Mastering Writing Samples for Jobs: Insight and Tips From My 9-Month Job Hunt

Almost a year ago to the day, I found myself job hunting for the first time in a decade. It was unexpected. I didn’t have a current resume or a writing sample for job applications. Frankly, I was in over my head. And the market was ruthless.

If you’re reading this feeling the same way: There is light at the end of the tunnel.

Layoffs have been rampant in recent years, especially amid COVID-19 recovery. In the United States, unemployment sits at 4% — the highest rate in two years. But, at the same time, 270,000 jobs were created just last month. That includes the one meant for you.

An excellent writing sample can be the key to getting noticed. So, coming off my own nine-month job hunt (and now thankfully sitting in the position that gives me your eye today), I’m here to help.

Table of Contents

What is a writing sample?
How long should a writing sample be?
What to Submit for a Writing Sample
How to Choose What to Submit for a Writing Sample
How to Write a Writing Sample

During my hunt, it wasn’t uncommon for a potential employer to ask for a writing sample.

I found that employers tend to request a writing sample in one of three ways:

A long-form answer to a question on the application form
1-3 links to past work (or file attachments) on the application form
A written assignment I completed a few stages into the hiring process

As a seasoned content marketer, I also had an appendix to my resume with links to my writing samples by default. But this isn’t necessary for every industry.

Like a cover letter or a resume, a writing sample helps a company identify qualified candidates no matter what form it takes. However, it’s uniquely important because it shows your skills in action more effectively than the former.

Like the samples at a local ice cream shop, they’re a delicious taste of what’s to come from you and help people decide if they want more.

Sound intimidating? Don’t worry — Not every job will require a writing sample, but they are common for journalism, marketing, public relations, communications, and research positions.

Employers might also ask for a writing sample if the role involves writing and communicating important information internally.

What do employers look for in a writing sample?

Employers look for different things in a writing sample depending on the role and industry you’re applying for. But typically, they all evaluate for tone, style, content, grammar, spelling, and punctuation.

They also may read between the lines — dissecting the strategy or value you deliver as well as your justification of it.

Company knowledge and brand voice may come into play as well. While these can certainly be learned later on, it doesn’t hurt if a candidate grasps these things from the get-go.

Cover Letter vs. Writing Sample

But Ramona, why do I need a writing sample if I already have a cover letter?

Well, first off, I know many of you probably aren’t attaching cover letters to every job application.

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(Note: A hiring director once told me they’d never read a cover letter that sounded like someone was actually waiting for the job they applied for before mine. So, don’t let anyone tell you they don’t get read. Our templates can help.)

Second, the two documents accomplish different things.

Yes, a cover letter can showcase your writing skills and share credentials — but it’s all talk. It’s an elevator pitch of why you think you should be hired. A writing sample is proof.

It’s where you actually “walk the walk” and show an example of the kind of work you will actually deliver if hired.

Why do you need a writing sample?

Of course, many job applications simply require a writing sample. But as daunting as it may be as a candidate, it’s equally beneficial.

Submitting a writing sample for a job is a valuable opportunity to make the case for your employment.

Don’t have that much experience? Not the strongest interviewer? Even if you have trouble articulating why you’re a good fit for a position verbally (sometimes it’s hard under pressure, I get it), a writing sample actually demonstrates your capabilities. It does the talking for you.

How long should a writing sample be?

I’m not one for a word count. I always say just write as much or as little as you need to do a topic justice — but that’s not practical when applying for a job.

Employers, especially today, tend to have mountains of applications and writing samples to review and very little time to do so. So, practice some restraint.

My current job required an 800-word writing sample, and this Chatty Cathy topped out at 813 (with, admittedly, much difficulty).

The general consensus agrees with this length.

Hanne Keiling for Indeed summarizes it well, “In most cases, your writing sample should be around 750 words or between one and two pages. Like your resume, employers have a limited amount of time to review your writing sample. A brief, impactful writing sample is better than a long, less impressive one.”

What to Submit for a Writing Sample

What you submit as a writing sample for job applications may vary depending on the position. Perhaps the employer may even specify what they’d like to see.

For example, if you’re applying to be a movie critic, they may ask to see a few of your published movie reviews. If you’re applying for head of communications, you’ll likely send press releases or examples of emails.

