should you attach writing samples, transcripts, and other extra items when applying for a job?

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I woke up with either a cold or allergies, but I’ve never had allergies before so I’m starting to think it is in fact a dreadful cold. I am quite literally a mouth-breather right now.

In any case…

A reader writes:

When applying for a job, should I provide supplemental materials such as sample writings, projects done, and/or transcripts when they are not asked for in the job description? I want to include one of my writing samples in the application, as the job I’m applying for asked for proficient written communication skills, but I’m afraid sometimes HR gets annoyed by extra materials. 

Don’t provide stuff that isn’t asked for. They don’t want it at this stage, or they would have asked for it. (They know that they can request it when they’re ready for it, believe me.)

You can demonstrate strong writing in your cover letter. And as for transcripts, most sane people don’t care about them — and the ones who do will tell you. To the rest of us, it’ll just come across as a little naive and a little strange to offer them unsolicited.

A cover letter, a resume, and that’s it, unless they specifically ask for more.

That means, of course, that those two items need to be awesome. So please make them so.

{ 66 comments… read them below or add one }

      1. Jamie

        Ha – if it makes you feel better something is going around here, too, but it’s nothing like the flu from a couple of months back. People are stuffy and sneezy and sore throaty (it’s a word) for a couple of days and back to normal.

        It’s the good kind of sick where you don’t feel that bad, but still look pathetic enough that people bring you soup, tea, and cinnamon toast and leave you alone to lie in bed with TV and Sudoku.

        I hope it’s mild – feel better!

        Reply
        1. ExceptionToTheRule

          Just hope it isn’t the croup. That’s been going around my workplace.

          Yes, I know. It’s a small child disease. Except when it’s not and you sound like some strange combination of a dying seal and James Earl Jones.

          Reply
            1. Rana

              A couple of years ago my husband had whooping cough. Similar deal – and it was very weird telling people that my husband had a Victorian-era childhood disease.

              (It is, by the way, a nasty, nasty disease. If you’ve not updated your boosters in the last ten years, do so!)

              Reply
              1. Emily, admin extraordinaire

                My niece had croup the same week that my dad had a gout attack. We, too, said that we were in Victorian Illness Week. I kept threatening to have an attack of the vapours.

                Reply
            2. Elizabeth

              I still get it every time I have a cold, even in the summertime.

              The advice my pediatrician gave my parents when I was less than a year old still holds: cool-to-cold, moist air. In the summer, I make an ice bucket and basically stick my face in it to get the bronchial passages to shrink enough to breath. If it is winter, I wrap up in a blanket and go outside for as long as I can stand.

              Reply
        2. Laura L

          “people bring you soup, tea, and cinnamon toast”

          This one of the few things I dislike about living alone. No one to bring me soup, tea, and cinnamon toast. Sigh.

          Reply
      2. Job seeker

        Alison, I hope you get to feeling better soon. I have had such a horrible cold/cough for two weeks and I feel for you. I interviewed with this terrible cold last week and was never so embarrassed. Get well soon.

        Reply
  1. Mike

    “Don’t provide stuff that isn’t asked for.” Obviously, you aren’t referring to cookies, cakes or framed pictures of yourself that you should send to the hiring manager…right?

    Reply
    1. Jamie

      Ahhh…the framed picture. I loved that post.

      Although I would love it if a resume with a cupcake came through right…NOW…

      Damn, it didn’t. So much for the power of my wishful thinking.

      I just want a cupcake.

      On topic – definitely agree that don’t send anything not asked for.

      Reply
      1. Michelle.too

        Every time I see a good Hello Kitty bauble, I wish I knew you (and had unlimited funds) so I could send it your way. Today I found Kitty heads that open like plastic easter eggs so you can put easter treats in them. But they looked cute, not tacky.

        Apparantly my senses of organization and collecting extends to other people. What the hey?

        Reply
  2. Janet

    If you’re in a field where you’d expect to have a portfolio of work (design, public relations, writing, etc) I don’t think it’s ever a bad idea to have an online portfolio. I work in PR and I usually post the link in my cover letter. “If you are interested in learning more about the work I’ve done in my career, please visit janetportfoliosite.com.”

    But it’s not an attachment that will hog up room in their e-mail.

    Reply
    1. Lanya

      I agree with this one – I always include my portfolio link, but not an attachment, unless they ask for one.

      Reply
      1. Nan

        I’d love to know more about what you include in your portfolio online – I’ve been trying to make a small website to showcase this but I’m just not sure what to include. (I’m also in PR.)

        Reply
        1. Esra

          If you don’t have campaigns or writing or design samples to showcase, you can still do a site with a description of you or a blurb about your ideology re: PR + links to your resume, social media, and a contact form etc.

          Reply
  3. Chriama

    I think the problem with sending additional, unsolicited application materials is that it makes you seem like you know better than the hiring manager what information they need to evaluate candidates for the job.

