How To Submit A Writing Sample For A Job Application

By Chris Kolmar
Jul. 29, 2022

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If you’re applying for a job that requires excellent writing skills, you may be asked to provide a writing sample. Employers will read such samples carefully to compare your writing skills, style, and tone against those of other candidates.

In this article, we’ll discuss in detail what hiring managers are looking for in writing samples, how to write an excellent writing sample, and how to submit one.

Key Takeaways:

  • Writing samples may be required as part of a job application for rules that involve large amounts of writing, and can be a good way to showcase your skills.

  • You may be asked to write something specific for a writing sample, or you may be asked to submit previous work, so it’s a good idea to keep a portfolio of potential writing samples.

  • Examples of professional writing samples could include blog posts, articles, research papers, and more.

how to submit a writing sample for a job application

What are Writing Samples?

Writing samples are supplemental documents that some job applications will ask for, particularly for positions that involve a heavy amount of writing.

These include jobs and fields such as:

  • Journalism

  • Editing

  • Research

  • Marketing

Employers may also request writing samples for positions that don’t necessarily involve that much writing but do require it for certain important situations.

For example, an HR professional may only use writing skills semi-frequently. However, as they often need to write important company-wide notices, they nevertheless need to master those writing skills.

What do Hiring Managers Look for in Writing Samples?

Different hiring managers may look for different details and demonstrated skills in a writing sample, depending on the specific position, industry, and company.

Most hiring managers will be examining four broad categories when reading your writing sample, namely:

  • Tone. Your tone should mix professionalism with what’s common in the industry.

    A writing sample for a corporate blogging position, for example, might include a dash of personality and humor. A writing example for a research position, in contrast, should use a direct and professional tone without any distracting elements.

    If possible, you should research the company and find writing work done by existing employees. You can then study those pieces and tailor your tone to the company’s own.

  • Style. A piece of writing’s style determines its overall main purpose, so it’s extremely important to demonstrate mastery over the style that fits the main duties of the job.

    There are four main writing styles:

    1. Expository. Expository writing lays out facts and information in a logical order without any reference to the writer’s own opinions.

      Use this style in your writing sample if the job you’re applying for includes business writing, technical writing, or non-editorial journalism.

    2. Descriptive. The goal of descriptive writing is to help readers visualize the topic at hand.

      Writers will use words and writing techniques that evoke the five senses. You should adopt this style for positions involving poetry, advertising, and fiction writing.

      Make sure to demonstrate your personality and individuality to the hiring manager through your writing sample.

    3. Persuasive. Persuasive writing aims to influence the opinions or decisions of readers.

      Effective use of this style will involve clearly and confidently stating your position and then backing it up with supporting evidence and reasoning.

      You need to demonstrate mastery over this writing style if you’re applying for editorial journalism or advertising positions.

    4. Narrative. Narrative writing is essentially storytelling. It involves using dialogue and descriptions of actions to walk readers through real or fictional events.

      This is the writing style you should use in your writing sample if the job involves writing fiction, biographies, or anecdotes.

  • Content. Some hiring managers will give you a prompt to address, while others will allow you to pick any writing sample that you believe will demonstrate the necessary skills.

    If given a choice to pick your own writing sample, then you should try to choose one that speaks about topics relevant to the job.

    Great examples of professional writing that you could submit as a writing sample include:

    1. Blog posts

    2. Press releases

    3. Articles

    4. Research papers

    5. Narrative papers

  • Grammar and spelling. Regardless of the overall quality of your writing sample and its content, making grammatical and spelling mistakes will come off as unprofessional and sloppy.

    They’re almost always extremely easy to spot and will taint the hiring manager’s entire impression of you. Take the time to proofread your work so that your efforts aren’t wasted because of some minor errors.

How Long Should a Writing Sample for a Job Application Be?

In most situations, your writing sample should have about 600-800 words and around one to two pages.

It’s smart to limit your writing sample’s length, as hiring managers typically spend very little time looking over each candidate’s job application.

A short but memorable writing sample is almost always better than a longer but less impactful one. The proper length of your writing sample may also depend on the type of job.

