Whether you are just starting out as a writer or you have written for countless different publications over the years, companies will usually ask you for a writing sample before hiring you for their content needs.
This writing sample request might have very specific requirements or it might be a bit broad in scope, but either way the company is trying to figure out not only if you can write, but if you can write for them.
They are trying to gauge how well you can speak in their voice, communicate their ideas, and reach their audience. This is especially true when trying to land higher-paying jobs, like ghostwriting or white paper writing.
Instead of just pulling out a piece of content you previously wrote and then tweaking it to fit their specifications, spend a little time writing something specifically for the purpose of landing this job.
Not only will it improve your chances that you will be hired, but it is also a good writing exercise for you as well. Especially if you are just starting out in the writing world, treat every opportunity you have to complete a writing assignment as a valuable training tool.
Treat the writing sample as if it were your first paid assignment
This is your opportunity to show them what they will get when they hire you.
As you complete the writing sample, be thinking of how you can showcase all of the reasons you are an excellent person to work with, in addition to showing them that you are a great writer.
That means, in addition to creating an engaging and thoughtful piece of writing that fits within their content needs, you should also take care to do the following:
- Submit a writing piece without any typos or grammar mistakes.
- Submit the piece on time, within the agreed upon time frame.
- Make sure it is in the correct format and easy for them to access.
- Keep it within the word count they request as well as any other specifications.
People work with people they like. So remember to be professional but also be likeable in all of your communications with them.
Approach the article in these 6 steps to make your best impression.
Step 1. Read the writing sample description
While this is an obvious first step, make sure to slow down and take time to read the writing sample description and jot down all the requirements.
It can be tempting to deviate from a basic prompt when you are trying to showcase your skills. Instead take note of the word requirements, any specific topics they suggest, the formats they look for, or anything else the company is asking for.
Remember, part of this assignment is showing them how it is to work with you, and how well you will follow directions. So write down all the directions and follow them.
Step 2. Research the company
Before you begin writing, take time to comb through the company’s website. Find their “about us” section, read up on their mission, and look at what the company does.
Next, spend time reading through recent social media and blog content. Know what the company does and how they speak to their customers and potential customers.
Take notes on the following:
- Look for company goals: What goals are described on the website? How are these goals reinforced in the blog content and across social media channels?
- Look for voice: How does the company speak in their written content? Do they insert humor? Are they down-to-earth or more polished?
- Identify their customer: Who are they trying to reach with their blog content and social media? Who engages with the content?
- Look at their content: What is the style of content? What formats do they use (how to, lists)? What topics do they cover?
- Look at their competition: Who are they competing against? What type of content do they produce? What sets this company apart?
Step 3. Choose your topic
Take all the writing sample specifications the company has given you and choose your topic.
If the job description doesn’t give you a format, choose from one of the formats you see on their blog such as an article written in list format or as a how to article.
Read your topic aloud, check that it sounds engaging, and make sure it fits into what you already see in the blog. The topic should match both the blog’s tone and target the same audience as the company’s blog.
Step 4. Outline and write for the company’s audience
Make sure your outline is formatted similar to the current blog content they already have. If the company’s blog features easy-to-digest content with short paragraphs and lots of headings, outline your blog in a similar way.
If your company’s blog is more technical, with research linked, then be prepared to also include appropriate research.
As you are writing, be careful to:
- Write in the company’s voice to their audience. Keep their goals in mind (for example if you are writing a beauty article for a vegan wellness company make sure to only reference vegan beauty products).
- Make it compelling, informative, and well-researched. Write a blog that they will want to publish on their site.
- Include your topic keywords in your headers and subheaders.
- Include a call to action and add links to other articles within their site if you think it enhances your piece.
- Keep your writing sample within the length required as well as any other requirements they listed.
Step 5. Edit for errors
Go above and beyond when you edit your writing sample. Use the tools you have on hand such as Grammarly to edit for typos and punctuation. Then read your piece aloud several times to catch and correct any problems with flow, style and tone.
Keep in mind that this is a large part of your job interview. Show off your attention to detail, your superior writing skills, and let them see how easy it will be to work with you.
Editors cringe when they see a writing sample that contains errors that could have been easily corrected by the author. Deliver a well-edited product.
Step 6. Edit for voice
Close your computer after you finish your piece and then come back to it in a couple hours with fresh eyes. This time read it as if you were the company deciding if they wanted to hire you.
Did you stay true to their voice and tone? Did you communicate the company’s goals? Did you stay consistent with the other content they publish?
Step aside from your own voice as a writer and instead make sure you are submitting a piece of content that will encourage the company to hire you to create more content for them.
Going above and beyond pays off
Remember, when writing a writing sample to land a writing job, the extra work you put in pays off.
There are a lot of writers in the world that can create excellent content. You set yourself apart from everyone else by putting in the extra time to learn about their business, extra effort to learn and use their voice, and by delivering a writing sample that fulfills everything they asked for.
When you show you care about the company and you can speak to the audience they are trying to reach, you will write an excellent writing sample.