still is an experience. Let us learn to acknowledge that difference. The episode has also taught me to be a bit more considerate. I purposely wish to create some room for someone else’s micro-story within my own success story. I have also realised that my success cannot define my path. But my path will define my success. And, while that’s how I choose to forge ahead, I am still looking for teammates.

YouTube: 10 Easy Tips on Novel Writing for Beginners

For this week’s video, I present my top 10 tips on #Novel #Writing for #Beginners on #WordsAndWordsmith. Watch the video here or on YouTube: (https://youtu.be/jkGv2hldl_8https://youtu.be/jkGv2hldl_8

Don’t forget to Like, Share, Comment, and Subscribe.

YouTube: 5 Challenges for Learners of English as a Second Language

Hi there!

My new video for this week is out now. The topic for this week’s video is 5 Challenges for Learners of English as a Second Language.

Instead of sharing tips for the English language learners, I’ve shared what challenges they face and how they can overcome those challenges.

You may watch it here:

Please watch, Like, Share, and Subscribe.

YouTube: 3 Easy Tips on Breaking through the Writer’s Block

I’ve released my new video on YouTube. This time, I share my easy tips on how to break through the writer’s block. What it on #WordsAndWordsmith.

Don’t forget to Like, Share, and Subscribe. 🙂

Top 3 Tips for Writing Crisp Sentences

My friends often email me seeking help with writing. This post adds to the reply I gave to one of my friends who asked:

What should I look for to construct better sentences?

I assume the question relates more to work-related writing (jotting thoughts down) than speaking. So, I am slightly changing the question to fit it as the topic for the post. 😊

Here are my top 3 suggestions for writing better sentences:

Tip 1: Give Action Points

Whether it is emails, meeting notes, Sprint retrospections, or a web chat with a colleague, clarity in communication is of the utmost importance. Be clear with what you wish to say. Write, then read (and, if required, re-write). Then, send. But, please mind the gap; there is a difference between being straightforward and being offensive.

Tip 2: Use Active Voice

Consider that Ram is preparing meeting minutes. This is what he writes as an action item:

Inputs on project estimation must be given.

See how he skips mentioning the doer in this passive sentence. That’s usually with every passive sentence. Let us rephrase this to introduce active voice (and hence the doer):

Shyam needs to give inputs to the PMO for project estimation.

See how sentences in the active voice clearly define responsibilities? Had Ram circulated an email with a passive sentence, we wouldn’t even know Shyam was supposed to share his inputs.

But, should we always construct sentences in the active voice?

No. In cases when you generalize or do not have any recipient for actions, you may use the passive voice. For example:

The velocity improved for the Sprint.

In this case, because the velocity improved for the entire team, we are sure that each one of the teammates contributed more. You may also use the passive voice for highlighting facts and figures. In the same example:

The velocity improved by over 5% for the Sprint.

Also:

An average of 5% capacity is reserved for holidays.

(Considering reservation of capacity to be a known item for capacity planning.)

Tip 3: Remove Needless Words

There are words that do not add to the meaning or intensity of the words they accompany. For example, “very” and “really”. However, approach this tip with caution.

Consider this example:

This cake takes very good.

We might as well get rid of “very”, and the cake will still taste equally good. But, by no means should you take this as a rule of thumb for deleting all occurrences of “very”. The very purpose of “very” (pun intended) is to intensify something that already exists.

If, however, there is a rule of thumb, it is to seek brevity. Look for opportunities to shorten or, at least, vary the length of your sentences. This means you give the reader more opportunities to flow with the rhythm of the words, take sufficient pauses, and contemplate on what they read.

Bonus Tip: Listen to Your Mental Ears

I really like such sections—another exception to Tip#3. Readers would usually jump over to this section first. If you too did just that, welcome aboard. As I share my top 3 tips for writing better sentences, I see that most of us already know the tips. The problem is they don’t know how to put that knowledge into practice.

How do we identify what and when to change?

I’d say listen to your mental ears. They are never wrong. You can always check for the meanings of words or phrases you are not sure of. Look at your write-ups the next day. Take a print out and read out loud. Project the write-ups on a bigger screen. Let someone else read your write-ups out loud to you. Take a break and re-read your write-ups. There’s a lot that can come in handy. But, nothing beats the joy of rewriting. Before I release my posts, I write and rewrite them in the proportion of 1:4.

Conclusion

Let us revise:

  • Enlist actionable items. I just did that.
  • Use active voice, but don’t be offensive.
  • Remove words that do not affect or contribute to the meaning of your sentences.

Sub-topics like “varying lengths of sentences” demand a post of their own. We can even experiment with including a combination of words that produce lyrical or homophonic composition: “she sells seashells”.

