what kind of writing sample do employers want to see?

A reader writes:

I’ve got a question about something you’ve touched on in some of your posts, but never really talked about at length. Writing samples. When a job listing requests that you send in a writing sample along with your resume and cover letter, but doesn’t specify a topic or style of writing, what are you supposed to write about? I’m curious because I’ve just come upon an ad for a position that I might otherwise have applied for, but they requested a writing sample and I have no idea what to send them.

Things not to send them: A 20-page paper from a college class. Something you wrote but that was heavily edited by someone else, until it no longer reflects your own writing. Blog posts featuring highly inappropriate personal details.

Ideally, you’re using a writing sample that you already have, rather than writing something fresh (unless they specifically assign you something to write about). For instance, I used to use old articles I’d written; op-eds, if you’ve ever written one, are perfect for this. But if you don’t have anything already existing, I’d create something specifically for your job search (which you can use with many different employers).

Of course, the ideal writing sample varies by job. If you’re applying for a PR job, send a sample press release. If you’re applying for a legal job, they want to see an excerpt of a legal brief or something similar. But if the type of writing you should send isn’t obvious, something in the style of an op-ed or a case study is good (again, even if you need to write it specifically for this use). But in all cases, what’s most important is that it be clear and concise and showcase your ability to write well.

And while it’s great if you can use a sample directly related to the job, quality matters more. Pick an unrelated, stronger sample over a related but weaker sample.

And whatever you do, don’t overwhelm them with a massive tome. In most fields, employers are looking for something around 2-5 pages (although some fields, like law, wanted slightly longer ones). It’s fine to send just an excerpt from something longer.

Good luck!

{ 14 comments… read them below }

  1. Karen*

    This is terrific…been asked this question a number of times and at least now I know which direction to point my clients. :-)

    It's a good exercise too, I might add, to keep adding to your samples so you have lots to choose from as needed, depending on the position you applied for. If you're looking for an excuse to write, this is a good reason.

    Karen, The Resume Chick (on Google or Twitter if you need me)

    1. Carol*

      You are quite right – this just made me look through my documents for samples of my own writing. As an Executive Assistant, I did not think that I would be asked for samples of my writing. I did find a couple and I’m very glad I did as I have just had to attach them to a resume!

      Thank you to the author of this blog for pointing me in the right direction.

  2. Hello.Christina*

    Thank you for this! It seems several employers request a "writing sample" but no one really talks about the terms for this writing sample. Anyway, really appreciate this post.

  3. Arian Hosseinzadeh*


    Is it a good idea to submit my published research paper as the writing sample ?

    I am looking for a job in filed of computer science and I am just graduated from master’s program.

  4. Robin Keller*

    I need to have a writing sample for an interview for Office Assistant and I have no clue what to write. I have never been asked for a writing sample before, HELP!

    1. Anonymous*

      I would like to know what to write about applying for a
      Processing Support Specialist for an Insurance Company

  5. Larry Putu*

    Thanks for all the comments and feedbacks. They are very invaluable and priceless. I am glad I came across this website. Thanks guys .

  6. Anon Uhmis*

    I was asked during the interview to send a follow-up email with an attached writing sample. I have the perfect sample, I am just unsure of how to orchestrate the response email, professionally.

  7. Tarquin Tate*

    Thank you, but I am still unsure whether or not to write it by hand. I was advised to hand in a hand written writing sample by a friend, but the job did not specify.

    Any thoughts?

    1. Laufey*


      Type it. Unless you’re applying for a job with an emphasis on caligraphy, assume that it should be office quality work – i.e. on a computer, printed (pdfed for electronic submissions) and formatted professionally.

  8. Michele*

    Tarquin Tate, I can almost guarantee they are not actually looking for your handwriting ability, so use a computer! They are going to use your writing sample to determine if you can put together thoughts in a logical and coherent manner, using correct grammar and punctuation.

Comments are closed.