So you are here because someone gave you the daunting job of writing a sample article. And you want to know the best way to go about it. Or you are a new writer, and you want to know whether a writing sample really matters.
Let’s discuss more about writing samples in this post.
What is a Writing Sample?
If you are interested in a job that hinges on writing or communication, the employer will ask you for a writing sample. A writing sample is a demonstration of your expertise. It’s your chance to show that you have good writing skills, and you can tailor your writing according to business requirements.
Recruiters mention what they want from a candidate in their job listings. And all candidates reply in the affirmative in cover letters. So how would a recruiter assess if the candidate is actually capable of the job?
This assessment becomes all the more crucial when the job is remote. The recruiter is not likely to meet you in-person for the interview. Nor you would work together in an office space where your employer can understand how you work. Hence, it’s important to create a perfect writing sample if you want to get hired.
The kind of writing sample that you have to share varies with the nature of the job. You might have to write a social media post if you are applying for the position of social media manager. It could be a press release if it’s a public relations job or a sample article for a content writing job.
No matter what job you are interested in, you have to give your best shot while writing a sample. It’s a kind of audition that decides your suitability for the role.
What Do Employers Want From a Writing Sample?
A Trial-run For The Job
Employers often list several criteria for the job and you may not fulfil all of them. While a few employers do care about you ticking off all the boxes, others don’t.
They are more interested in how you actually perform. A writing sample is a way to prove that.
So if a job ad asks for a writing sample, don’t shy away from applying. This is your chance to show your skills, even if you don’t have a degree in creative writing or years of experience in writing.
Attention to Detail
Writers often apply to multiple projects or jobs at the same time. They end up overlooking the job details and sample requirements because they are in a hurry to land a job.
Before you start writing the sample, take a deep breath, and read the job ad very carefully. Pay attention to what the recruiter has mentioned. The job ad might tell you what the recruiter wants in the sample- topics, writing style, tone, etc.
If you write a sample that deviates from these requirements, it reflects carelessness. The recruiter would think that you would make the same mistakes in the actual job.
Also, you have to share a clean copy with zero errors. There is no scope for grammar or syntax mistakes in a writing sample. So don’t skip proofreading if you are really interested in the job.
Subject Matter Knowledge
Applicants would always say that they are experts on the subject. Hence, employers use writing samples to separate the grain from the chaff.
You can’t fool someone with a writing sample. It’s a clear demonstration of how well you understand a subject. Employers can identify writers who learned the subject overnight on the internet, and writers who have an actual grasp on the topic.
If you actually have knowledge on the subject and your skills match the job requirements, you would see writing a sample as an opportunity to stand out from the crowd of job applicants.
Writing Style and Tones
The recruiters want to see if you could be a good fit for the team. And one of the key criteria is if you could work the way they want you to. For this, you have to understand the writing style of the publication.
The hiring managers explain that in the job advertisement, and your writing sample must conform to it. If the job involves breaking down a complex topic for average readers, you have to write in an easy-to-understand manner. If you have to write for an industry journal or a niche blog, you are expected to use technical terms. Writing according to the expected style and tone is a part of your job responsibilities hence you have to show that through your sample article.
How to Write a Perfect Writing Sample?
So how do you write a sample that convinces the recruiter that you are the one?
If you want to shine through the crowd and present yourself as a suitable candidate, you must not take the task lightly. Do it as if you are already on the team, and you are writing an article meant for publishing.
We have put together a few tips that could help you achieve that kind of perfection while writing a sample.
Stick to the Topic
You may not believe this, but many writers often submit samples on wrong topics.
They don’t take time to understand the topics suggested for writing the sample.
Read the advertisement carefully and find what topics are acceptable to the employer. The recruiter may ask you for a sample on topics related to a specific subject or provide a list of topics to choose from.
Some employers also supply entire outlines with topics and sub-topics, and you have to write a sample based on their inputs. The more specific instructions are, the easier your job becomes. You don’t have to second-guess anything, just use the information to write the best article you can.
Understand the Target Audience
Your sample would meet the employer’s expectations if you know understand the target audience. Usually, recruiters mention this information in the job advertisement. You can do a quick Google search and find what that particular set of readers like.
You can visit the website and study a few articles. Or spend some time reading their competitor’s websites and industry journals. You would learn more about what the audience likes and how writers cater to their interests. It will show you a direction for writing your sample.
Assess the Suitable Writing Style
More often than not, you would find this detail in the job description itself. The employer mentions the writing style that you would have to adopt if you get hired. Use the same style while writing a sample.
