Writing sample tips for a job application
Many job ads today require candidates to submit writing samples. Don't stress out! Follow these tips instead.
Get your writing samples in order by following these guidelines.
In today’s competitive job market, applicants for many positions—even those not related directly to writing—are required to submit writing samples at some point during the interview process.
Don’t let this request stress you out, even if you’re not a strong writer. Here are answers to frequently asked questions about writing samples for a job that will help you develop and/or select just the right samples.
What kind of writing sample should I submit?
Follow any instructions the employer provides—that’s part of the assessment process, says Diane Samuels, a career coach and image consultant in New York City. “If you have any concerns, it’s best to ask questions,” she says. “It shows that you are proactive in seeking advice before moving too far ahead with an assignment, which in a real-life job situation can save time, money and energy.”
If the company doesn’t say what it’s looking for, whenever possible, send something “drafted specifically for this job opportunity so the subject matter and writing style closely match what you might be asked to write once on board,” says Sally Haver, a former senior vice president at The Ayers Group/Career Partners International, an HR consultancy in New York City.
For instance, if you’re going for a sales job, you might submit sales proposals or customer profiles. If you’re applying for an administrative gig, sample memos would be appropriate. Management applicants might consider submitting samples of competitive analyses, reports or HR plans.
If you have little or no work experience or are applying for an entry-level job, submit a school assignment. It’s also permissible to send schoolwork “if you have applied for a position where the style of writing will be similar to something you would have prepared for school,” Samuels says. A lab report would work for a scientific research gig. An assignment from a business writing class would be appropriate for a management-trainee job.
Are certain types of writing samples inappropriate?
It’s a bad idea to turn in a paper from school if you have been out of school several years. “It says, ‘I haven’t written for years,’” says Thom Singer, a business-development consultant in Austin.
Singer also cautions against sending blog posts (unless your blog is professional and addresses business or industry issues), as well as “creative writing or a letter to grandma.” These forms are ill-advised because they’re not cogent to the type of work you’ll be doing if hired.
How long should a writing sample be?
Most employers seek employees who can synthesize large amounts of information into a short, concise, actionable summary. “Often a one-page memo is a more compelling example than a long term paper,” says Lynne Sarikas, director of the MBA Career Center at Northeastern University’s College of Business Administration. That’s because reviewers generally read just a page or two of a long paper, and are not concerned with the specific content, she says.
Can I submit a sample I co-authored?
A sample written with someone else may be appropriate if writing will be a collaborative effort at the job you’re applying for. Just make sure you list yourself as a co-author. But even then, a team-written piece shouldn’t be the only example you submit.
“The employer is seeking samples of your work, and can’t assume your role in a co-authored piece,” says Nancy DeCrescenzo, director of career services at Eastern Connecticut State University.
What about getting a little help with a writing sample?
It’s considered OK to have someone else review your submission for basic errors and clarity. Beyond that, though, and many employers feel the work is no longer representative of your skills and knowledge.
“If you’re really not much of a writer but your sample is great, that’s what they’ll expect of you when hired,” Haver says. “Unless you can keep your ghostwriter handy, that stratagem can boomerang.”
Should I take any special precautions with my samples?
When submitting a writing sample from a previous job, take extra care to keep confidential information confidential. “Mask or delete names, numbers and any other identifying markers from writing samples so the prospective employer will still be able to see the quality of your writing and thought processes but without learning privy information,” Haver says. Alternatively, you could make up a company name and change the type of business and geographic location, she says.
Sarikas offers one final angst-reducing tip: “Have a couple of samples prepared in advance so you don’t have to scramble to find or create something at the last minute.”
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Email Cover Letter Sample and Tips
Writing a hard copy cover letter is becoming less of the norm these days. This is because, more than ever, people are sending job application materials through job websites or via email. This includes submitting resumes and cover letters online.
When asked to submit your job materials (such as your resume and any other related documents) as an email attachment, the email itself acts as your cover letter.
See below for an example of an email cover letter, and tips for how to write it and what to include your message. Here are some tips on how to write and send a quality email cover letter.
Use a Professional Email Address
First, before you start drafting your letter, make sure your email address is professional. Along with the subject line, your email address is the first thing the employer will see – it is your first impression.
If you are using an informal address that you created years ago like email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org, it may be a good idea to open a new account specifically for communication between you and hiring companies. Get a new professional address that includes your first and last name, if possible.
State Your Name and the Job in the Subject
In the subject line of the email, clearly state the position you are applying for and also include your name. This way, the hiring manager will know, at a glance, that you are writing to apply for a job.
With a clear subject line, the employer is more likely to read the email. Also be sure to proofread your subject line before sending the email – a typo in the subject line is not a good first impression, and might lead to your email being deleted!
Start With a Greeting
If possible, greet a particular person in your letter.
Figuring out the recipient may be as easy as reading the name on the email address in which you are sending your resume. If it isn’t that obvious, double check the job listing to see if a name is mentioned. You can also check the company website (see if there is a directory or list of staff members), or call the company and ask the administrative assistant for help. If none of this works, you can use a greeting like “Dear Hiring Manager.”
What to Include in the Email Message
An email cover letter includes pretty much the same content as a hard copy cover letter, with a few optional additions. Start your letter by expressing your interest in the job opening, and mention the job title by name. Follow this with some of your previous experience that will show the reader that you are qualified for the position.
Focus on specific examples when explaining that you have certain qualities or skills. Make sure all of the information you include is directly related to the job for which you are applying. Do not be afraid to brag a little bit about your accomplishments; this is the time to “sell” yourself to them.
A benefit to sending your cover letter by email is the ability to attach URLs within the body of your message.
For example, if you are applying for a technology driven position like a web designer, freelance writer, or software developer, you can insert links to work you have done in the past. Nothing shows what a good fit you will be for the job like real life examples of what you can do.
Close With a Thank You and Signature
Finally, close your email cover letter with a thank you and express your readiness to meet the hiring manager in person for an interview. You might also want to add that your resume is attached to the email (if this is the case).
Then, include a closing (such as “Best” or “Sincerely”) and your full name. Underneath your name, include an email signature. This is something you can set up on your email account. It appears at the bottom of every email you send, and includes important contact details, such as your email address and phone number.
It might also include your full address, employment information, or a link to your LinkedIn profile.
Attach Your Resume (Unless Told Otherwise)
Attach your resume to your email message in the format requested by the employer. If a specific format isn't required, send it as a PDF or Word document. Of course, do not do this if the employer specifically tells you to submit your resume in some other way (such as through a website or via mail).
Sample Email Cover Letter With Resume Attached
Subject Line of Email Message: Communications Director Position - Your Name
Dear Hiring Manager,
I read your job posting for a Communications Director with interest. I am confident that my ten years of experience in communications in both the private and public sector make me an ideal fit for the position.
In my position as Communications Director for XYZ Company, I wrote articles for the company website, managed guest author submissions, and wrote and sent a weekly email newsletter to subscribers. I received consistent praise from the director for my attention to detail and clear, straightforward writing style.
While Assistant Communications Director for Assemblyperson Susan Smith, I researched, drafted and amended legislation, wrote press releases, and was responsible for office communications and correspondence.
I also have extensive experience writing on a freelance basis on labor issues, which, I believe, would be an ideal match for this position. Articles are available for your review at:
Additional writing samples and my resume are attached. If I can provide you with any further information on my background and qualifications, please let me know.
I look forward to hearing from you. Thank you for your consideration.