For this role, I was asked to write a blog article on a specific marketing topic (obviously).

However, if the request is open-ended, here are some things you can consider including:

Blog Articles (Editorial or SEO-focused depending on the role)
Research Reports
Podcast Show Notes
Email/Newsletters
Website Pages
Press Releases
Guides/eBooks
Case Studies
Social Media Posts
Video Scripts
Creative Writing Excerpts (Short Stories, Essays)
List of Blog Titles

How to Choose What to Submit for a Writing Sample

Unless the employer requests something new, it’s best to lean into your existing work when submitting a writing sample.

Not only is this faster, but it also shows employers you have a history of good work. Not sure what you should submit for your next writing sample? Here are four things to consider.

1. The Position and Company

A writing sample for a job is only as good as its relevance. Study the job description thoroughly and think about any conversations you’ve had so far.

What skills are they looking for? What knowledge and experience do they want in a new hire? What do they have to accomplish? Choose writing samples that showcase these characteristics.

(Note: I remember a friend reviewing one of my writing samples for grammar before submitting and suggesting I cut a specific sentence for length. I didn’t listen. I kept it, knowing the hiring team mentioned certain criteria multiple times on previous calls. That sentence was called out and praised in a later interview.)

You also want to know the company’s brand, culture, and voice. Read their blog. Scroll through their social media. Check out their about us page, culture code, and media kit.

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Submitting a writing sample that aligns with these elements will be that much more likely to resonate with your audience and show that you understand the organization on a deeper level.

2. How the Piece Performed

Sometimes, great content doesn’t perform well. Think about the genius movies that were duds at the box office or the iconic albums that flopped when released. Sometimes it’s about timing, competition, or, let’s be real, the algorithmic overlords.

However, choosing a writing sample that has accomplished a relevant goal can do wonders in helping you stand out.

When choosing a writing sample to submit, ask yourself these questions:

What was the goal of this piece
Is it relevant to the position?
Did it accomplish the goal?
What qualitative or quantitative results can I share?

If a piece of writing was high-quality and successful, it’s a strong contender.

3. Your Strategy or Thought Process

When considering a writing sample, ask yourself if it was strategically strong. Was your thought process or approach to writing particularly smart or forward-thinking?

When you submit a writing sample for a job, employers usually ask about it later in the hiring process.

Even if a piece didn’t necessarily perform well, make a case for why it was still a smart play. That’s all that matters.

A good writing sample showcases the way you think in addition to your writing skills.

4. Your Passion

I mentioned that a writing sample can do the talking for you. But if you can talk about the sample passionately, that’s a huge plus.

Again, this depends on the role. But sometimes, if you can confidently explain the piece, it’s worth submitting. Discuss your strategy, motivations, inspiration, subtle nuances, or meanings.

Samples like these show more of you as a person than just a professional. And, for companies that emphasize culture and values, this can be very persuasive. Amazon is one such company.

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If you must create a fresh writing sample, try not to overthink it. The criteria above still stands.

You want the sample you create to:

Be relevant to the job and company
Accomplish the goals of the assignment (or role)
Be strategic and thoughtful
Show your passion and personality

With this in mind, follow these five simple steps to write your writing sample for a job.

1. Understand the role and assignment.

Read the job description, the assignment from the employer (if given), as well as any notes you have from interviews. These are what your writing sample must reflect to move into the next round; your “goals,” if you will.

Pro Tip: Indeed and Glassdoor are other places you can also turn to to gain insight into qualities your potential employer may be looking for. Check out the company’s page on those or other job sites and sort through similar job titles to see what you can find.

2. Research the company and voice.

Dig into the background of the company as well as its brand, voice, and culture. These will shape how you should be writing your piece.

Pro Tip: Search for existing examples of the content you’re creating from the company. For instance, when I was writing a sample article for HubSpot, I read several on the Marketing Blog, so I knew what style they liked.

If you’re interviewing for a public relations job, see what press releases are out there. Think about the assignment and position in question and head to Google.

3. Outline your piece.

Once you know what you need to accomplish, take some time to outline your piece. Include your key talking points, important supporting details (always have data or facts to support your claims or suggestions), any related research, and requirements from the employer.