For a position that demands a narrative style of writing, for example, you want your sample to be at least long enough to set the scene.

For lengthier writing samples such as research documents, you should just try to pick a passage that contains a cohesive idea.

Of course, the employer’s actual instructions will take precedence over any general advice we give, so read them carefully and make sure you’re not missing anything.

Important Tips for Submitting a Writing Sample

Here are some additional tips that you need to consider before submitting a writing sample for a job listing:

  • Avoid sensitive subjects. Review your writing sample and make sure it avoids speaking on sensitive topics such as religion, politics, or personal information, especially if it’s an editorial or opinion piece.

    Make sure that it also excludes confidential material such as third-party contact information and private financial data.

  • Follow the instructions. This may seem like obvious advice, but many candidates do misread instructions given by employers and submit writing samples that don’t fit what you’re looking for.

    It’s better to just spend that little bit of time rereading the instructions and making sure that your writing sample complies with them.

  • Make sure your sample is up to date. This tip is specific to editorial writing positions and isn’t too important for most other types of writing jobs.

    Some companies expect their writers to have a good grasp on decent events and an ability to predict events related to politics or economics.

    For such jobs, it’s not a great look if you provide an outdated writing sample that was completely disproven.

  • Add an introductory paragraph. It can be helpful to precede your writing sample with an introduction to provide contextual information such as what the writing sample was originally for and what you think the sample demonstrates about you.

  • For example:

    Please find my writing sample for the Market Research position in the following attachment. This sample was taken from an editorial piece I wrote that was featured in the National Marketing Insights magazine. I believe it demonstrates my ability to communicate complex ideas in a clear matter and analyze large sets of data.

    You can include your introduction in your email, on a cover page, or directly in your writing sample.

  • Make sure your writing sample is impactful. When submitting a writing sample, your goal shouldn’t just be to check off a job application requirement but to actually stand out and impress.

    Take a step back and consider what impact your writing sample might make on a hiring manager and what it says about you as a candidate.

    A great way to set yourself on the right track is to first create a personal tagline for yourself. For example, maybe you want to be seen as “the leader” or “the extremely creative candidate.”

    Now, read your writing sample and ask yourself if it communicates that message. If not, then scrap it and try again.

    This extra effort may seem pointless, but you need to consider the sheer number of candidates that you’re likely competing against.

    If you’re going to settle for just any writing sample, then your application will just be average and will certainly lose out to any exceptional candidates.

  • Bring copies of your sample to the interview. Even if you submitted your writing sample online, you should still print out a few physical copies to bring to the interview.

    The hiring manager may ask questions about the sample, so you’ll want to have it in front of you.

    Even for other types of questions, you may find the writing sample a useful tool to directly reference whenever you need to highlight a certain skill you have.

    Make sure to print out at least five copies in case you lose a few or are interviewed by more than one person. You should also do the same with your resume.

  • Avoid blog posts. As a general rule, you should only include a blog post as your writing sample if there are no other options.

    The exception, of course, is if you’re applying for a blogging position or if the writing sample is especially professional or otherwise relevant.

  • Focus on demonstrating skills, not content. Hiring managers ask for writing samples to assess your writing skills, not obtain actual work.

    Focus less on whether the content of your writing sample is perfectly accurate and more on effectively conveying those necessary skills.

  • Make sure you’re the sole author. Even for positions that involve co-authorship, you should only provide writing samples for which you were the sole author.

    The hiring manager wants to assess your skills and yours alone.

  • Create a portfolio. If you’re applying for a job that demands writing samples, then you’ll probably need them again in the future.

    Start developing your portfolio by saving any works you’re proud of. That way, you’ll have a wider range of writing samples to choose from next time you apply for a similar job.

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Chris Kolmar

Chris Kolmar is a co-founder of Zippia and the editor-in-chief of the Zippia career advice blog. He has hired over 50 people in his career, been hired five times, and wants to help you land your next job. His research has been featured on the New York Times, Thrillist, VOX, The Atlantic, and a host of local news. More recently, he's been quoted on USA Today, BusinessInsider, and CNBC.

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