DePaul University Career Center's Blog

What Do Employers Want to See When They Ask for Writing Samples?

Regardless of industry and experience level, every job or internship application will require that job seekers submit a resume and, in most cases, a cover letter. Depending on the role, though, you may be asked to provide additional materials to paint a fuller picture of your professional and academic strengths. These materials can range from a copy of your transcripts to a digital portfolio. However, the one question I get most often from students is what to submit when an employer asks for a writing sample. Some job descriptions may indicate specific details about what they’re looking for; e.g. A two-page academic paper that highlights your research skills. Others, however, are not always as clear, which can make it difficult to determine what will stand out to the hiring manager.

Based on employer feedback, the best way to think about which samples might be relevant are to consider the options below.

Option 1: A Writing Sample from Work

This option is ideal for applicants who have previously worked in a job or internship and can provide a writing sample that’s industry-specific. For creative writing and/or journalism majors, you might want to submit any piece of yours that has been published. (The DePaulia would count!) For most majors, these can vary from formal reports you may have written to professional email communication with clients, supervisors, and/or customers. The strength of these samples is that they show hiring managers that you have successfully demonstrated writing skills in a professional context. With work samples, you just want to make sure you have permission from your supervisor to include it with your application materials, and of course, triple-check that it’s free of spelling and grammatical errors.

Option 2: A Major-Specific Writing Sample

If you haven’t had the opportunity to produce writing samples on the job, the next option would be writing samples that are specific to your major and/or intended industry. For example, a public relations professional will be required to write press releases on the job, which is a specific style of writing; if a public relations major has written a sample press release for a professor this would be an ideal writing sample to share with employers. For a history major seeking a research position, you might showcase paper that highlights how you integrated primary and secondary research to prove a point. An English major might submit a literary analysis of positions in the publishing industry. Most students applying to internships will fall into this category, and if you’re unsure about what employers in your industry might be looking for in a writing sample, shoot an email to your career advisor and we can offer additional insight.

Option 3: A School Paper

If Options 1 and 2 aren’t feasible, then think back to any class you may have taken in college that required you to write a paper (or several), specifically those in which you received an A from a professor.

The main thing to consider here is length. You may think that your strongest writing sample is a 10-page paper you wrote for ENG 104, but most employers will not take the time to read a sample that is longer than 1 or 2 pages. In these cases, it’s best to submit an excerpt from a longer paper or to direct employers to a specific point in the paper. You could frame the piece by saying, “While this is a longer paper, pages 5-6 highlight my persuasive writing skills, which are most pertinent to this internship.” For any sample you submit, it’s always a good idea to write a sentence or two at the top of the page that clarifies what the sample is, why you wrote it, and what skills are on display within it.

Additional Considerations

If you come across an application that asks for a writing sample, it is okay to reach out to hiring managers and ask for additional clarification about what they might want to see in one. If a contact isn’t listed, reach out to us in the Career Center for additional guidance, and your career advisor can offer suggestions for what might be more relevant given the position. We can offer support to help make applying for jobs and internships as smooth as possible.

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