Writing Samples

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.


About Kevin Monahan

I have 10+ years experience in coaching clients in their career management and career change efforts. Personal career consulting services combined with employer outreach to help find opportunities for both constituents.
This entry was posted in Application, Career Management, Communications, Job Search and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Writing Samples

  1. Hey, Kevin. I have never been asked to submit a writing sample, but I can see why it is important. Having a writing sample is not only important for a position where you will be doing a lot of writing, of course, but it can also help distinguish a candidate from the pack in positions that require research or technical expertise.

    One example I can think of is the industry that I work. Interactive Marketing changes constantly as the search engines update their algorithm almost daily. What better way to prove to your employer that you stay on top of industry trends and you are contributing to the community than to submit the last few blog posts that you have posted to your previous employer’s company blog (you can also send links.) Your contribution will go beyond having a positive impact on improving internal processes, but you will also be making an effort to improve the company’s web presence – which, in today’s environment, is more important than ever.

    I love the blog by the way. Keep it up!


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