3 Tips for Having Awesome Writing Samples

Ryan Morris
by Ryan Morris
Get The Job - 4 months ago
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Nothing gets the heart racing while on the job hunt like reading the words “writing samples required.”

It’s not that accruing writing samples is tough, per se:

Even if you’re fresh out of college, you’re bound to have at least some examples of writing that you’ve done, however amateurish those samples might be.

It’s just that actually choosing and submitting a sample can be a huge stressor.

After all, resumes can be tweaked fairly easily. Writing samples take time to make — by the time you’re ready to apply, it’s easy to feel hemmed in by what few samples you’re able to scrape together.

“All I’ve got for this newspaper job in Duluth is an essay about feudalism and a 7-year-old blog post about why pageboy hats are just a fad.”

But we’re here to make the process a little easier on you by giving you a few tips on how you can choose the samples that will best represent you to an employer.

Check ’em out below:

Contents

1. What’s a Writing Sample, and Why Do I Need One?

If you want to write professionally, you’re going to need some proof that you can do the work.

Why? Mostly because there’s a lot of variation and creativity in different kinds of writing styles.

That is, there’s no single way to do the work, even in relatively less “creative” positions. There are a lot of ways you can write the things you need to write for your job.

But not all of those ways will be a good fit for the company you’re trying to work for.

“So you all aren’t actually building literal houses out of waffles? Huh. Well then I can see why my essay detailing the structural superiority of gingerbread might have seemed a little out there. Well, thanks for the opportunity. Let me know if Waffle House corporate office ends up having any other openings.”

That’s part of why the writing sample is so necessary. It kills several different birds with the same stone.

For one thing, it demonstrates your writing style, which is essential for the company to see so that they can know if you’re a good fit for them or not.

For another thing, it shows how well you’re able to construct an argument or string together an idea, which is also of eminent importance for any position related to writing.

And finally, the correct kind of sample can show off how much previous experience you have doing the kind of work that the company needs you to do.

But picking a good writing sample — or several samples, as the case often is — can be a real sticky wicket.

2. What Should I Think About When Choosing a Writing Sample?

Simply put, you need to do a lot of research before you can hope to choose a good writing sample for your application.

You have to not only have a solid grasp on your industry’s expectations but also understand the kind of work that the company you’re applying to tends to undertake.

If all you have is a vague understanding of what the company does that you’re applying to, it’s going to be tough for you to show them something that aligns with their work.

Like adding pictures of your most recent oil paintings to a Subway application.

“So the ‘sandwich artists’ aren’t that kind of artist, huh?.”

With that in mind, here are some dos and don’ts for choosing a good writing sample for you application.

DO:

  • Make sure that you choose a type of writing sample that aligns with the work you’d be doing if you got hired.
  • If you have one sample that’s well written and one sample that’s more relevant to your industry’s work, it’s usually a good idea to send the one that has better writing. But the ideal sample includes both quality as well as relevance.
  • If a company has any instructions listed, then for the love of Zeus, follow them. Only send them the kind of writing samples that they have stated they’ll accept.
  • If your sample is too long, shorten it. Just make sure that you label it so that the company knows that they’re reading an excerpt and not the full work.

DON’T:

  • Send anything irrelevant to your industry. If you’re applying to the NY Times, don’t send them an article you wrote on “39 Times That Mr. Bean Was Totally Relatable.” On the other hand, that would be a great writing sample for places like Buzzfeed.
  • Send outdated writing. Unless you’re fresh out of college, you shouldn’t be sending college essays. But even 10-year industry veterans shouldn’t be sending work from their first year or two on the job — find something more recent.
  • Send samples with a co-author unless you explicitly mention the co-author’s existence. It’s bad form — not to mention, you know, plagiarism — to try to pass off someone else’s work as your own, even if you did help with that work.

3. Appropriate Types of Writing Samples by Industry

Not all writing samples are created equal.

If you have enough writing samples that you can choose between them, it’s important to curate your submissions.

In the event that you don’t have the kind of writing sample you think a business is looking for, it’s not a bad idea to write one on your own.

“Dear Mr. Nuñez. While your treatise on the way that Miracle Rogue ruined the Hearthstone meta for a period of several months was remarkably precise, it’s not exactly germane to the sort of writing you would be doing as a spokesperson for the Philadelphia Eagles.”

Here are some examples of writing gigs and the types of writing samples they might be looking for:

  • Grant Writer: academic essays, research papers
  • Content Writer: viral “top ten” style articles, pop culture opinion pieces, blog articles (as long as they look professional)
  • Public Relations: press releases, current events news articles
  • Journalism: Current events news articles, opinion pieces, investigative or ethnographic pieces

Wrapping Up: Writing Samples for Job Applications

That’s all we’ve got for this one.

Just remember:

Keep it short. Keep it relevant.

And most of all, keep it good.

I mean, make sure the writing is well. Crap! I mean good.

I mean, write it good. Ah!

I mean make sure it’s —

Sorry, brief shut down there.

Anyhow, best of luck! Here are some other links to help you on your way:

3 Tips on How to List Contract Work on Your Resume
9 Tips for Interview Small Talk to Help You Land the Job
How to Answer the Interview Question “Do You Work Well with Others?”

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