So, you want to hire support agents who can communicate with your customers via email, chat, and social media. Who doesn’t? But this range of writing skills—and enthusiasm for writing to customers all day long—isn’t common. How can you discover whether the applicant sitting across the table from you or smiling nervously at you in a Zoom meeting has the writing skills to connect with your customers?

One strategy is to ask specific, meaningful, detailed questions about writing during the interview. It’ll take a little work on your part to figure out whether an applicant has excellent writing skills or even competent ones, but it’s worth it. It’s painful to discover after you’ve made an offer that your new employee is a poor writer.

Pose these questions during the interview, and you’ll learn all you need to know about whether the person you’re thinking of hiring has the writing chops to do the job.

  1. Do you like to write? Why? Liking to write isn’t a prerequisite for on-the-job success, but it’s one good indicator. The Why? follow-up should give you some indication of whether the answer is sincere. If the applicant says, “No, I really don’t like to write,” I’d think twice about hiring them to respond to your customers in email, chat, or social media. (I’d also consider asking them why they applied for the job, but that’s another issue …)

  3. What are your writing strengths and weaknesses? Of course, you want to know what an applicant is or isn’t good at, but the best reason to ask this question is to get a sense of how well the applicant can talk about writing, which is an important skill of its own. Even if your dream is to hire agents who are great writers in all support channels, realistically, you’d like to hear—directly from the applicant—what kinds of writing they’re good at and what they need to improve.

  5. How much writing have you done in your previous jobs? (Use a specific measure.) Good writers know how much they produce. “In our live chat channel, I completed about 10 chats per three-hour shift with our premium customers” or “I answered between 20 and 30 e-mails to customers each day” would be good answers to this question.

  7. How do you measure the success of your writing? Does the applicant believe, as you do, that good writing accomplishes something? And if so, what? Do they use measures familiar to the support world, such as a customer satisfaction score or first contact resolution? Do they use social media measures of success, such as likes, comments, and shares?

  9. Can you describe three different writing tasks you had on your previous job? Can you arrange them in order of difficulty, listing the easiest one first? There’s no right or wrong answer to this question, but it will reveal a lot about the applicant’s writing experience.

  11. Can you cite one grammar or punctuation rule you are absolutely certain about? A job interview is stressful enough; you probably don’t want to torture the poor applicant with a grammar quiz. But asking a prospective customer service agent to cite one rule, just one, will indicate whether this person is comfortable with the mechanics of writing. It’s a fair question, not a tricky one.

  13. Have you mentored or helped anyone else become a better support writer? If so, what steps did you take to help? While not a writing skill per se, mentoring others does involve the ability to explain what’s wrong with a chat, email, or social response and help the writer make it better. These are important skills for anyone who will be part of a support team.

  15. When you have problems with your writing, what steps do you take to improve? This question may help you get a sense of whether the applicant will take writing feedback well or—even better—seek it out.

OK, maybe asking all of these questions would make for a really long interview and an applicant who’s feeling a bit besieged, so select the ones that resonate with you and provide the insights you need.

I’m giving three workshops at SD Expo Americas in Portland in July, including one on hiring agents who have great writing skills. To find my workshops, search for “Leslie” in the event schedule. I hope to see you in Portland in July!

E-WRITE’s Leslie O’Flahavan helps CSRs write better email, chat, social media, SMS, and chatbots. She provides hands-on writing training, develops quality scorecards, and rewrites KBs. Her clients are international airlines, Fortune 500s, startups, nonprofits, & more. For, Leslie’s author of 3 customer service writing courses. She’s author of the workbook Clear, Correct, Concise E-Mail.

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