    I once heard someone say that we don’t live in the Information Age, but the Attention Age. Too much data makes it harder, not easier, to make a decision, and you don’t want the hiring manager to screen you out because you inundate them with unwanted info.

    Reply
  4. Just a Reader

    Ditto forcing them on your interviewer in the interview. I’m in PR and have had people push huge portfolios on me during the discussion. This mostly happens at the entry level.

    I’m going to give you a writing test. I don’t want to see your portfolio, especially when we’re supposed to be talking.

    Reply
  5. Bess

    I recently applied (got the offer, turned it down) to an editing position for which I submitted a writing sample. The reason? They asked for it. That’s the thing — if they want it, they’ll ask for it. If they don’t ask for it, they don’t want it.

    That said, I currently have an advert up in my browser for a non-academic job that wants three letters of reference. Yes, letters. WTF? Who does that? I’ve left academia, I didn’t expect to see that kind of nonsense in the real world.

    Reply
  6. Eric

    Would your answer regarding transcripts be different for someone who is still in school and about to graduate?

    Reply
    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Nope. You could include your GPA (but only if it’s really good; otherwise no), but very few people want to see transcripts. If they do, they’ll ask.

      Reply
      1. Henning Makholm

        Hmm… some time ago I was involved with wording a job posting. We agreed internally that we wouldn’t mind someone who recently graduated with a really impressive transcript enclosing it to show their awesomeness … but we absolutely couldn’t find any way to convey that information in the ad without scaring away other applicants who’d have other ways of demonstrating awesomeness.

        We’re in the software business, where formal education doesn’t in general correlate particularly well with how good people are. Still, getting consistent top grades in the CS programs around here is not something you manage merely by being hard-working and ambitious, so we’d certainly like to speak to anyone who does.

        How does one say that impressive transcripts will be appreciated as one among several possible ways to show strengths, without sounding like good grades are are a requirement for being considered?

        Reply
        1. AB

          ” If you have any of these, it’s a bonus:
          · Experience with collaborative filtering systems and recommendation engines
          · Health care development background
          · Experience in small and emerging growth environment
          · Consistent top grades / impressive transcripts in a CS program”

          Reply
  7. Bess

    PS This is off topic, but remember the woman who wrote in to ask if it was ok if her SO’s resume was in Comic Sans? I am currently editing a scientific manuscript, which will presumably be one day sent to an actual scientific journal, that is in Courier. You know, the font that looks like it was typed on a typewriter. Who does that?

    Reply
      1. Eric

        In my office, the office manager sends out most e-mails in normal font. But when it is an official e-mail (announcement on behalf of the board of directors, performance evaluation information etc), she always puts it in comic sans.

        Reply
        1. Jamie

          That’s kind of backwards. I’d expect comic sans for the “Hey it’s time to clean out the fridge!” announcements. With clip art of a fridge with a smiley face.

          Not that I ever sent that back when I was brand new to the working world. I never did. I printed it and posted it on said fridge.

          Reply
          1. Anonymous

            I use comic sans for technical instructions that are for temporary use. It makes it very easy to see if something has been updated. So far none of the group has made the leap to actually updating the instructions themselves to get rid of the horrible comic sans.

            Reply
          2. RJ

            We just got the fridge cleaning email this morning. I’m upset though that it’s just clip art of a regular fridge. It isn’t smiling. Sad fridge.

            Reply
        2. Bess

          That is so weird. Is it pink, too?

          When I was in grad school, we would advertise on the student board for a dishwasher every year or so. We’d get 100s of applicants (big university), and 98% of them could be weeded out by things like using pink font or comic sans. It was very odd; even when I was an undergrad, I would never have written my resume (such as it was) in anything but Times New Roman, black, 12 pt.

          Reply
      2. Bess

        The sad thing is, now that I’ve edited all 22 pages, it looks normal, and upon flipping back to my browser, all the normal fonts look weird. *sigh*

        Reply
    1. Rana

      It’s the default in some versions of Word, sadly. Also, I seem to recall that it’s the preferred font in some fields. (I sometimes get asked to submit my indexes in Courier, because it’s a fixed-size font and some typesetters are very picky about character and line count, for example.) There’s a prettier version of it out there now, but the original is ug-ly.

      Reply
      1. Jamie

        Agreed – even uglier than Times New Roman which I think should be illegal because it so offends my aesthetic sensibilities (such as they are).

        Reply
      2. Bess

        Gah, seriously? Default? That’s horrible, although I should possibly be slightly kinder to these authors if they don’t realize how horrible it is. I understand the necessity of needing to use a fixed-size font in some applications, but that’s no excuse for making it default!

        Reply
      3. Jess

        There are apparently still some courts that require briefs and motions in Courier. Thankfully it’s been mostly phased out.

