Job Searching Tips

How to Craft a Writing Sample

Dora Segall
By: Dora Segall
Apr 4, 2021 • 6 min read

Help! The Job I’m Applying For Requires a Writing Sample.

If you’re applying for a position that requires a lot of writing, you’ll likely be asked for a writing sample along with your application. Knowing how to craft a strong writing sample can help you stand out to employers. In this blog, we’ll show you how to nail it!

woman in white long sleeve shirt sitting on bed using black laptop computer

Why Employers Request Writing Samples

A company may ask for a writing sample for several reasons, but the overall premise is always the same — to evaluate your writing skills. These skills can help employers predict your ability to complete certain tasks they may assign you on the job. Let’s go over some different jobs and what employers might be looking for in your writing sample.

Journalism or Communications

If you’re going into a field like marketing or blogging, having to provide a writing sample (or several of them) with your application is pretty much a given. Potential employers will want to know that you’re able to write grammatically correct copy while maintaining an easy-to-read and engaging tone. These skills are at the core of what you’ll be doing on a day-to-day basis.

Nonprofit Work

Even if you aren’t in communications, chances are you’ll find yourself writing at least some of the time if you work for a nonprofit. Tasks include grant requests, drafting and sending emails, and summarizing organizational activities, to name a few. Employers will want to make sure you’re able to get these done skillfully and efficiently.

writing sample

Research, Finance, or Consulting

People who make their livings learning and talking about niche topics do much writing for many different audiences. Whether you’re planning to become a biochemist, financial advisor, or lawyer, your writing sample will indicate how prepared you are to analyze information in your field and share it with fellow experts or general audiences.

Administrative Jobs

If you’re planning to work as an administrative assistant or coordinator, you’ll find yourself writing many emails and memos once you’re on the job. As a result, you’ll want to show that you can write concise, easy-to-read documents in your applications.

What Kind of Writing Sample to Use

There are a bunch of considerations to make when selecting a writing sample for your job application. Don’t fear, though — once you know a few basic guidelines, you’ll be able to pick one with confidence!

Match the Sample to the Job

The writing sample(s) you submit with a job application will depend upon the position and field you’re applying for. A writing sample for a music marketing job, for instance, will be quite different for one in environmental research. The trick here is to find a piece of writing whose style and content are as similar as possible to the writing you’d be doing on the job.

If you’re hoping to be a music marketer, this probably means something along the lines of a promotional announcement, within the music industry as possible. If you’re hoping to become an environmental researcher, on the other hand, submit an academic paper you’ve written that you’re particularly proud of.

Prioritize writing style over content if you don’t have a piece of writing that precisely matches the job you want. A restaurant advertisement would be a more practical choice within the music marketing example than a fictional short story you’ve written about a musician.

writing sample

Keep it Appropriate

Always keep your content appropriate as well as your tone. If you’re applying for a job at a very formal company, it might be off-putting to submit a casual, humorous writing sample. In terms of content, don’t submit something you wouldn’t want to discuss with a stranger. Unless your experience with mental illness, religion, etc., is relevant to the position you’re applying for, keep it out of your writing sample.

Use Something You Wrote Recently

When you’re applying for a job, prospective employers will want to know how you write now, not how you wrote five years ago. When submitting a sample, try to pick something that you’ve written within the past year. Doing this will showcase your current skills and demonstrate that you frequently write, showing that you’re an ideal candidate.

If you have something recent that you could maybe use, but you’re worried it isn’t good enough, don’t dismiss it as an option for your writing sample. It’s perfectly okay to make some changes before submitting!

Use Professional Writing if Possible

If you already have work or internship experience, see if you can dig up a piece of writing you did on the job to use as your sample. For example, if you interned for a nonprofit in college and are applying to a similar position now that you’re graduating, a newsletter you drafted as an intern is likely to impress employers more than a paper you wrote for a sociology class — it will showcase more of your professional talents.