To sum up this post, here’s what I have: it all depends on finding the sweet spot where meet relevance and comprehension.

Happy writing.

Give Some Space

Sorry for a clickbait title… I wanted one with a play of words.

The article isn’t really aimed at people who are old enough to have learned (learnt for those who speak the English English) typing on typewriters, but also for those who are still taught to use two spaces after every sentence.

The trend has (almost) changed. In the past, people used two spaces for a reason: typewriters had monospace fonts that inserted equal, not proportional, spaces for all letters. So, the “i” consumed as much space as “w” or “m”. The obvious confusion was when sentences ended. So, it was required that the writers insert two spaces after sentences to visibly mark the end of sentences.

Why this post? Now, in 2018? Well, I still come across write-ups from people who use two spaces. I have seen people encourage two spaces, especially in legal documents. I see some people use double spaces in résumés and personal profiles that are not just printed, but shared digitally, as well. In technical publications, we encourage the use of a single space after sentences because we use proportional fonts.

We are increasingly sharing information digitally. Given that context, I’d encourage you to give only space after a period (full stop in the UK English) or any punctuation mark toward the end of a sentence. Not two.

Between Varnas and Insights Discovery

My contemplation on a day-long training I attended—it was an Insights Discovery workshop—inspired me to write this post.

To tell you the truth, I can reveal the learning from the course in one line: introspecting the self, while respecting the others’ behavior. But, applying is learning is the real challenge. That’s because our thoughts preoccupy our mind. So, we cannot respect other’s perspective and have a fruitful conversation. Anyway, our today’s discussion is hardly about that challenge. So, I will keep off it.

Amongst the many things that I now register on spiritual grounds, there’s one thing has had its profound effect on me. It is that when I take insights from my past and apply them to my future, the life’s pattern becomes visible. This is like a jigsaw puzzle. The trick is not in solving it part by part. But, in setting the boundaries first so that the big picture becomes clear.

The Insights Discovery is a behavioral tool from Carl Jung, who through the tool, tried to define our nature. His analysis is that each one of us is a combination of the following four behavioral styles:

  • Red: The one who prefers brief information
  • Blue: The one who prefers details
  • Green: The one who is full of compassion
  • Yellow: The one who seeks involvement

Today, we are busy running a rat race of earning more than others, spending more than others, and possessing more than others. It is this thought of defining every one using four colors that sounded familiar to me.

The ancient Indian wisdom of dividing people into the following four Varnas is similar:

  • Brahmana: The one who prefers details; structured result-driven content.
  • Kshatriya: The one who wishes to be at the forefront; the leader.
  • Vaishya: The thinker; the strategist; the money-minded; the observer.
  • Kshudra: The one who is a great worker; the action lover.

Mind the word, please. Varna, according to the Vedas, is comparable to the English word classification. Back then, classification of Varnas would depend on an individual’s deeds, willingness, and capabilities. Today, the word inaccurately translates to mean caste.

What I do not want you to do is map those four Varnas 1:1 with those four colors. That would be incorrect. As a conclusion to the workshop, the instructor told us to be considerate of others. She told us to stay away from making fun of people based on their color preferences.

The fact is, we all have those four colors in us. Yes, one color is dominant within us all. Likewise, we all are a mix of those four Varnas. And, we all have a different Varna dominant. Whilst we are all different, we continue to be a combination of the same values. How true.

This Post Ain’t Got Nothing

Usually, double negatives are absolute No-No anywhere. But, I bring this up for discussion because I see some of us use them—in workplaces and outside. Now, why would we use them? Because we hear people around us using them. Simple logic: if everyone is using it, it must be right. Oh, you can blame it on Hollywood’s portrayal of the good Ol’ Texas ranches and Cowboys, too.

A double negative is when you use two negatives together. For example, “I don’t know nothing.” The trouble is that there are exactly two interpretations of it. First, the obvious deduction “I know, at least, something.” And, second, its distant cousin, “I, literally, don’t know anything.” It is quite possible that while you wished to say (and mean) the latter one, you end up being understood as meaning the first one. It is confusing.

So, AVOID using it. How do you avoid using it? Simple. Use one negative expression. Just say (and, hopefully, mean) “I don’t know anything”.

But, not always will you or can you avoid. For example, “She didn’t go unnoticed in the party”. In this case, we wish to say that there, indeed, was someone who took a notice of her. You should dare to use a double negative only in situations like these. I say dare for a reason: look at the title of this post. Did you see how in some cases two negatives make a positive?

Let us say, the English and math do have something in common. The exception is, two “minuses” don’t always make a “plus” in the English language.

Happy writing.