Pro Tip: Outlines are one place AI excels. If you’re having trouble getting your thoughts together, try our Free AI Content Writer to get started.

4. Write!

This is self-explanatory, but sit down and write! Write like your job depends on it — because, well, it does.

Pro Tip: When writing, I try to give myself enough time to “walk away” from a project. In other words, I get a messy first draft out and then come back to review and refine with fresh eyes later. If time permits, I recommend you do the same. It’s amazing what a brief break can do for quality.

5. Edit, edit, edit.

Even if you don’t have the time to step away from your writing sample and return to it, make sure you re-read it from beginning to end.

Look at it with a critical eye. Check for the skills and requirements outlined by the employer, as well as basics like grammar, punctuation, narrative, and flow.

This is your chance to add anything that’s missing or remove anything that’s distracting from your main point, so don’t skip it.

Pro Tip: Reread the piece out loud. This is something several of my teammates and I do, and it’s one of the easiest ways to find fluff.

Put your job hunt on the ‘write’ path.

Submitting a writing sample for a job can be nerve-wracking at first. You could have hundreds of amazing works to your name, but it’s all coming down to this one document. That’s a lot of pressure, but give yourself a moment to feel it — and then get to work.

Use the tips and steps I outlined in this article for your writing sample, and I assure you, the right job will find you. Just like mine did.

I Tried Out the 8 Best Free Headline Analyzers — Here Are My Results

Writing a headline can be harder than writing a 1,500-word article. But that’s no excuse for writing bad ones, especially when help is so easy to come by.

Like email subject line testers, headline analyzers can help you get more clicks by using algorithms to assess factors like SEO, word count, and sentiment (is it positive, negative, or neutral?).

There are a lot of headline analyzers out there, and as someone familiar with the overwhelm of too many options, I knew I needed to narrow down the field.

After polling co-workers, combing subreddits, and running some quick tests, I landed on eight analyzers that merited in-depth testing.

Table of Contents

How I Tested
The Top 5 Headline Analyzers
How to Pick the Best Headline Analyzer for You

If you want some perspective on the thorough, thoughtful logic behind my thorough, thoughtful rating criteria, keep reading — but if you want to get right to the good stuff, I won’t take it personally.

Jump straight to my top five headline analyzers or to the final rankings.

How I Tested

To make this a fair fight, I tested the same three headlines in each tool.

I used two winning headlines from an annual contest sponsored by ACES: The Society for Editing, one in the PR and marketing category and one from the national media organization category.

The third headline is for the article you’re reading right now.

Are You Pumping Up Or Pooping Out? The Perils of Exercising Too Much
Welcome to the office, Gen Z. You’re the only one here.
I Tried Out the 8 Best Free Headline Analyzers — Here Are My Results

My Expectations of Free Headline Analyzers

It should provide specific areas for improvement.
Suggestions should hold up to common sense.
Any numbers, measurements, or graphs should be sufficiently explained.
It should be easy to use and interact with.

Rating Scale

Although most tools provide one or more scores, like an “overall headline score” or an “SEO score,” I haven’t included them here. Without knowing exactly how those scores are calculated, they have limited usefulness in side-by-side comparisons.

That said, none of my five favorites had scores that strayed too far from one another. All the tools gave middling scores to the two award-winning headlines and a much higher score to this piece’s headline.

In other words: All of these headline analyzers will be most useful if search engine optimization (SEO) is your top priority.

But there’s still a few tools on this list with features that can help just about any headline writer.

To find the best of these free headline analyzers, I used a scale of 🤖 (1 robot) to 🤖🤖🤖🤖🤖 (5 robots), with one being the worst and five being the best, for each of the following criteria:

Interface: Was it intuitive and easy to understand? Were there too many pop-up ads or a prohibitive number of captchas?

Usefulness: Does the tool give specific advice, alternate headline suggestions, and/or other data? Do its suggestions hold up to common sense? Does it have any features that distinguish it from the competition?

YGWYPF: You get what you pay for. My YGWYPF score assesses the trade-offs: Do you have to provide an email address? Is there a daily limit? Are all the good features locked behind a paid upgrade?

