Should You Write a Free Sample to Get a Freelance Gig?

Editor

Writing tests are often scams - but you can also get great gigs if you're careful.

I hate writing tests.

I’ve been professionally writing since 2009. Since then, I’ve taken a half-dozen or so tests for various gigs, providing a sample of my writing — and never landed the job.

Even worse, after every failed attempt, I’ve been left with a bitter taste in my mouth, griping about the wasted time.

So last November, when a marketing company requested I take a writing test that required I write a free sample for them, I was hesitant. But it turned out to be one of the best things I ever did. Here’s what happened:

Something to gain

Most of my writing experience is in video scripting. Although this is my true passion as a writer, I’ve realized it’s difficult to create a successful freelance career that revolves solely around video clients.

If I wanted to reach the next level of success, income, and stability as a freelancer, I needed to expand my skill set. Copywriting was the top skill I was interested in adding, and the job I discovered was for just that.

I did have a little copywriting experience and three writing samples to show for it — homepage copy, a commercial script for a website, and copy I’d written to promote an e-book. Not exactly an all-star portfolio, but it was enough to apply for the position.

To my surprise, I heard back within a matter of hours. And that’s when I was hit with a bombshell.

The test from hell

When I opened the email to see I was shortlisted for the position, I was instantly excited … and then quickly brought back down to Earth when I saw the dreaded words: writing test.

This was no one-page test like the ones I’d previously taken, either. This was a four-step process, which included writing:

  • One blog post
  • Homepage copy, including a banner headline and About Us section
  • Completing a proofreading test
  • Submitting 3 additional samples from my portfolio

My immediate reaction was to say no. I didn’t want to risk failure — and the feelings of frustration and resentment that follow.

But this was a chance to develop a valuable skill I desperately wanted. It was hard to pass up. So I decided to do what I always do when faced with a tough decision that pertains to writing — ask more experienced writers for advice.

That evening, I posted in the Freelance Writers Den, explaining my situation and asked if this type of writing test was normal. We all know many shady websites ask for free writing samples, only to use them without permission or payment, and without extending any paid job offer.

To my surprise, almost every single writer who responded said they’d taken a writing test for a staff job. Den Mother Carol had even took a writing test and a personality test for one staff job! So I was persuaded.

I spent four or five hours taking the test. Several emails and an interview later, I landed the job.

Was it worth it?

After eight months as a full-time copywriter, I know I made the right choice.

I’ve gotten the copywriting experience I wanted, and I’ve become a better writer. My writing is more clear and fluid, and I’ve nearly doubled my speed.

So to all other writers out there who can’t bear the thought of taking an unpaid writing test, I urge you to think about the bigger picture. When it’s for a major gig, consider the value of the experience you’ll gain if you successfully pass the test and get the job.

For me, the chance to develop a lucrative skill I can use for decades to come is worth a few hours and risk of frustration.

Ever written a free sample? Tell us how that worked out in the comments below.

John Weiler is a full-time copywriter based in Bangkok, Thailand. He is also the author of Backpack Abroad Now.

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50 Comments

  1. Swapnil Jagtap

    Nice detailed writing. This is nice post for new bloggers in writing. Keep writing.

  2. John Weiler

    Nice work Sheha! Sounds like it was a painstaking test. I feel your pain! But glad it paid off 🙂

    • Shay

      Thanks John! I’ve been following Carol’s advice closely and acting on it. She’s a star!

  3. Sheha Sidek

    I had to do a one-page proof-reading / editing job today. Took me several hours to read through their requirements and guidelines(they had a long, long list!) and complete a sample for their review. I’m happy to say I got the job, and it looks to be a long term appointment too. 🙂

  4. John Weiler

    Hi Laura,

    I don’t mind the proofreading tests as much myself. But even though I’m writing thousands of words a day everyday I still have to look grammar rules up from time to time (including the who vs whom as well). It’s crazy I still find myself misspelling some words like restaurant, maintenance, and handful of others all the time. Though I think this may be more common than we think, as I’ve talked with my writer friends who share similar issues when it comes to some words and rules.

  5. Laurie Stone

    I guess my blog would be my writing test, but let’s face it. I’d do anything to get a job. My least favorite of these tests are proof-reading. Even as an English major and long-time writer, whom vs. who can still throw me. I still have to look these things up. That would be my weak spot. Gulp.

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