Writing samples are often used by a prospective employer to evaluate your writing skills, style, and tone. If you’re applying for a position that could require strong writing skills, you may be requested to submit a writing sample from the hiring manager.
Sometimes, employers want you to upload or email the writing sample as part of the application. Others may want you to bring it to a job interview or email it after the interview for them to make a decision.
Regardless, many job ads put it specifically in the job posting if a writing sample is necessary. If so, it’s up to you to make sure you do everything correctly so that you can be considered for that position.
For those who aren’t sure what to do, we talk about what employers may look for in the writing sample, how to choose the right one, and how to write it. Then, you get pointers on submitting a writing sample to a potential boss.
What Are Writing Samples?
Typically, a writing sample is just a supplemental document requested during the job application. It’s often required for jobs that may require a significant amount of writing at some point, such as positions in public relations, marketing, journalism, or research.
Hiring managers are usually the ones to ask for a writing sample for public relations work. However, employers require a writing sample whenever the person is responsible for communicating and writing important correspondence or information.
For example, if you apply for a job in HR for a small company, you could be responsible for sending information to everyone in the company. It must be well-written and formatted correctly. That means the employer wants candidates who have strong writing skills so that they can clearly communicate that information.
Almost every freelancer must send at least one sample of their writing before getting hired, whether it’s for blog content or something more technical.
What Employers Look for in the Writing Sample
If you are assigned a sample, it’s important to remember that employers may have different details for your writing sample, depending on the company, job, and industry. However, each one looks at your writing skills, tone, and style, as well as content, spelling, grammar, and punctuation.
Typically, a specific writing style for the company is learned on the job. However, employers still want to know that you have what it takes or can learn as you go.
The best writing samples are those that always follow the directions the employer provides and is well-written with no errors or typos. It’s a good idea to invest in writing tools to help you. While most document software options offer spell- and grammar-check, it’s not always enough. Consider using Grammarly to check for syntax and other errors, proofread carefully, and use Hemingway App for issues with passive voice or adverb issues.
How Long Must the Writing Sample Be?
In many cases, the writing sample you provide should be about 750 words, which is roughly one and two pages long. As with your resume, the employer has a limited time frame to review the writing sample. Therefore, an impactful writing sample that’s brief is much better than a longer one that’s less impressive.
With that, you might find that employers request a specific word count or page count for the sample. If you choose to include a research paper, technical piece, or other lengthy document styles, consider making it shorter by choosing certain sections or passages. When you do something like that, let the employer know that it’s not the full document. Let them know where they can see the entire piece, such as on your blog site or elsewhere online.
How Do You Choose a Writing Sample?
Sometimes, employers give you a writing assignment that has a specific prompt, topic, or keyword. Make sure that you thoroughly research it and understand what’s expected of you. However, others may ask you to give them a sample of your past work.
If that’s the case, make sure you select a writing sample that’s relevant for the particular position you’re applying for. For example, if you’re primarily writing about company issues, it might be best to show a writing sample showcasing your ability to write more formally.
Here are a few examples of options to consider for your writing sample:
- Research papers from a previous job/class
- Narrative papers from a previous job/class
- Press releases
- Blog posts
- Other writing assignments you’ve had with your name on them and that aren’t published elsewhere
- Other contributions that make sense for the position you’re applying for
When focusing on the writing piece to submit, consider these ideas:
Follow Your Employer’s Instruction
The employer could ask you for a specific style of writing, such as a research paper or a particular topic. Make sure that you read your employer’s instructions carefully before you make that writing sample selection. That way, you know exactly what they need or want from you and are more likely to be chosen for the job.
Consider Only Relevant Writing Samples
When thinking about which writing sample to use, it’s best to consider pieces that are relevant for the position.
For example, if you want to apply for a scientific research position, then you need a research paper from your current/most recent position or from when you were in college.
When you’re seeking a position in PR, it might be best to submit writing samples like press releases, articles, and other relevant documents. A press release shows that you know how to turn something newsworthy into a story that sells. With that, you also indicate that you understand how businesses work.
If you can’t find out much about the employer or what they do, it’s a good idea to stick with something relatively simple. You may also ask if you can send in two samples. One could be a fully researched piece, while the other could be more blog-like.
Find Relatable Topics
Though you must choose something with a relevant writing style for the position, you also need a writing sample that relates to the subject matter or topic of the position. If the company you want to write for sells vacuums, it might not be the best idea to send in something about choosing a new pet for the household.
Submitting a writing sample with similar content to what you may write on the job helps the employers relate more to you and your writing skills directly.
Again, this could be a bit different based on your needs or what the employer asks for. If they specifically say they want you to write about choosing a new pet, it’s best to go with their idea. Still, try to find a way to tie that into vacuums, such as a section about which vacuum to pick that can suck up pet hair quickly.
