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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A “Me in 30 Seconds” statement is a simple way to present to someone else a balanced understanding of who you are. It piques the interest of a listener who invites you to “Tell me a little about yourself,” and it provides a brief and compelling answer to the question “Why should I hire you?”
What Should it Include?
When well crafted, your “Me in 30 Seconds” statement will include:
- A brief personal introduction that includes your career objective or the type of position you want.
- Three or four specific accomplishments that prove you meet or exceed the requirements for that position.
- A few character traits or adaptive skills that set you apart from typical applicants.
When networking, finish your “Me in 30 Seconds” statement with probing questions that cannot be answered with a “yes” or “no” to start a conversation that may lead to referrals or job opportunities.
WHO do you know who works in _______________?
WHAT businesses are in the area that _______________?
WHO do you know who knows a lot of people?
Other Points to Consider
Keep your “Me in 30 Seconds” statement brief. People generally listen effectively only 30 to 60 seconds, and they appreciate concise responses to questions. This indicates that you are clearly focused and waste no time getting to the point.
- Speak in the present tense to show that your skills are current and applicable in today’s market.
- Remember your audience. Adjust the level of detail and industry jargon you use according to the interest and experience of the person you are addressing.
- Avoid common claims such as: “I’m trustworthy, loyal, helpful, courteous, kind,” and so on. Not only are these claims made by most job seekers, but without detailed examples, they don’t convey your value to a potential employer.
- Make your “Me in 30 Seconds” statement natural.
It is a genuine form of communication that will help you organize everything you are into brief, coherent thoughts.
Sample “Me in 30 Seconds” statements for networking:
“My name is Randy Patterson, and I’m currently looking for a job in youth services. I have 10 years of experience working with youth agencies. I have a bachelor’s degree in outdoor education. I raise money, train leaders, and organize units. I have raised over $100,000 each of the last six years. I consider myself a good public speaker, and I have a good sense of humor. “Who do you know who works with youth?”
“My name is Lucas Martin, and I enjoy meeting new people and finding ways to help them have an uplifting experience. I have had a variety of customer service opportunities, through which I was able to have fewer returned products and increased repeat customers, when compared with co-workers. I am dedicated, outgoing, and a team player. Who could I speak with in your customer service department about your organization’s customer service needs?”
Sample “Me in 30 Seconds” statement for an interview:
“People find me to be an upbeat, self-motivated team player with excellent communication skills. For the past several years I have worked in lead qualification, telemarketing, and customer service in the technology industry. My experience includes successfully calling people in director-level positions of technology departments and developing viable leads. I have a track record of maintaining a consistent call and activity volume and consistently achieving the top 10 percent in sales, and I can do the same thing for your company.”
“I am a dedicated person with a family of four. I enjoy reading, and the knowledge and perspective that my reading gives me has strengthened my teaching skills and presentation abilities. I have been successful at raising a family, and I attribute this success to my ability to plan, schedule, and handle many different tasks at once. This flexibility will help me in the classroom, where there are many different personalities and learning styles.”
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