When you’re applying for jobs in which writing quality plays a key role, you may be required to submit a writing sample. Employers check your writing sample to gain a first impression of your style, syntax, and grammar, and submitting something that meets their expectations can help you to stand out from other job seekers.
What is a writing sample?
A writing sample is a piece of writing candidates submit to the hiring manager along with a resume and cover letter. Roles like marketing, content writing, public relations, research, and journalism often require writing samples, along with any other that prepare documents for the public or third-party suppliers. During the recruitment process, you may be asked to develop this example according to the recruiter's instructions, choose it from your previously published work, or submit any writing sample of your choice.
Tips for submitting a writing sample
Consider the following tips before you submit your writing sample:
- Find out the writing sample requirements. Employers may provide requirements like word count, writing style, audience, stylebook guidelines, or type of assignment. Before choosing your sample, look for the requirements in the job description, and consider calling the HR department to ask for any clarification if necessary.
- Choose a sample that gets you noticed. Research the publicly available writing produced by the company and any relevant content produced by its competitors. Then, go through your work or write something new that is likely to suit and exceed employer expectations in terms of subject, style, grammar, and syntax.
- Avoid writing about anything controversial. As it's important to find a sample that makes the hiring agent see you as a good fit for the position, avoid sensitive subjects in it.
- Make sure it's a sample of your best work. Use your writing sample as an opportunity to show the employer that you can meet job demands effectively.
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How to choose a writing sample
You can use the following steps to choose an effective writing sample:
1. Understand what the employer wants
A writing sample can involve developing new content according to a specific prompt or providing an example from your previous work. Understanding the recruiter's expectations is the first step to choose a winning sample, and you can use the following guidelines to do so:
- If you're given a prompt to write something new, understand the requirements by reading them carefully.
- Find out about the writing style or tone of the brand you will be writing for by looking at recent press releases, advertising, and the corporate website.
Once you have done the necessary research, make a list of all the requirements.
2. Choose a relevant sample
Use the list of employer expectations to find a relevant sample. You can use the following guidelines to find or write a piece that matches precisely what the employer is looking for:
- If you're given a prompt for new content, tailor your sample to the main requirements such as topic, word count, and deadline.
- Consider the position you're applying for in terms of job title, duties, and qualifications because writing requirements can vary based on these factors. Next, choose a content type that is appropriate for the job. For instance, when applying to be a research assistant, choose a recent research paper completed during schooling or internship instead of a script written for a radio commercial.
- Based on your research, choose a sample with a relevant writing style. If you're writing according to a prompt, you most likely received writing style requirements, so be sure to follow them. When finding a suitable piece from your work, select an example with a style to which the recruiter can relate. For example, if your research indicates that a serious, polite tone is preferred by the brand, meet these expectations with your sample. If you're not given a prompt and you do not have a sample that matches the employer's tone, write relevant new content.
3. Ensure your sample showcases your current writing
Limit yourself to recent work that is less than a year old. Sending older content is unlikely to reflect your growth as a writer, and it may lack new developments in the subject area. Using content written years ago could also give an employer the impression that you do not have recent relevant experience.
4. Edit and improve the sample
Make sure your sample effectively showcases your writing skills by proofreading it at least three times. Check for mistakes in grammar, flow, facts, and links the day after you write it so that you are more likely to find any errors or room for improvement. Show the content to someone with superior writing skills, whom you trust, to get a review. Pick a modern, sans serif font that is easy to read in a digital format, and make sure the document looks good both printed and on a computer screen.
5. Write an introduction to the sample
When sending a sample from your previous work, it's practical to write a short contextual paragraph that helps the recruiter to gain an initial impression on the relevance of the sample conveniently. You can include this description in your cover letter or on the sample itself. The following items should be in the introduction:
- A brief description of the sample (What it was written for, where it was published, or what larger study it was published in)
- A major skill or achievement showcased in the sample that makes you suitable for the position