When everything else is equal, hire for writing skills, say the folks at productivity software company 37 Signals.
Here’s why, when you have equally worthy candidates, you should go for the better writer:
1. People talk the way they write. If they have trouble putting together a sentence, they’ll have trouble making an introduction or a presentation.
2. There’s this crazy little thing called e-mail, based almost entirely on the ability to write.
3. When fumbled, e-mail can offend people and even trigger lawsuits.
4. The ability to convey ideas and persuade—all using the written word—makes an employee an asset to your organization.
This is not the kind of writing used in term papers. Like art, you know good writing when you see it. But you’ll need a test.
Pick something you didn’t talk about in the interview and that isn’t on the applicant’s résumé. Send the candidate a note asking a detailed question—something that warrants a response of several paragraphs. To get enough specifics, make sure you ask for the candidate’s opinion.
Example: Marcus, I have an intern starting here who also went to Penn State and majored in biology, a few years behind you. Based on your knowledge of the program, could you drop me a line to help me understand the top three things a grad coming out of that program should have competency in and how those skills might transfer to an internship here? This would help me a lot. Thanks!
— Adapted from “When In Doubt, Hire the Best Writing Skills,” Kris Dunn, HR Capitalist blog.