That being said, finding a writing sample from your professional portfolio can be challenging if you’re fresh out of school or in the midst of a career change. If you’re in this situation, it’s okay to use writing you’ve done for a class as a writing sample. Just make sure to find something that showcases your best work AND is similar content and style to the work you’d be doing at the job for which you’re applying. You can always reformat an essay into a new writing style, such as a press release, if necessary.

writing sample

Formatting Your Writing Sample

Now that you’ve found the perfect writing sample, it’s time to format it for your job application!

Adhere to Any Guidelines or Instructions

Before you go any further, it’s time to examine the part of your job application where you’re asked to provide a writing sample. Are there any additional instructions? Any suggestions? Even a line as vague as “Submit something which showcases your communication skills and knowledge of the field” can be handy — “communication” indicates that you should focus on audience engagement and readability over persuasion, academic analysis, or technical writing, and “the field” suggests that you should relate your work as much as possible to the professional area in which you’re applying.

Keep it Brief

Unless otherwise specified, your writing sample should never be longer than two pages. The department reviewing your own job application probably has many others to review as well, so submitting something long might be regarded as inconsiderate.

If the document you want to use is longer than two pages, select a specific excerpt. Something short and strong will leave a much better impression than something long but underwhelming.

Edit Thoroughly

The document you choose to submit as your writing sample is important, but its readability and factual accuracy are crucial. Imagine you applying for a position and submit a writing sample without looking it over for grammatical and factual errors first. As a result, you’ve left in several typos and a couple of awkward sentences. Now imagine that someone else applies for the same position and proofreads their writing sample carefully several times. There are no errors. Who do you think is going to get the job?

Rather than just editing with your naked eye, consider asking a friend to look over your writing. You can also use software like Grammarly or read your work backward (one sentence simultaneously, from the last line). This way, you’ll be able to catch errors that you might not see at first.

When editing a writing sample, it’s okay to add or remove material that seems out-of-date or inappropriate for a job application. Remember, your work should be short and sweet as well as current.

If You Don’t Have a Writing Sample

If you’ve scoured old Word documents and cannot find anything from the past five years to use as a writing sample, you may want to craft one from scratch. Don’t panic! Here are a few steps to help you out.

1.   Look Over the Job Criteria

Before you start writing, consider the qualifications emphasized in the job listing. Is the employer looking for someone with lots of experience in the healthcare industry? A knack for interviewing or persuasion? Whatever skills you need, you’ll want to make showcase them in your writing sample.

2.   Choose Your Topic and Format

Once you know what qualifications your prospective employer is looking for, you pick a topic and type of document that allows you to prove you have them. Because you’re starting from scratch, you actually have an advantage over someone submitting a pre-existing body of work — you can mold your writing to the application more closely.

Let’s say you’re applying for a job as the social media coordinator for a dermatologist’s office. You might want to draft a fake pamphlet on some hypothetical skincare service so you can showcase your medical knowledge and patient engagement skills at the same time. This would be a lot more effective than writing a magazine-style article or talking about something other than dermatology.

On the other hand, if you’re trying to become a social researcher, you might want to summarize a social issue in an academic-style paper. This will give your potential employer an idea of how you would analyze and write about topics they might have you explore on the job.

writing sample

3.   Do Some Research

Nothing is more embarrassing than pretending to know about something when you are really unfamiliar with a topic! Even worse is when it costs you a job opportunity. If you’re writing about something within your area of expertise, it’s always a good idea to fact-check yourself just in case. Search your topic online and jot down key points from a few articles before you start writing. This will give you some accurate information to help start and shape your document.

4.   Write and Edit

Now that you have your topic, document type, and a few key points ready to go, it’s time to draft your paper! Remember to keep it around 1-2 pages. Once you’ve finished, proofread and make any necessary additions and subtractions. If you play your cards write, your writing sample will look as legit as it would if you’d had it pre-written.

Picking out a writing sample is sometimes stressful, but it can be quite manageable if you know what you’re doing. At the end of the day, go with your gut. If you feel strongly that a particular piece is your best bet at wowing a potential employer, submit it.

Have you ever had to submit a writing sample when applying for a job? Comment down below and let us know about your experience! We would love to hear from you.

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