Writing Samples for Job Applications and Interviews

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Depending on the job for which you're applying, a writing sample might be a requirement of the applicant screening process. Employers for most professional jobs place a high value on writing skills as they screen applicants.

It is not uncommon for them to request a writing sample in addition to a resume or cover letter as they conduct their initial review of candidates. Or, you may be asked to bring a writing sample to a job interview.

Review tips on when companies request writing samples, how to choose or write a sample for a job, and how to provide it to the hiring manager.

When Employers Request a Writing Sample

This requirement will be most common 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.

The employer's goal is to determine whether you have the writing skills they are seeking. The 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. What you will be asked for depends 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 best and have it reviewed for content, spelling, and grammar. If you don't have professional writing experience, an academic paper which was well received by a faculty member often makes an excellent sample.

A published article, either in print or online, is another good option to use.

If you have a blog, you could use a blog post. If you've written posts on LinkedIn related to the job content, you could use them. Using published articles, especially for media jobs, bolsters your credentials as a candidate with solid experience.

Match the Sample to the Job

If possible, match the type of writing in your sample to the kind of writing required in your target job. For example, a journalistic styled piece or press release which tells a story would be most suitable for media-related jobs while an academic paper might work best for a research job.

It can also be helpful to supply a piece with content similar to the topics you might write about on the job. 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

It's always an option to compose a piece especially geared towards a particular position if you don't already have something on hand. Just make sure it reflects your strongest writing!

Follow the Employer's Directions

Carefully follow any guidelines which 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 2 - 4 pages of text.

If you are providing an academic sample, you can extract a segment of that length from a longer paper if it is self-contained and understandable on its own. Candidates can label their excerpt in a manner like this - Introduction and conclusion from a 30 page thesis entitled "The Evolution of Gender Roles in Post Industrial America."

Directions for how to submit the sample should be listed in the job posted or otherwise provided by the employer. You may be asked to email a copy with your resume and cover letter, or be required to upload it to an online portal with your other application materials. Carefully proofread your sample before you submit it to the employer.

Bringing a Writing Sample to an Interview

If you're asked to bring a writing sample to an interview, print several copies, so you have enough for whomever you might meet with.

The easiest way to bring them is in a portfolio with extra copies of your resume and a list of references.

When you are applying for jobs where writing is involved, be proactive. Even if an employer hasn't requested a sample, you can bring one along on an interview or post some samples on a website and include the link for employers to access them on your resume.

On a related note, having a personal website where you can store your writing samples and other examples of your work is always a good idea.