Outside of a cover letter and resume, a writing sample is the application item most often asked for by employers. In an 2008 survey by NACE (National Association of Colleges and Employers), employers noted a lack of communication skills (particularly writing skills) as common among applicants. The survey focused on teenagers – and now three years later, – are the young professionals entering the workforce. To review the survey, please visit:
In the past week, I have had three inquiries from job hunters about what to do when asked by employers for writing samples so I thought it would be appropriate to offer some tips on handling such requests. The following advice is general in nature and one must take into account the specifics of one’s own situation.
Length: Typically, 2-3 pages are acceptable because a hiring manager will get a sense of one’s writing ability. Keep your audience in mind when selecting length – the corporate sector will prefer brevity versus a research institute where longer reports are common. If you are using an excerpt from a longer piece, be sure to include an explanatory paragraph so the reader will understand the context of the larger piece and the focus of the excerpt you have submitted.
Topic: Knowing your audience is paramount in deciding the topic of the writing sample you will supply. Your writing sample should mimic the type of writing you will be asked to complete when on the job. Are you applying to be a speechwriter? Consider providing an engaging persuasive piece. Corporate communications? Something that provides a broad overview – think executive summary of a large report. Think tank? Why not provide a fact driven piece that backs up a thesis.
Timing: Should a writing sample be pulled from a recent effort? Ideally the writing sample would be something you have written in the recent past, however, if you have an effort that would be very similar to the type of writing you will be asked to produce on the job, use it.
When in doubt, ask the employer if they have any desired guidelines as to the type, length, topic, etc. of the writing sample they wish to see. Asking questions may be seen as a valuable skill in an employee, and the answer you receive could help guide you to offering the strongest sample possible when submitting your application materials.
Have any readers had to submit writing samples? If so, please share your thoughts on how to approach this request.