I nixed three tools right off the bat:

1. Capitalize My Title had an eye-bleeding number of banner ads, pop-up ads, and auto-playing video ads. All five of my recommendations have similar features with a more humane number of ads.

2. Emotional Marketing Value’s headline analyzer is a one-trick pony. It assigns a percentage to your emotional marketing value score, but it gives very little context to what that number means.

In the biggest flub of all my tests, it identified “Are You Pumping Up Or Pooping Out? The Perils of Exercising Too Much” as being “predominantly spiritual.”

3. I had high hopes for Sharethrough after reading some reviews, but it just didn’t pass the sniff test.

It insisted that “pooping” was an expletive and flat-out refused to analyze that headline.

Its boilerplate list of suggestions include “Try adding a celebrity” and “Talk about the body,” specifically “eye, ear, mouth, face, feet.”

That may be useful advice if you’re writing about an A-lister’s ears, but otherwise, hard pass.

Honorable Mention: HubSpot’s Free AI Headline Generator

We have to toot our own horn: Although not a headline analyzer per se, our AI headline generator is pretty darn good. It gives you options for headlines and section titles based on a short description and keywords that you provide.

Since it’s not a one-to-one comparison with the rest of the tools, I couldn’t give it my three headlines to analyze, so I’m abstaining from scoring it.

Interface: A clean, intuitive design guides you through a couple screens where you can select the type of content you’re publishing, what writing style you prefer, and what you want your audience to know.

If this is your first time using the Campaign Assistant, there’s a gentle learning curve.

YGWYPF: It does require you to sign up for a free HubSpot account, but you get a lot in return.

Usefulness: The suggested headlines were genuinely some of the best compared to headline analyzers that include alternate headlines.

I gave it a little information about the article you’re reading right now, and one of its title suggestions was “Discover the Top Free Headline Analyzers.”

I ran a couple tests, and one suggested “Free but Not Flawless” for the You Get What You Pay For sections.

What we like: Being able to go deeper than simply analyzing a headline.

It also has a few content types to choose from — a rare feature among headline analyzers — like Google Search ads, landing pages, and marketing emails.

Best for: Marketers who want to efficiently generate ideas and who need more than just headlines.

1. AIO SEO (12/15)

Interface:

🤖🤖🤖🤖🤖
(5 robots) Ads are non-intrusive, and the site is easy to use.

YGWYPF: 🤖🤖🤖 (3 robots) AIO SEO doesn’t require your email address and it doesn’t restrict any features.

What it does have is photo captchas — not every visit, but it happened enough that I’m deducting two 🤖.  

Usefulness: 🤖🤖🤖🤖 (4 robots) A perfectly serviceable offering, AIO SEO scores the usual factors like common and uncommon words, emotional words, power words, and sentiment.

It also gives a target range for each factor, which is more helpful than just a score.

What we like: One distinguishing feature is that AIO SEO flags the beginning and ending words of your headline, noting that most readers only look at the first and last three words before deciding whether to click.

Best for: People with a high threshold for photo captchas and want a straightforward, easy-to-use service.

2. Coschedule’s Headline Studio (10/15)

Interface: 🤖🤖🤖 (3 robots) A little busy and crowded, which isn’t obstructive for sighted users, but it was harder to navigate with a screen reader. Ads are non-intrusive and kept to a minimum.

Usefulness: 🤖🤖🤖🤖🤖 (5 robots) Headline Studio has by far the most features of any headline analyzer I tested, and its suggestions were specific and actionable, like “move your topic or keyword to the first or last three words of your headline.”

There’s also an AI chatbot with even more specific analyses as well as suggestions for alternate headlines.

Headline Studio was the only one that could analyze headlines based on content type or platform, like blog headlines, email subjects, or Instagram captions.

YGWYPF: 🤖🤖 (2 robots) Headline Studio earned my lowest YGWYPF score for its steep trade-offs.

Free accounts get only 10 credits a month, and the average user goes through two to four credits per piece of content. Because you have to set up a free account, you’ll find yourself on an email list.

What we like: The ability to analyze based on content type is a real winner. Also, Headline Studio saves your analyses — so even though I used up my 10 credits pretty quickly, I could go back and read the full analyses of previous headlines.

