Guide to Navigating Writing Samples During Your Job Search
You don’t have to be applying for a job as a journalist or a copywriter to be asked to submit writing samples. These days, a wide array of employers are asking to see samples of your writing style, primarily because such a great deal of communication in the tech age is in written form. From emails and electronic memos, to business reports and sales pitches, the written word has found a prominent place in the modern organization.
Even if writing will not be a major part of your job description, your potential employer may want to see a few writing samples in order to gauge your attention to detail, and your level of professionalism. You may feel a bit thrown off by such a request at first, but don’t be. If you don’t have writing samples to show, you can always create them. Just make sure you adhere to the following guidelines.
Relevance Is Key
More than likely, if your potential employers are asking you for a writing sample, they want to see something that represents skills relevant to the job. If you're applying for a sales job, you should provide samples of pitches, advertising copy, product descriptions or proposals—not your Facebook profile or cooking blog. If you're applying for an administrative position, submit samples of well-written, work-related emails and memos—not your Twitter posts about Justin Bieber (no matter how clever they may be).
If you are actually applying for a writing job, you'll want to submit samples that not only show off your flair with the language arts, but also your understanding of what the job will require of you. Don’t submit comedic pieces if you're applying for a serious journalism job; give them an idea of what they’ll actually see from you as a staff member.
If you don’t have any relevant samples, go ahead and create them now. Your lack of writing experience does not have to be a detriment. Writing samples that fit the requirements of the job you're seeking will ensure what you provide is relevant. Even better, your potential employer may view this feat as a strong sense of initiative, which could ultimately eclipse your lack of writing experience.
If you're creating writing samples simply for the interview process, there's no need to be deceptive and claim that you wrote them for a previous position. Just explain to your interviewer that you did not have any writing samples, but you wrote these items specifically to show what you are capable of. Deception of any kind is likely to backfire. The same goes with asking someone else to write samples for you. Plagiarism is not a good way to show your reliability. And just think how humiliating it would be to get caught. It's definitely not worth the risk.
Whether you're submitting writing samples you already wrote, or creating new ones because you have no previous samples, you must be selective. Do not submit a writing sample that’s relevant but poorly written. Make sure you proofread, edit, and polish the samples you turn in, and get a fresh set of eyes to review them for typos and grammatical errors. If you submit pieces that are significantly flawed, you may be writing yourself out of a job.
Make Educated Judgments
Many applicants wonder if it’s okay to turn in writing samples they wrote for school. The best way to know if this is acceptable is to ask. If the answer is vague, then timing is the most important factor for making this determination. If you recently graduated and just wrote an A-level term paper, that would probably be a good sample to use. If you graduated five or ten years ago—not so much. Your employer will probably think it's odd you haven’t written anything else in such a long period of time. And obviously, nothing written before high school is appropriate. The last thing the interviewer wants to read about is how you got a new puppy when you were eight years old. Your third grade teacher may have loved it, but it’s time to move on.
In the end, whether you’re a seasoned writer or can barely string two sentences together, you may be required to show your potential employer your writing skills. When that happens, don’t be caught off guard. Listen to exactly what it is they want, and provide it. Following the advice outlined here will help you meet, and preferably exceed, their expectations.