When you are one of many candidates for a position, your writing sample can set you apart. Choosing a high-quality piece is essential; but so is making sure the style, subject matter and origin of the work fits your objectives. It is key to remember who you are trying to impress, and what they expect from your work.
Choose the Right Style
Your writing sample should be a close match to the work you will produce if hired. Submit a press release for a job in public relations; a legal brief for a research job at a law firm; a management case study for a business job; a piece of investigative journalism for a job in news or media. In all cases, strive for clarity and ease of understanding. In most industries, a piece of clean, straightforward business writing will make the best impression.
Mind the Content
The subject matter of your piece affects how your writing is received. Bear in mind the audience for your piece before submission. A legal brief that argues in favor of radical policy change may be appropriate for a job with a not-for-profit organization; it may be a bad idea for a job with a conservative law firm. Avoid controversial topics unless they help your application.
Keep it Practical
Ask yourself when preparing the piece whether what you are submitting demonstrates the skill set you bring to the job. Put yourself in the employer's shoes, and ask if you would choose you to fulfill a position based on the sample. Even the most brilliant piece of writing can be lost in the shuffle if it is too abstract or is not effective in the business context in which it is presented.
Keep it Brief
The length of the sample varies depending on the job. If you have advance contact with employers, ask them how long they want the sample to be. If you have to edit a piece, do so while retaining its core elements and be sure to annotate your deletions; a brief cover note explaining any changes will suffice.
If you submit a piece of work produced for a previous employer, obtain that employer's permission and redact any confidential information. Proofread your piece several times, both electronically and manually. Include page numbers and a cover letter that outlines where the piece is sourced from and whether it has been edited for length.
Know Your Sample
At some point in the interview process, it is likely you will be asked to discuss your writing sample. Be prepared to answer questions about your process, including your research methodology and your decision to take a certain approach to writing. Knowing your facts demonstrates you are taking the interview process seriously and know all elements of your application are important to your potential employer.