Best for: Occasional users, because you’ll zip through those 10 credits with just two or three pieces of content.

Headline Studio could also be useful for content creators writing social media headlines.

But if you publish frequent written content, you can get many of the same features elsewhere with fewer restrictions.

3. Easy Peasy AI (12/15)

Interface: 🤖🤖🤖🤖 (4 robots) Although it was the simplest of the bunch, Easy Peasy AI’s interface really worked for me, and it was the quickest to navigate with a screen reader.

Instead of colorful graphs and unexplained percentages, Easy Peasy provides a numbered list of the basics: Word count, emotional impact, use of numbers, word choice, and use of superlatives.

YGWYPF: 🤖🤖🤖🤖 (4 robots) It limits you to three analyses a day, which is pretty reasonable as far as free tools go.

Ads are appropriately sized and not intrusive. To get more than three analyses or to enable “cutting-edge AI technology for superior performance and more accurate results,” you’ll need a paid upgrade.

Usefulness: 🤖🤖🤖🤖 (4 robots) Easy Peasy gave me four specific suggestions for improvement and five alternative headlines.

But I’m deducting one 🤖for how far some of the alternate headlines strayed from their original meaning.

One of the alternates for “Welcome to the office, Gen Z. You’re the only one here.” was “Embrace the Office, Gen Z: Your Time to Shine.”

What we like: Frankly, not having a number assigned to each score makes it easier to digest and apply the suggestions.

It also has more specificity than other tools, making it a solid choice for writers who want to get into the nuts and bolts of great headlines.

Best for: People who want to learn how to write better headlines and can work within the three-a-day limit. Also good for people who prefer text over graphics.

4. IsItWP (14/15)

Interface: 🤖🤖🤖🤖🤖 (5 robots) Results are displayed in a grid-like format, which is easy on the eyes and easy to understand.

Usefulness: 🤖🤖🤖🤖 (4 robots) IsItWP covers the basics, like word count, emotional words, and power words.

Minus one 🤖for not explaining the scores: It noted that 18% of the words in one headline were common, but instead of providing a goal, it told me to use “more common words.”

YGWYPF: 🤖🤖🤖🤖🤖 (5 robots) There’s no restrictions, and the lone pop-up ad didn’t detract from the experience.

What we like: The interface stood out among its competitors — I liked seeing all the results at once with minimal scrolling.

Best for: People with higher-volume needs and want a clean, simple tool for quick headline checks.

5. MonsterInsights (13/15)

Interface: 🤖🤖🤖🤖🤖 (5 robots) Nice, clean, and easy to read and use. Ads are very non-intrusive.

Usefulness: 🤖🤖🤖 (3 robots) MonsterInsights’ features don’t stand out from the crowd, but it doesn’t have any major flaws, either.

Although you have to do quite a lot of scrolling to read the entire analysis, there’s a neat summary at the end.

YGWYPF: 🤖🤖🤖🤖🤖 (5 robots) No major trade-offs in terms of limited credits or other restrictions, and it doesn’t require an email address.

What we like: It suggested using more emotional, uncommon, and power words, and it gave me goals in each category.

For instance, one headline scored 38% in the common words category, and it suggested 20 – 30% to get more clicks.

Best for: Writers who need a gut check or guidance making minor tweaks.

How to Pick the Best Headline Analyzer for You

The overall winner was IsItWP, for its simple graphics, the ability to see the entire analysis on a single page, and solid, if unfrilly, headline-analyzing features.

If you need a daily headline analyzer for gut checks or quick tweaks, you won’t go wrong with my middle-of-the-packers, AIO SEO and MonsterInsights.
If you use a screen reader or otherwise prefer text over graphics, go with Easy Peasy AI.
If you want deeper analyses, alternate headlines, or more ways of learning to write good headlines, use Coschedule’s Headline Studio (for infrequent use) or Easy Peasy AI (for frequent use).
It earned the lowest score overall, but its usefulness score stood a robot head above the rest. So if you want a feature-rich headline analyzer for infrequent use, I recommend Coschedule’s Headline Studio.
Although I abstained from giving our own tool a score, HubSpot’s Free AI Headline Generator is the best bet for marketers who are looking for something more in-depth than a simple headline analysis.