        Reply
      4. Henning Makholm

        The sad thing is that there are other fixed-width typefaces than Courier that could do that job perfectly well too, but without the sterile soullessness that Courier.

        I’m rather fond of Computer Modern Typewriter for manuscripts that must be fixed-spaced. (Oddly enough, because the rest of the CM family leaves me cold).

        Reply
      5. Christine

        It’s the default in some versions of Word, sadly.

        Really? I’ve never seen that before. Isn’t it possible to change the default font yourself?

        Reply
        1. Rana

          Well, yes, but the people who send things in default fonts generally don’t think to do it (either because they don’t don’t know how/that it can be done, or they don’t care).

          Then there’s the conversion issue. Writing for myself, I use Palatino. But I’ll often convert the document to Times New Roman (sigh) because I _know_ that whoever reads it will have access to that font. (I’ve received enough documents myself in unusual fonts that get mangled in odd ways when I don’t happen to have those particular fonts installed.)

          Reply
    2. Emily, admin extraordinaire

      Since it’s a scientific journal, they probably wanted all their data to line up perfectly. As a monospaced font, Courier always has the same space for each letter or number, so it’s favored in some circles. I know this because the CPA I used to work for required it for some things.

      Reply
    3. Christine

      Ugh! The Admin Assistant for our county’s Human Services office sends all of her emails in Comic Sans (I’m on the advisory council as a community volunteer). Granted most of them are forwards of other emails with a note saying, “FYI – please see email below”, but the fact that most recipients are human service PROFESSIONALS just boggles my mind.

      Reply
  8. Anon

    Ack can we talk more about crazy businesses that want transcripts? Several large companies have a minimum GPA requirements for newish grads. CAN’T stand this. What about students who had to deal with family issues in college or changed majors from Microbiology to English?

    If you started out college by taking and failing Chemistry, Physics and Calculus classes but ended with a 3.9 GPA in all marketing classes, you might have a 2.5 overall. I would wager you’re good at marketing and sucky at science. But I’ve seen so many companies require a 3.0 or 3.5 – a number that may be based on classes that have nothing at all to do with the major. Why should companies turn down qualified candidates because of a number that has very little to do with their ability to work in the field?

    Reply
    1. Christine

      I’ve seen many state jobs (New Jersey) require you submit transcripts with your application. However, I think it’s to show proof of having one of the required degrees for a particular position.

      Reply
    2. CoffeeLover

      I think it’s usually just a weeding out tool. When you have hundreds of new grads applying, it’s nice to be able to lower that number quickly.

      Honestly though, I don’t necessarily think looking at GPA is completely useless. In a way, university is a student’s first independent job or task. A task that has a quantitative evaluation. Family issues happen while you’re at work too, but I hope that you can still preform relatively well (or at least know to take some time off).

      Of course it stands that some degrees are harder than others, which most people understand. As for switching majors, I would just write something like “Concentration GPA: 3.9″ and leave out the 2.5 average. It’s not like you’re not allowed to apply if you don’t have a 3.0 and people can figure things out from your transcript.

      Reply
  9. glennisw

    I was recently interviewing candidates for a temporary office administrative job, and I received one application which included copies of some certificates the candidate got for attending various employee training opportunities, like Customer Service and Workplace Safety and stuff like that, and, frankly, it actually put me off the candidate. It made me feel that she didn’t understand the context of the job – it was pretty clear in the posting – and that I would have a hard time explaining it to her. She might have been a good candidate after all, but since I had some 30 applications for one position, including those extra, unsolicited materials didn’t help her at all, but rather hurt her.

    Reply
    1. Maggie

      This is a really old thread so I doubt this will be read (hey, that rhymed!), but if it’s an admin job and they included customer service, I wouldn’t be offended. Even though most large corporations have certs for (sometimes required) courses, I would view it that she does actually understand the position. Now, if she submitted certs for basket weaving, that’s an entirely different story. And perhaps her last admin role included Safety, or all of the admins at ______ are in charge of safety? I mean, it’s not basket weaving, but in the right context, I could get behind it.

      Reply
  10. Miss Displaced

    Design and/or writing samples is common in my field but not always wanted in the initial contact. If you do have this it’s always better to make some type of online portfolio and simply reference include a link to it in your cover letter.

    There are many to choose from today, I believe one is even connected to LinkedIn, so you direct them to view it there along with your profile.

    Reply
  11. Bryce

    I applied for an SEO copy writing job with a cover letter in which I included links to content I wrote for several clients, and also Google search results showing the client’s site on the first page. I ended up getting an interview and offer; however, I rejected it because the salary and benefits were well below market (this was for a startup) and I wasn’t sure about the company’s profitability.

    Reply
  12. Jona

    Hi Allison,

    I recently applied for a position online and while researching for it, I figured out who the hiring manager is. Would it be a bad move to send them my application directly as well?

    Thanks so much,

    Jona.

    Reply

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