Align the Writing with the Company’s Tone
It’s important to choose a piece of writing that’s relatable for the company. For instance, you shouldn’t submit an irreverent writing sample full of sarcasm for a company that has a professional and helpful brand image. Along those lines, you may not want to submit a more modest or simple writing sample for companies that have a sole focus on creativity and risk.
You can get clues about the company’s tone by looking at their website, recent news articles, press releases, and company page.
It’s also important to be careful about sending in research papers. Unless the employer asks for something full of statistics, it might be a bit too dull for the sample. Usually, it’s best to take a look at what’s already been published by the company. Read through several pieces on the company blog or from the website to get a better idea of its tone and style.
Ensure That It’s Up-to-Date
If you choose a writing sample that’s over a year old, it could be full of irrelevant or outdated content. This looks bad on you. Even if your writing ability is excellent, the piece is incorrect or misinforming others.
Therefore, if you choose to use an old writing sample, make sure that you carefully review it fully and update it to include more recent ideas and statistics.
For example, if you wrote about SEO tactics in 2016, most of the statistics and methods are likely outdated because of Google’s new algorithms. It’s best to comb through it carefully to find any inconsistencies and rewrite those.
With that, you are trying to show the employer that you’ve recently used your writing skills. To demonstrate that effectively in the writing sample, it needs to be written within the last few months. If you choose to polish up an old article, that can still do the same thing. However, if you send the employer a sample from many years ago without changing it or even reading through it, they are likely to assume that you haven’t written anything since then.
Avoid Sensitive Subject Matter
Unless the employer specifically requested that you write about something sensitive, you should avoid anything that relates to religion, politics, or personal information.
Why is that true? Well, most people already have specific viewpoints, so if your writing sample goes against what they believe or feel, you might not get the job for that reason. Though they may claim it’s because the style isn’t right, their gut tells them not to pick you for fear of unrest or the inability to get along with others.
Sometimes, though, an employer specifically asks you to write about a subject matter deemed sensitive or inappropriate. They may want to see how well you argue your points or ask you to take the opposite view of how you feel. For example, if you are a Republican, they may request that you write about being a Democrat.
With that, you should look through the writing sample and remove confidential information, such as private company information or third-party contact information. It’s easy to overlook things like financial or other data, but you don’t want to risk spilling secrets from past companies or samples.
What If You Don’t Have a Writing Sample?
Many people don’t have a current writing sample because they never had a job where they produced applicable pieces of content or have no professional experience. If that is the case, there is nothing to fear. You can write a completely new sample or article for your employer. That way, the piece is relevant, fresh, and specific to the position for which you’re applying.
When crafting the relevant passage, make sure that you focus on the employer’s direction for the writing sample. If there’s not much to go on, research the company to find clues about style and tone. Then, when you’re finished writing it, review the document carefully for punctuation, spelling, and grammar mistakes.
How to Submit Your Writing Sample
Before you submit a writing sample to an employer, you should look through it multiple times. Read it out loud to catch any odd sentences and use grammar and spelling checkers to produce error-free work. It’s crucial to be as close to perfect as you can with your writing sample because the writing skills you offer are the key focus for this document.
Once you’ve done that, consider reading the document backward. When you do that, it presents the words differently so that you can easily catch mistakes. If possible, you may also ask a friend or family member to review the writing sample.
You should consider writing a short introductory paragraph to add context whether you choose to submit a part of a writing sample or the entire piece. It’s possible to include it on the sample, in an email, or on a cover page.
Here’s an example:
Please find the writing sample I wrote for the product research position attached to the email. This is just a short passage from my large study on how product simplicity impacts consumers. It showcases my ability to communicate the results clearly from an important project for the company I currently/recently worked for.
If you are sending the document through regular mail or by fax, it is best to include a cover letter. You can add your introductory paragraph there. The cover letter is also where you provide contact information and other important information.
Once you have polished the writing sample, make sure that you read the employer’s instructions about how to submit it. They may request a cover letter or ask you to send it a specific way. You may also be instructed to include something specific in the heading or type a phrase to prove that you read the entire post.
Sometimes, employers ask you to upload the sample into an online application or right on the website. You may also be instructed to bring it with you to the interview.
If it’s the latter, make sure that you have five hard copies of the writing sample. That way, if you’ve got multiple interviewers, they each get a copy of it.
For those who apply to several writing jobs at once, it might be best to build an online writing portfolio so that you can send it to the employers. Typically, a blog is the best way to do that.
Submitting a writing sample can be a daunting task, but it can be easier. You don’t need to complete a graduate program to learn how to write, but your hiring manager does want to make sure you can do the job effectively.
You’ve learned what you need to know, so don’t be afraid to craft the perfect sample!