What to Give a Potential Employer When They Need a Writing Sample
Depending on the job you're applying for, a writing sample might be a requirement of the applicant screening process. Employers for most professional jobs place a high value on writing skills when screening applicants.
It is not uncommon for hiring managers to request a writing sample in addition to a resume or cover letter when they conduct their initial review of candidates. Or, you may be asked to bring a writing sample to a job interview.
Here's information regarding when companies request writing samples and how to submit them. You'll also find tips about choosing a writing sample or how to write one.
When Do Employers Request a Writing Sample?
This is a common requirement for writing-intensive jobs in journalism; content development; publishing; public relations; communications; research, and consulting. However, you may be asked to provide a writing sample, or other examples of your work, for other types of positions. For example, if you are applying for a position as executive assistant to the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, and he or she will need you to write some of their correspondence, your writing skills are key
The employer's goal is to determine whether you have the writing skills they are seeking. Your writing sample may be read for tone and style, as well as for content, grammar, spelling, and punctuation.
Employer requirements vary as to what is asked for and when applicants are asked to submit it.
So remember, what you will be asked for depends entirely on the job and the company.
Choosing a Writing Sample
The most important consideration when choosing a writing sample should be quality. Make sure the writing is your very best and have it reviewed for content, spelling, and grammar before submitting proofread your sample.
If you don't have professional writing experience, you may have other options. For example, an academic paper which was well-received by a faculty member will suffice as a sample if you're applying for a job at a university.
A published article, either in print or online, is another good option. If you have a blog, feel free to submit your best blog post. If you've written posts on LinkedIn with content that relates to the job, go ahead and use that. If you're lucky enough to have published articles, especially for media jobs, that will bolster your credentials as a candidate.
Match the Sample With the Job
You should always match the type of writing in your sample to the kind of writing required in your target job. For example, a journalistically-styled piece (or a press release that tells a story) is most suitable for media-related jobs, while an academic paper works best for a research job.
It can also be helpful to supply a sample with content similar to the topics you might be writing about. For example, an analysis of the use of social media to promote products might be useful for a job with a public relations or marketing firm.
Start From Scratch
Don't be intimidated if you don't have a writing sample to submit.
It's always an option to compose a piece especially geared towards a particular position. In fact, the hiring manager might appreciate your initiative. Just make sure the sample reflects your strongest writing.
Follow the Employer's Directions
Carefully follow any guidelines that your prospective employer provides regarding length or format. The employer may specify a word count. If no length is specified then you should generally stick to two to four pages of text.
If you're providing an academic sample, you can extract a segment from a longer paper if your sample is self-contained and understandable on its own. If you do this, then label your excerpt something like, "Introduction and Conclusion From a 30-page Thesis Entitled The Evolution of Gender Roles in Post Industrial America."
Generally, directions for how to submit a writing sample are included in the job posting or provided by the employer.
You may be asked to email your writing sample with your resume and cover letter or be required to upload your sample to an online portal along with your other application materials.
Bringing a Writing Sample to an Interview
If you're asked to bring a writing sample to an interview, print several copies. This way you'll have enough for whomever you might meet with. The easiest way to bring them is in a portfolio along with extra copies of your resume and a list of references.
When applying for jobs where writing is involved, be proactive. Even if an employer hasn't requested a sample, you can bring one to the interview or post samples on their website.
If you want to go the extra distance, consider setting up a personal website where you can store your writing samples, as well as other examples of your work.
Writing job applications
Employers may receive hundreds of applications for a job, so it's vital to make sure that the letter or e-mail you send with your CV/résumé creates the right impression. It's your opportunity to say why you want the job, and to present yourself as a candidate for the post in a way that impresses a prospective employer and makes you stand out as a prospective employee.
Before you start:
- Read the advert closely so that you can tailor your application to the requirements of the job
- Research the organization: this will show prospective employers that you really are interested in them.
Composing the letter or email
- Keep it brief. You don’t need to give a lot of detail. What you are aiming for is a clear and concise explanation of your suitability for the job.
- Begin your letter or email ‘Dear Mr/Mrs/Ms xxxx’ if you know the person’s name, or ‘Dear Sir or Madam’ if you don’t know their name.
- Avoid inappropriate language such as slang or technical jargon.
- Use brief, informative sentences and short paragraphs.
- Check your spelling, grammar, and punctuation carefully. Some employers routinely discard job applications that contain such mistakes.
The usual order of a job application letter or email is:
- The position applied for: give the title of the job as a heading, or refer to it in the first sentence of your letter, using the reference code if there is one. This will ensure that your application goes directly to the right person in the organization. You should also mention where you saw the job advert or where you heard about the vacancy. If you heard about it through someone already working for the company, mention their name and position.
- Your current situation: if you’re working, briefly outline your current job. Pick up on the job requirements outlined in the advert and focus on any of your current skills or responsibilities that correspond to those requested. For example, if the advert states that management skills are essential, then state briefly what management experience you have. If you’re still studying, focus on the relevant aspects or modules of your course.
- Your reasons for wanting the job: be clear and positive about why you want the job. You might feel that you are ready for greater challenges, more responsibility, or a change of direction, for example. Outline the qualities and skills that you believe you can bring to the job or organization.
- Closing paragraph: in the final paragraph you could say when you’d be available to start work, or suggest that the company keep your CV/résumé on file if they decide you’re not suitable for the current job.
- Signature: if you are sending a letter rather than an email, always remember to sign it and to type your name underneath your signature.
Sample job applications
Here are two examples of covering letters, for Sara Green’s and Charles Morton’s CVs/résumés.
Speculative job applications
If you know that you want to work for a particular company or organization but you haven’t seen an advert for a suitable vacancy, you could submit a speculative application. This should consist of your CV/résumé, tailored to the type of job you’re interested in, together with a covering letter of application. Keep your letter short and positive: say why you are particularly interested in working for the organization in question and outline what skills, qualifications, and personal qualities you have to offer.
If possible, address your application letter (or email) to the person in the organization who is in charge of recruiting new staff. You could find this out by phoning the organization directly or consulting its website. If you are applying by letter, rather than email, you could enclose a stamped addressed envelope to increase your chances of a response.
Sample speculative job application
Here’s an example of a speculative letter of application.