how to assess a candidate's written communication in an interview



~2 min read


368 words

As the nature of work shifts toward asynchronous collaboration across vast distances, I expect the importance of being able to communicate well in writing to increase.

While video meetings are likely here to stay, a consequence of a distributed team is that very often schedules simply don’t align that well. To combat this, we will be spending more and more of our time in the future writing down our thoughts, opinions, and perspectives. Moreover, we’ll be doing this in a way where we’re often trying to persuade someone else of the merits of your position.

Remember that persuasive essay you needed to write in high school?1 It’s more useful than you thought!

With all of this as context, a natural next question is how do you actually assess whether or not the candidate you’re speaking with can communicate well in writing?

I asked a few friends and collected their thoughts. Here were some of the suggestions:

  1. Ask candidates to prepare a document about a project they worked on. Give them time to prepare and submit it (a couple of weeks, so likely parallel processing with other aspects of the interviewing loop). During one of the interviews have the candidate ‘present’ the document. This provides signal on both synchronous and asynchronous communication.
  2. Ask for a writing sample - whether it’s a blog post, reddit post, StackOverflow answer. If they have nothing, any document can suffice and ideas can range from a recipe for a cake to something technical (like the project idea above).
  3. Provide a sample PR in the language/framework they’re most comfortable with. Ask them to review it. The PR should be fairly small with a number of issues. The ask is for the candidate to leave comments for their team member.
  4. If there’s a take-home component of the interview, ask the candidate to include a README in the project.

Also worth looking at is any email correspondence the candidate had as part of the interview process (likely with recruiters / hiring managers).


  • 1 Mine was on the RIAA and how they were pursuing copywright infringement. I argued that making examples out of specific folks was not an effective deterrent.

Hi there and thanks for reading! My name's Stephen. I live in Chicago with my wife, Kate, and dog, Finn. Want more? See about and get in touch!