“I’m applying for an office job that involves some writing, and the employer wants me to submit some writing samples. I’ve never had to do this before. Can you help?” – Stan from Great Falls, MT
Thanks for your question, Stan. Writing samples aren’t just for college applications any more — faced with a small number of jobs and a large pool of applicants, employers are increasingly using items like writing samples to figure out who can hack it if hired.
When putting together your writing samples, keep the following tips in mind:
- Find out what writing the job entails. Will you be writing emails? Summarizing meeting discussions? Crafting reports? Get as much detail as you can about the types of documents you’ll be asked to produce, and aim to include samples that demonstrate previous success on similar work.
- Comb through your past work. Look through your email inbox and computer files for past work that resembles what you’ll be asked to do if hired. Using documents created for former employers is okay; however, you will want to be sure that they do not divulge any confidential or proprietary information. If you are looking for a job right out of college, it may be appropriate to use past class writing assignments as samples.
- Write new samples. If you don’t have any former work that fits the bill, or you need to flesh out your existing samples, consider writing new samples from scratch. While real samples are always better, your ultimate goal is to show that you have the writing skills to be successful in the position. Be sure to indicate that you created these samples for job application purposes to avoid any misinterpretation by the employer.
- Select your best work. Once you have your group of potential samples, choose the best pieces to submit. Short works are usually better; for longer pieces, consider excerpting relevant sections. Unless you need to demonstrate competency across a wide variety of genres, selecting your best 2-3 pieces is usually sufficient.
One final word to the wise? Avoid the temptation to plagiarize or to get someone else to write samples for you. Less-experienced writers often mistakenly think that higher-ups won’t be able to tell the difference between their voice and that of another person; this is far from the truth. Additionally, while swiping samples may get your foot in the door at a company, you’ll likely be headed right back out if your on-the-job writing assignments aren’t up to par.