You’ve written your resume and polished it. You have worked tirelessly to bring your cover letter down to a page, and you think it is ready to go. But, you notice that the employer also wants you to submit a writing sample alongside your application. What should you do?
If you are applying for a job that involves a high degree of communication skills, then you may be required to submit a writing sample. This helps the employer develop a better sense of your writing skills, so they can evaluate whether you are a good fit for a job.
In this guide, we’re going to discuss what writing samples are, how you should choose a writing sample, and how to submit a writing sample as part of your job application.
What is a Writing Sample?
A writing sample is a document submitted in addition to a job application. There are two scenarios where you may be asked for a writing sample.
Writing samples are typically requested for jobs that require a large amount of writing. These include positions in journalism, content creation, marketing, consulting and research.
Employers also ask for writing samples if you are going to be using a high degree of written communication in your job.
For instance, suppose you are applying for a job as an executive assistant. Your day-to-day work may involve drafting memos on behalf of your boss. In this case, the employer will want to make sure that you are able to produce high quality content that meets the standards set by their business.
Employers will use your writing sample to evaluate your tone, style, and attention to detail. Sometimes, you’ll be asked to submit a writing sample that meets a certain set of criteria, which makes it easy for the business to identify the attributes they are looking for.
How to Choose a Writing Sample
There are two ways in which an employer will ask for a writing sample:
- Write a new piece of content. Some employers will ask you to produce a piece of content from scratch, in line with a set of specifications. This will help them evaluate whether you are competent in the specific type of writing that you would be doing on the job.
- Submit an existing sample. More often, employers will ask you to provide a sample of your past work. This may include a blog post, a research assignment, a personal essay, a press release, an article you have contributed to another organization, or another piece of written content.
How do you choose what writing sample to submit? That’s a good question. On the one hand, you want to submit something that conveys your skills; on the other, you don’t want to submit something that is too long. Here are a few tips you can follow to choose what writing sample to submit to a particular position:
Tip #1: Read the instructions
Before you choose what to submit, you need to read over the instructions provided by the employer. This will ensure that the piece of writing that you submit is in line with the employer’s expectations. If you don’t follow these instructions, an employer may discard your application because it may be missing key details.
- What are the minimum and maximum word counts for the piece? Are they specified?
- What type of content is the employer looking for? A blog post? A research paper?
- Do you need to write the content from scratch, or can you submit a past sample?
If you are unsure about any details of the writing sample submission process, ask the employer. Send the hiring manager an email informing them that you intend to apply for a job with their organization, and ask for clarity on the writing sample submission process. It’s better to reach out and find out exactly what you need to do than to submit an application that you think may have missed an important detail.
Tip #2: Consider the job for which you are applying
The writing sample you choose should match the type of job for which you are applying.
Suppose you are applying for a content marketing job at a remote communications startup. You may want to submit a past example of a mid-size blog post you have written. This is because this type of content is more common in startup organizations.
On the other hand, if you are applying for a PR job at a big company, you may want to submit a professional press release that you wrote at your last job.
Read over the job description for the position and think about what type of document would help you make the best impression on the company. You may also want to read over the company’s blog, social media, or press releases so that you can get a better sense of what they are expecting from people who produce content at their business.
#3: Consider the company’s industry
While it may not be required, submitting a writing sample that is related to the industry in which a business operates can be helpful. This will allow you to show the employer that you have a good understanding of the subject matter that you’ll be writing about. This is valuable because people who truly understand a subject are more likely to produce higher quality writing on that topic.
#4: Submit a recent writing sample
While you may have written an excellent blog post a year ago that you want to submit as a writing sample, you should generally avoid doing so.
Submitting an old writing sample is not a good idea because the content in your article may no longer be relevant. Did you write an article on a political trend from last year that you are proud of? Consider whether that trend is still relevant today.
When you are selecting a piece of content to submit, make sure it is recent. The more recent, the more likely it reflects your current writing skills and style.
Tip #5: Starting from scratch is an option
In some cases, you’ll be asked to write a sample from scratch. This is especially common for positions where you have to write a specific type of content for a business. In this case, the interviewers want to see that you are able to produce that exact type of content.
Even if you are not asked to submit a sample from scratch, you can still do so if you want. If none of your existing pieces of writing are particularly related to the position for which you are applying, you can opt to write one from scratch. This ensures that the writing you submit reflects your knowledge on a subject and gives an accurate picture of your written communication skills.
How to Submit a Writing Sample
So, you’ve chosen a writing sample that you think adequately demonstrates your skills. What’s next? There are three steps you should follow:
- Conduct a quality check
- Write an introduction
- Review submission instructions
Step #1: Conduct a quality check
The first step in submitting a writing sample is to conduct a quality check. Does your writing sample meet all your personal standards? Does it have any grammatical errors?
Before you submit your article, you should make sure that all mistakes have been corrected. While making one or two mistakes will not disqualify you, if your work contains several errors, the application may be discarded.
Step #2: Write an introductory paragraph
Next, you’ll want to write an introductory paragraph to give the recruiter or hiring manager some context. You can usually submit this as part of the job application. However, if there is no room to do so, you can add an introductory paragraph at the top of your sample.
Here is an example of an introductory paragraph for a writing sample:
Below is my writing sample for the position of Content Researcher at ABC Company. This sample is a 750-word blog post I produced for my previous employer about the role of IT in modern businesses. This sample showcases my ability to discuss market trends, and to synthesize insights from multiple external sources.
Your introductory paragraph should state the position for which you are applying, for whom you produced the writing (if relevant), and a brief description of why you think the sample exemplifies your skills.
Step #3: Review submission instructions
Once you’ve chosen the sample, you should review the submission instructions again. Make sure the content you have chosen ticks all the boxes. Next, follow instructions on how to submit the writing sample.
For instance, if you are applying for a job online, you may be asked to upload the sample to the job application. Alternatively, you may be asked to email it directly to the business.
The writing sample is an important part of many job applications, especially for writing and content-related positions.
While your resume and cover letter will outline how you think your past experiences qualify you for a job, a writing sample will show an employer your skills. Employers will use the writing sample to evaluate your written communication skills, and judge whether you are able to produce content in line with the business’ style.
By following the tips in this article, you should have no trouble producing or selecting a writing sample that demonstrates your value. Choosing the right sample may make the difference between getting a job interview and being rejected.