Be Content with Content

I would be amiss if I were to begin without defining the word content. That’s because it gives both a purpose and a premise to the topic: being content is feeling satisfied with your possessions or situations. But why this play of words in the title, you may ask. Here is why I rant…

Let us go back in time. Not far back into the world of typewriters and hand-written manuals. A couple of decades ago: when the concept of single-sourcing originated. I hadn’t joined the technical writing workforce then. Back then, the requirements were simple: get a single-sourcing tool to create everything from within one source. Then, use that source to generate the content for all formats. A lot has changed since. Yet the idea is to have a single repository generate the content. Just that we have complicated the process of creating and managing that content.

When I first single-sourced my product’s contents, I felt the need of creating a central repository for storing and generating the content—the likes of PDFs and CHMs. With that was born my organization’s server where resided the content. But, my requirements didn’t stop at that. I continued to remodel (or so I thought) my work processes to redefine the way I maintained that content. Then came XML, which helped me to tool-proof the product’s documentation.

Who knows, someday I may even put my head into Application Programming Interface (API), Internet of Things (IoT), and others. Did you notice how the story is becoming more about the tools of the trade than about the traded content? Sooner or later it will be about some other “hot” technology. As I continue to choose a (better) combination of tools and methodologies, I continue to steer farther away from the focus on the content. This could be your story, too.

Progressive and Cyclical User Requirements
User Requirements are Progressive and Cyclical

A side note: a seamless user experience is easier to put on to paper than to put into practice. Agreed. Also, agreed that these days we have tools that we can use to instantly connect with our users. So, we can know which sections of our documentation get the most views. Or, which ones are the most or the least helpful.

From where I look, tools and methodologies originated to save our time and effort. But now, it looks like we have lost ourselves in managing them rather than the content. Let us not focus only on creating a content-management ecosystem. Instead, let us create a problem-solving ecosystem. Let us not forget that the users’ requirements are progressive and cyclical: the target for usability changes frequently.

It all starts with answering “why” and ends with exploring the answers for “what’s next”. Such content that continues to bridge this gap of “why” and “what’s next” is truly satisfying. A tool will only enable us to create quality content. It isn’t an end, but surely a means to an end. Let us solve users’ problems and be content with (the focus on) content.

Why I Don’t Write Every Day

A lot of writers say they write every day. Some set daily goals, and some, weekly. A few may tell you to skip the weekends, but the idea is the same: write something every day. While the technique might work for them, it doesn’t work for me. Here is why it doesn’t:

Mostly, my full-time work takes the precedence over anything that relates to my non-work time activity. I do pen down thoughts that strike me during my work time. But, I don’t build on them at my work desk. I re-read the drafts and build on them later. This also means, for close to half of my writing effort, I am away from the keyboard.

Yes, I Don’t Write Every Day

I get why some of you might not agree with me: after all, I am a writer. If I were a wrestler, wouldn’t I invest time practicing and building muscles every day? I second the logic. But, writing doesn’t earn me my bread. My job does. I may be a writer at heart, but I am much more than just that. I play many roles, only one of which involves writing.

There is another reason: I’ve found that by not writing, I help my writing to be more productive. Yes, you read it right.

When I am not writing, I:

  • Create a list of what and how to write
  • Edit existing first cuts
  • Improve the flow of the story
  • Invest time in other activities, like photography
  • Read
  • Refine the plot
  • Reorganize the site
  • Structure the content of a post
  • Think about my composition

Either of this if I am not working on a fiction plot. I cannot push myself to create something every day even if that means wasting my readers’ valuable time.

The Flip Side of the Story

I agree that writing every day helps. If you are new to writing, noting down something and looking at it in days that follow helps you in improving your writing. Science proves that if you continue to repeat what you do, you sooner or later get better at it. Spending even as less as 15-30 minutes every day can improve your writing. This sounds logical.

Still, it fails to account for one thing: passion. The origin of this logic is that you train your brain to work into and follow a pattern until that becomes either a habit or a regular task on your work calendar. But, can you train your brain to generate passion? From where do you generate the self-motivation for you to give your best? The flaw here is that it is not practical for those who are not earning their bread out of the writing effort.

Most people write every day because they wish to get better at it. It makes sense for them to invest a part of their daily schedule toward perfecting this art. I am more bothered about the pleasure of writing than the result it generates. I do edit my work, but I am least interested in the ripples it creates in the mental ocean of creativity of others.

Summary

The primary purpose of rules—like writing every day—is to help us become more efficient. But, if the rules hinder the very path that leads us to raised efficiency levels, we must break them. Good writing, as I conclude, is not a destination, but a journey. Enjoy it while it lasts.