A writing sample provides an employer insight into what kind of written work you would produce for their company.
The purpose is to convince an employer that you have the communication skills necessary for a given position. Here are answers to the most common questions regarding writing samples:
When does an employer want a writing sample?
There is nothing set in stone about submitting writing samples. Some employers request that writing samples accompany résumés and cover letters; others collect writing samples during the initial interview; and still more ask for writing samples at call-back interviews. A general rule of thumb is, if they don’t ask, don’t give!
What kind of writing sample does an employer want?
The type of writing samples you provide should depend on the type of job you are interviewing for. If an old college term paper fits that bill, use it. The writing samples you provide should show the interviewer the writing skills you possess for the position you are applying for. Remember, the main concern of the interviewer is to choose the candidate who possesses the best set of skills needed to do that job well. Your writing samples need to show that you have the writing skills to do whatever is needed.
How should you choose your sample?
Quality should be your first consideration when selecting a sample. Make sure to select a work that has the necessary elements to complete the job, meaning your quality and style, before picking a piece that is related to your potential industry but is written poorly.
Make sure your work:
- Is concise and not abstract
- As recent as possible
- From a real situation, if possible
- Is your own, and has not been edited heavily by another party or part of a team project where others were contributing to the writing
- Does not require special knowledge of a topic
- Is free of typographical, spelling, or grammatical errors
- Has not been placed in a binder (easier for employers to file and to photocopy)
- Free of sensitive information (remove client names and private company data)
- Has your name on it!
How long should it be?
Unless otherwise specified, writing samples should be two to five pages in length. If you want to use a longer paper, cut out non-essential paragraphs and edit it so it still flows. It is always a good idea to add an explanation paragraph clarifying what the paper is about. If you are pulling your sample from a larger paper, include how your sample fits into that larger scheme.