Look for words like ‘easy-to-understand’, ‘casual’, ‘formal’, ‘actionable’, etc. in the job ad, and make a note of them. Once again, reading the website or blog for which you would write (if you get hired) could help you understand the writing style followed there.
A few jobs have a very specific style guide. You will have to conform to it while writing a sample if the employer asks for that.
Try to Meet Employer’s Objectives
Employers have certain objectives that they want to fulfil through content creation. That is why they are out there, screening candidates to hire. If you can understand their objectives and reflect this in your sample, you could position yourself as a strong candidate.
Mostly, employers either want high traffic to their websites. Or they want to convert the traffic into leads that will translate into sales. These objectives are usually mentioned in the job ad.
If the employer wants high traffic, you can make your case stronger by crafting a sample tailored to draw the crowd. For instance, include most searched keywords related to the sample topic in the content. Or use a format that’s meant for increasing topics (roundups, list posts, etc.).
If the employer wants lead generation, you should include keywords with commercial intent. You can also go to their website, and find a lead magnet around which you can write your sample.
Don’t Exceed the Word Limit
While writing a sample, stick to the word count requested by the employer. Writing a piece that’s too long won’t help you get the job. It would only show that you can’t follow instructions. Write according to the word limit, don’t write excess or way too less.
Follow the Format
If the employer has mentioned a particular format that is followed on the website, then you should write the sample according to that format. For example, if the website specifically publishes how-to guides, you should write a sample in a ‘how-to’ format.
If the employer has shared a detailed style guide, study it and write the sample accordingly.
Writing The Sample
When you are certain of all the above information, it’s time to start typing the sample.
Choose a Topic
If the recruiter has provided a list of topics, choose one from it. You should pick the one which you understand well, and you can write on it with clarity about. If no specific topics have been provided, research well to find a suitable topic on the subject.
Create an Outline
Start by creating an outline. What all sub-topics would you like to cover in the sample? All the research that you did would help you here.
Understanding who the target audience is, and what kind of information they seek from such topics. Assess the different aspects of the topic that you could present. Find the sub-topics that similar articles have covered. Also, think of what they have missed out but the audience would like to know.
Research With Patience
Take your time to understand the topic. Consider different points of view on it. Look for data or examples that could support your point.
Even if you feel confident about the topic, don’t skimp on the research. You might uncover new facts or opinions on it that could help you present yourself as a writer who is alert and aware.
Write With Perfection
When you are creating a writing sample, you are showcasing your writing skills. Don’t work on your writing sample when ten other things are running on your mind. You have to write with the utmost attention as there is no room for errors.
And when we say errors, we mean factual as well as grammatical. A writing test is as much a test of your research skills as it is of your writing abilities.
Edit to Bring a Finesse
Editing is vital for producing a polished writing sample. See if you need to add more information to any sub-topic. Use a spell checker, and remove typos and grammatical errors. Also, check for repetitive sentences in the content and trim them.
Also, optimize your work for the search engines. Your prospective employer would appreciate that. And check if the writing sample matches the requirements mentioned in the job advertisement. Make sure it meets the format and the word count.
Even if you feel a bit dissatisfied with what you wrote, focus on the editing. Careful editing can brighten up a piece of text and delivers an article that impresses the reader.
Upload and Share
Job advertisements always mention how to share the writing sample. Look out for the instructions and adhere to them. If they ask for a PDF, share it in a PDF format. If they ask for a Google document, make a Google doc, and share that. Upload the file at the relevant link or share it over email, based on what the employer has asked for.
You might take this lightly, but making an error here could lead to your disqualification. And that’s because paying attention to written instructions is a vital part of all writing and communication jobs.
One Final Consideration….
How Much Time Should One Put Into Writing Samples?
Creating a winning writing sample needs time and patience. But how much time should you put into it? This question becomes all the more important if you have ongoing work, but you are also pitching new clients or looking for another job. Should you keep aside all the work and write a sample first?
One factor to consider is the date when the job ad was published. If it was fairly recent, say a couple of days or a week old, you can take your time to work on the sample.
Some recruiters also mention the last date for accepting applications. You would have to finish writing a sample and complete your application before that. Sometimes no such detail is shared. But most employers finish the recruitment process in a month. So if you want to apply for a job that was posted say two weeks ago, you have to rush and prepare a writing sample quickly.
Regardless of how little or much time you give to writing samples, remember that you aren’t the only one applying. Accept the competition, and put your best foot forward by writing a compelling sample that meets the expectations and leaves a great impression of you as a professional writer.