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How to Submit a Writing Sample For Your Job Applications

Know the Requirements

First, make sure you are clear on the requirements of the writing sample:

  1. Is there a word limit?
  2. Are they requesting a specific piece/style of writing?
  3. Was there a guideline of something specific to write?
  4. What is the preferred format for submitting your sample?

Following instructions is the most basic of requirements, yet some applicants still mess up this part. Do not assume that you can submit just any writing sample.

Know the Writing You’ll Be Doing on The Job

Once you are clear on the requirements, you can start looking at the job description in more detail to see the various types of writing you’ll be expected to do. Will you be writing proposals or press releases, or perhaps managing social channels, or maybe a blog. Understanding the types of writing will help inform your decision on what to submit.

After determining WHAT you’ll be writing, the next step is to look at samples of their work to see HOW they write. More specifically, you want to determine their writing style.

Know the Prefered Writing Style

There are typically six writing style elements to look for, but I want to focus on five of them. I’ll summarize from the linked article above:

  1. Tone: Do they write casually or use inflated, formal language? Are their points made with sarcasm or humour? Does their writing sound breathless or relaxed?
  2. Vocabulary: Are they formal, or do they use slang or the latest buzzwords? Have they worked to expand their vocabulary to choose words with more precise meanings and less repetition? Do they enjoy a play on words, or do they prefer the industry lingo?
  3. Perspective: Does their content reflect comprehension of the background or history of issues and events? Or do they write from a strong understanding of current trends? Are they inclined to write from a future-oriented viewpoint, focusing on outcomes and predictions, rather than on origins or recent fads?
  4. Imagery: Do they bring metaphors, alliteration or other literary devices to their writing? Are they using extensive details to create mental images? Or, like Ernest Hemingway, do they prefer simple language that paints a picture and exposes character?
  5. Storytelling: Are they making points with stories and examples, or do they prefer to make reasoned and cogent arguments? Do they concentrate on the impact of actions or the implementation of the actions?

Once you’ve understood the piece’s requirements as well as what and how to write, it is time to consider what you’ll submit.

My clients will typically look at submitting one of these four types of samples. I’ll begin with the easiest but less impressive and move on to the more challenging but more impactful writing samples to submit.

Schoolwork Sample

My clients are students, and schoolwork is often the most immediate writing sample they can think of. You would take an essay or short piece written for a school project and submit it as a sample. Schoolwork can show the ability to write effectively from a technical standpoint (sentence structure, punctuation, spelling) but does not offer the employer insight into your ability to write using their preferred style elements or demonstrate skills in the tools you may use to write, such as social, or blog, or website. If you can find a sample that would fit the writing sample’s requirements, this is the easiest (read: weakest) submission to make.

Personal Blog Sample

Some applicants will have blogs that they write as a pastime. Not everyone has one, but if you do, this will give the reader insight into your writing ability from a technical standpoint (same as above) and add the creative aspect that an employer would be looking for in a sample. However, it may not demonstrate your understanding of their preferred style elements.

If you don’t have a blog, then this is an opportunity to start. LinkedIn has a great blogging tool, and you can passively create content there. For example, I use the LinkedIn blog tool to create these articles. If you plan to land a job with much creative writing, then starting a blog about something (anything) can help you develop a passive side portfolio of writing samples. As with the previous option, you want to make sure that whatever you submit falls within the submission requirement guidelines.

Previous Work/Volunteer Sample

Some students do have work or volunteer experience that required writing. Looking back to see if you have writing samples from actual work and volunteer experience may give you some real-life examples of relevant writing. Review your past work and see if anything is relevant to the role you are applying for and share those samples if appropriate.

HOT TIP: If you secure a role with writing as a focus of your work, it will be essential to save some writing samples for your portfolio to be used for future job applications. This will make this process a lot easier as your career progresses.

Create Something New

Creating something new allows you to shine to the employer by going the extra mile. Review the employer’s existing work, determine the sample you want to create, and write something new. If they have a blog, then perhaps you want to create a blog post about a relevant topic that incorporates all of the style elements they typically employ. If they use a lot of social media, then drafting samples of that work may be impactful as well.

An excellent example I can remember was a furniture business in Atlantic Canada that used marketing students to contribute to their office furniture blog. One of the blog posts my client noticed was a review of an office chair. For a writing sample, the client picked a piece of furniture and wrote a review through the LinkedIn blog tool and submitted the draft as a sample. They put pictures in similar places, used identical headlines, and kept it to a similar length. The effort was so impressive that, once hired, the writing sample became the basis for their first contribution to the blog.

If what you submit is a relevant topic and looks like something they would have created themselves, they’re going to know you did your homework and made an original piece for them. It will stand out and show the employer that you’re capable of writing exactly the way they’re going to expect you to write. This is undoubtedly more work, but with more work comes higher rewards.

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