How To Submit The Perfect Writing Sample In 2023 (With Examples)

By Kristin Kizer and Experts
Aug. 16, 2022

Find a Job You Really Want In

If you’re applying for a writing job, the employer will likely ask you to submit a writing sample. Depending on the position, the writing sample might be even more important than your resume or cover letter.

Choosing a writing sample that matches the tone, style, and quality of the employer is your best bet to landing a job. We’ll cover what hiring managers want to see in a writing sample, as well as how to choose or write one for any job opportunity.

Key Takeaways:

  • A writing sample shows an example of your past written work or is written in response to a prompt given by an employer.

  • There are 3 types of writing samples: the portfolio writing sample, the pre-interview requested sample, and the impromptu writing sample.

  • When providing a sample, research the company ahead of time to make sure your sample matches their needs and tone.

  • Have someone proofread your samples ahead of submission.

  • Writing samples are usually requested during a job application, but sometimes they may be requested after an interview.

How To Submit The Perfect Writing Sample In 2022 (With Examples)

What Is a Writing Sample?

A writing sample is a document that shows an example of your past written work or a document written in response to a prompt given by an employer. Writing samples are typically submitted alongside a job application or shortly after, if the employer is interested in the candidate based on their resume.

There are essentially three types of writing samples if you’re applying for a job:

  1. The portfolio writing sample. Writers are well-aware of this type of document. They’re looking for jobs writing, so they’ve taken some of their best work and pulled it together to represent their skills and style.

    Whether your portfolio is online, a paper document, or you have both – these pieces should be your very best stuff. If you’re a new writer, they might be pieces you did in school. If you’re a professional, use your work that appeared in the best-known publications.

    Oftentimes, you’ll be asked to narrow down your sample so that hiring managers don’t have to dig through your entire body of work. While it’s tempting to go for your highest-quality work or a piece that was published by a recognizable name, choosing relevant and well-tailored samples is actually more important in this case.

  2. The pre-interview requested sample. This is something writers can expect to encounter quite often when they’re applying for jobs. They’ve been selected out of the applicant pool to show how they can write for the company in question.

    They’ll typically be given a mock assignment and asked to do the job, or at least a part of it. This shows the hiring manager how your work would fit in with their company.

    When you’re given this sort of test, research how the company writes articles or whatever sort of content you’re being asked to write. Matching the tone and style of the company is just as important as high writing quality.

    For example, if you’ve just graduated from a master’s program in literature, but you’re being asked to write marketing material, you should probably leave out the $5 words that most people haven’t heard of. You’ll look smart, but you won’t get the job.

  3. Impromptu writing sample. This type of writing is less common, but it happens. It might be something you encounter if you’re not applying for a writing job, but the employer feels writing is an integral part of the job.

    Maybe you’re looking for a customer service job on a chat line. They’ll want to see what your grammar and language skills are so you can accurately and professionally represent the company. These tests will typically be done at the time of the interview.

When Do Employers Request a Writing Sample?

Employers request writing samples to gauge the quality, tone, and style of the writer to see if it fits with the necessary standard and style of their current body of work.

Of the three writing sample types, two are requested well before the interview, and one is frequently completed at the interview.

  • At the job interview. There isn’t much you can do in preparation for an impromptu writing sample. You should have a solid foundation in language, literary comprehension, and grammar.

    If you feel your skills are a little weak there, it’s always a good idea to brush up on what you learned in school. Other than that, fight back your test anxiety and start writing.

  • With the application. Some employers ask for a writing sample in the job posting. They don’t want to see your resume and cover letter without an accompanying writing sample.

    In fact, some companies will toss your application without reading it if your writing sample isn’t there. And no, your cover letter doesn’t count as a writing sample, but that needs to be spot on if you’re looking for a writing job.

  • As a follow-up. You may find that whether the employer requested a writing sample from the outset or not, they’ll then request a specific writing sample or a tailored sample.

    For example, if the job is all about emails, then they’ll ask for some samples of emails you’ve written. If the job is writing product descriptions, they may give you a product and ask you to write a description.

  • With the interview. This is different than at the job interview because they’re asking you to bring something with you to the interview. Whether it’s a physical writing portfolio or something they’ve specifically asked you to complete.

    This is not common. In fact, you may never encounter this situation. That said, it’s a great idea to compile a leave-behind portfolio that’s professionally bound and tailored to the company if you’re asked in for an interview.

How to Choose a Writing Sample

Whether you’re sending your writing sample with your application or you’ve been asked to submit a sample, great thought must be given to which sample to send. This requires research. It’s almost like the old adage about real estate – location, location, location.

Make sure you’re selecting samples that echo the company that you’re targeting. If they’re a high-tech firm, your writing samples about parenting tips probably won’t cut it. If the job is to do social media, then your long-form white papers are a terrible idea. You get the picture. Give them what they want.

  • When it’s not about research. If you’re creating a portfolio, especially an online version, it’s a great idea to show your strengths.

    People with broad-based backgrounds need to bank on this and show all of their many writing styles and voices. Writers who have a niche need to highlight their skills there. So the idea is, when it’s not about research, it’s about you.

  • And don’t forget to be perfect. We shouldn’t have to point this out, but if you’re choosing a writing sample, you want it to be perfect – no spelling or grammar errors. There also shouldn’t be any factual errors.

Match the Sample With the Job

Are we hitting the research button again? Yes, we most definitely are. A writing sample that fits with a company’s theme, products, industry, voice, etc. is going to sail over the other applicants. Imagine being a hiring manager and seeing a writing sample that looks like it should already be on your company website. That’s the writer you want.

