Even though most applications require a cover letter and resume there are a few industries and areas that will also ask that you submit a writing sample. During the interview your spoken communication skills are assessed, but since some positions require various forms of written communication, the company may also want evidence of how well you express yourself in written form – in comes the writing sample. While any employer whose position requires writing skills may want samples, writing samples are more common in publishing, public relations, advertising, media, research, and law.
If you are a typical college student, your best writing samples will most likely be recent class assignments – perhaps a research or term paper. Try to select a paper that has the most relevance to the position to which you are applying. If you do not have a directly relevant writing sample, choose a sample that demonstrates your ability to write in a clear, grammatically correct, and well organized fashion. If you have absolutely no previously written samples, or are particularly ambitious, you can create a 2-3 page writing sample on a topic of interest and/or of relevance to the position or industry to which you are applying.
In some cases the employer may identify a desired topic but in many it is left up to your judgment to decided. If this is the case, choose a subject that you are interested in and that is related to the job or field to which you are applying. Avoid topics that are controversial, irreverent or sarcastic; you want the employer to focus on your style and skill as a writer, not judge what you write.
Just like with your resume and cover letter, you should try to tailor your writing sample to fit the job. Make sure to carefully follow any and all instructions provided by the employer or found in the job description. If the requirements are not specified, here are some general guidelines to help you choose an appropriate sample:
- Use the job posting to guide your choice and to show the employer you possess the required skills for the job
- A newspaper article, story for a newsletter, press release, policy brief, or research report or any other published piece make great submissions. When submitting a previously published piece to an employer, be sure to indicate where the piece was published; provide a clean copy, not pieces taken directly from the original source.
- Reports or presentations or writing samples you prepared as part of a job or internship are another good sample choice, but make sure you have the permission of your supervisor
- Class projects, papers, presentations, or speeches, free of instructor comments, are acceptable. If longer than 2-5 pages, you can select a portion of the document and write an introductory paragraph to put the work in context.
- Generally speaking group papers, projects or heavily edited works are NOT a good idea, unless the section submitted is clearly your work only
- Unless requested, creative pieces such as short stories or poems should not be used
Don’t Go It Alone:
- Because this may be your most important writing assignment to date, be sure to carefully proofread and spell check! It is always a good idea to have someone else proofread your paper as well – stop by the Writing Center and get a once-over.
- If you are unsure about the content of your chosen writing sample check in with us as well; make an appointment and bring in all your job search documents.
- If you still are not sure which writing sample to use you can also turn to your advisor or a trusted professor to help give you an honest assessment of your body of work.
Still have questions? Make an appointment by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or give us a call at 570-577-1238…better yet stop by the CDC!