Ask a Recruiter: What Makes a Good Writing Sample?
Question: What would be the most appropriate document to submit when asked to submit a writing sample? And, is it ever appropriate to “blacken” sensitive information from such documents (e.g., client names, etc.)? – Applying for Jobs, a Workforce1 Career Blog reader
Answer: Make sure the document you select meets the employer’s requirements and expectations for a writing sample. Many employers give specific guidelines for the type and length of writing sample they want to see. Take the employer’s guidelines seriously. If an employer wants to see a 500-word document, don’t send him/her 502 words. Not only are you showcasing your writing, you are also demonstrating your ability to follow directions and pay attention to detail.
In cases where you don’t get any guidance from the employer, use your judgment about the writing that would best showcase your ability to do the particular job you are applying to do. In other words, if you are applying for an executive assistant job and will be drafting emails for your boss, provide samples of your previous correspondence. (When providing short emails, provide two or three to show that you write well consistently.) Or, if you are applying for a sales job where you’ll be giving presentations, provide a copy of a presentation that you wrote.
You should provide a cover note with your writing sample to explain why you chose it. This cover note is a good place to show that you really thought about the specific job and you cared enough to choose a relevant writing sample.
The cover note is also the perfect place to explain why you have removed sensitive information – like client names. It is definitely appropriate the remove confidential information. If it is truly sensitive information, the business where you are interviewing will even appreciate it. The fact that you cared enough to protect your past employer shows that you will also treat your new employer’s sensitive information appropriately.
Having said that, don’t remove information if there is not a good reason since it’ll just make your writing sample harder to read. In fact, rather than blacking out details, try replacing the information with a fictitious name or fact – and then add an asterisk (*) to explain what you did in the cover note and/or at the bottom or top of the sample.
If you have additional questions about writing samples, please drop us a note in the comment section below. Or, have another question? Ask a Recruiter.