What if you can’t? Sometimes, you’ll find a company that is looking for a well-rounded writer. They might not have a lot of collateral online that helps you tailor your samples or style. These situations are not ideal because you’ll have to wing it. Take what you know and run with it. If you know they want video scripts, emails, and social media posts – give them that.

What If I Don’t Have A Writing Sample?

If you are new to writing, or don’t have an extensive portfolio, you may need to start from scratch.

Including a fresh writing sample that you explain was customized just for the company in question can be a good way to go, unless the company specifically asks you not to do so.

Try to write something that fits with the responsibilities of the position. To format your sample, look for templates that help guide you. It is important that your sample, although new, should match the tone of a sample normally found in that position.

Don’t get hung up on the fact that your sample was made specifically for the position. Write your sample as if it were a project for a paid gig. Give it the attention and effort it deserves to show your potential.

Follow the Employer’s Directions

If the company asks you for email writing samples, don’t flood them with social media posts. There is a reason they’re asking for something – they want it. It’s that simple.

Also, review the instructions you were given several times. Don’t just skim it because you assume they’re like other requests you’ve received. Assumptions are never a good thing in the job interview process.

Bringing a Writing Sample to an Interview

As we mentioned before, if you’re invited in for an in-person interview and you’re applying for a writing job, bring a writing sample. The best way to handle this is to pull together your best pieces of work and create one just for the company.

Also, print out your resume, a publications list if you have one, and your cover letter. Then create a cover page and an index page so they can easily find your samples and know what they are. Take it to the next level and have it bound at a copy shop. Then, make sure you have a leave-behind sample for the interviewer(s).

Take it a step further. You have electronic copies of all of these documents, right? Collect them and put them on a thumb drive, and include that in your leave-behind presentation.

Writing Sample Tips

Okay, you’ve got a general idea of what a writing sample is. You know when you might be required to provide one. You know that you need to research what is being asked of you. What else? These writing sample tips will help.

  • Keep a file of your best work. That way, you have something if the request is immediate. Timeliness matters when applying for jobs, and they might not wait a week for you to write something fresh.

  • Have someone else proofread your writing samples. Sometimes you are so involved in the words that you miss mistakes.

  • Try to tie your sample to the company’s voice, product line, industry, etc. This is where your research pays off.

  • Brag about your best work. By including it also.

  • Be current. A sample that’s ten years old is not going to go over well if you don’t have recent work as well.

  • Show diversity in style. While you want to customize to their requirements, it doesn’t hurt to let them know if you have some chameleon-like abilities.

  • Create a pdf and make it look good. A word document is one thing, but a pdf with some graphic design elements behind it can really polish your words and make them look legitimate.

  • Use the actual publication. If you can, submit the link to your published work. This adds tons of legitimacy and value to your work.

  • Lean toward the short side of things. You want them to read most of what you’re submitting. This means a 20-page, in-depth research grant proposal is too much. How about just a sample from that document? You can always let them know that you’d be happy to send the entire document at their request. Otherwise, try to keep your samples to one page or less.

Writing Sample FAQ

  1. How do you start a writing sample?

    To start a writing sample, research the company’s current written content. Pay attention to the tone, style, and reading level of whatever content you would be responsible for writing if hired.

    If you are writing a fresh sample based on a prompt, be sure to follow instructions carefully regarding word count, formatting, and topic choice.

    If you are submitting a portfolio of writing samples, select the ones that best represent your ability to write for this specific employer.

    For instance, if you have great writing samples for a travel magazine, but you’re applying for a financial advice website, you might want to lean towards submitting work that somewhat pertains to finance, like budgeting for a trip — even if it isn’t your highest-quality work.

  2. Is a writing sample a cover letter?

    No, a writing sample is not a cover letter. A cover letter is written specifically for a job opportunity and describes your relevant experience and interest in the position. A cover letter has two topics — you and the company.

    A writing sample isn’t about you or the company (unless the prompt or employer suggestions specify otherwise). A writing sample is either an example of your past written work or a document written for the company in response to a prompt.

  3. What do you do if you don’t have a writing sample?

    If you don’t have a writing sample, write one. Although it is more work, it’s important to develop a writing portfolio. Even if your written work doesn’t land you the specific job, you’ll at least have a writing sample ready for the next job you apply for.

    If the job states that you may only submit published writing samples, you can still attempt to submit a freshly written one. However, that does qualify as failure to follow instructions and is less likely to result in a job offer.

  4. Should writing samples be sent as PDFs?

    Writing samples should be sent in whatever format requested by the employer. If no format is specified, PDF is a fine option for ensuring that formatting will not change between devices. Sending your sample as a Google doc can also be convenient, as it allows for the employer to write comments directly in the file.

    If you are submitting a portfolio, you can certainly create a PDF for individual samples, or stitch a few together to create one PDF. Creating a personal website is also a good idea, although it doesn’t allow you to tailor your samples for specific job opportunities.

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Author

Kristin Kizer

Kristin Kizer is an award-winning writer, television and documentary producer, and content specialist who has worked on a wide variety of written, broadcast, and electronic publications. A former writer/producer for The Discovery Channel, she is now a freelance writer and delighted to be sharing her talents and time with the wonderful Zippia audience.

Expert

Denise Bitler, CPRW, CDBW, MRW

Denise Bitler has 30+ years of HR experience working in various industries and with all level of employees from hourly through C-suite, as well as company Board Members.She is the founder of Resume-Interview Success, LLC and is an expert in best practices related to resume, cover letter, and Executive bio writing, LinkedIn Profile optimization, job search strategies, and interview coaching.

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