By Taylor Kinn, NCA Assistant Director of Student Career Advising, serving students enrolled in the Harvey Kapnick Center for Business Institutions Minor
If you are in the process of applying for an internship or full-time position there is a chance employers may request a writing sample as part of your application. Ultimately, an employer wants to know more about your written communication and evaluate your ability to perform in the role. Below are a few questions I recommend you consider when selecting a writing sample:
- Who is your audience? Consider what you know about the employer: the industry, client focus, or other aspects of the employer’s work can provide guidance on selecting a topic for your writing sample. For example, if the organization focuses on public policy in urban areas and you’ve written a course paper about the impact of educational policy in Chicago, this could demonstrate both your interest in the employer’s work and the knowledge that you’ll bring to the role. This is an example of how industry and employer research can help to inform your application.
- Why are they requesting a writing sample? You also want to consider the style of writing the employer is interested in reviewing. Consider the role and how writing and communication play into the tasks you will be asked to accomplish. For example, writing press releases, blog content, and client reports may require three distinct styles.
- What do you hope to share? The content and style of your writing should ultimately showcase your Both the topic and style of writing are ways for you to demonstrate the knowledge and skills you can offer the employer. For example, if an employer wants to see that you can analyze information, this skillset may be better showcased in a research paper rather than an opinion based essay or non-fiction piece of work. Or, if creativity is important, sharing a piece that clearly conveys your ideas and point of view will be most effective.
- Should you draft a new sample or use an existing one? There may be a situation in which creating a writing sample specifically for the application makes the most sense. The employer may even request this. For example, an employer may want to see how you communicate professionally and request that you submit a mock email. However, just because you haven’t written a course paper or other piece about the industry to which you are applying doesn’t automatically mean you need to create a sample. Still, you may decide that tailoring the content and/or style of writing to a given employer or industry is most effective for your application.
Keep in mind that most writing samples will be 2-3 pages, unless otherwise specified, and a section of a larger work can be used. Be sure to follow instructions about the requested writing sample and always proofread. Your ability to follow instructions is another way employers assess your attention to detail.
Don’t hesitate to schedule an appointment with your career adviser (for job/internship applications), or career counselor (for graduate school applications) if you have any additional questions about how to select a writing sample or other aspects of the application process. The Writing Place can also provide you with guidance and feedback. Best of luck selecting your next writing sample!