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How to Review Writing Samples When Hiring for Publishing Jobs

The writing sample can be one of your best tools for assessing a job candidate’s expertise and talent for a publishing job. After all, you’re looking for a seasoned, exceptional writer who can handle any assignment you throw at them.

Writing samples are typically published works, but they could also be a product of candidates’ schoolwork or an assignment from a previous job. So what should you look for in a sample — and when’s the best time to ask for one? Here’s everything you need to know about how to assess writing skills in an interview.


Asking Candidates for Samples

When you’re hiring for a writing-intensive role, it makes sense to request writing samples as part of the application process within the job posting. Or, if you want to cut down on the number of submissions you’ll receive, consider asking only the people you choose to interview for writing samples.

You can request that candidates send in one or two samples of their best work. Include any specifications such as word count, format, or desired type of content. Keep the word count limited to one or two double-spaced pages, or around 750 words.


Types of Writing Samples

The types of writing samples you request will depend on the level of experience needed for the role. For example, entry-level job seekers might not have published clips, so allow them to have more flexibility when submitting school assignments. (Tip: Ask them to highlight certain passages if it’s a longer research paper.)

For higher-level jobs requiring more experience, you can ask for a specific writing sample, such as one that showcases the candidate’s ability to convey complicated ideas in a simple, easy-to-read style. These samples could come in the form of:

  • Blog posts
  • Press releases
  • News articles
  • Social media posts, if relevant to the position (such as if you’re hiring for a social media director)


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What to Look for in Candidate Writing Samples

The best writing samples show off the candidate’s writing talent. The content should be clear, concise, error-free, and effective — designed to deliver results. Make sure the candidate followed the instructions you indicated in the job posting.

Generally, topical relevance is a bonus but is not always necessary. The ability to convey ideas is more important than subject matter. Still, top candidates will likely research your publication’s content, style, and tone, and may submit samples that align with your brand — and that’s great, too.

If the sample impressed you enough to call the candidate in for an interview, ask them to share why they chose that particular piece of work and which skills they believe it showcases.


Writing Sample Red Flags

The writing sample could help give you insight into how well candidates follow instructions, as well as their commitment to delivering a strong piece of writing. Watch out for these red flags when reviewing samples:

  • Not following instructions included in the job posting (for example, word count limit)
  • Grammar or spelling errors
  • Doesn’t match the tone or brand of the company (e.g., submitting something snarky to a company with a more serious image)
  • Sensitive subject matter
  • Samples that include confidential information, such as from a former employer
  • Submissions written with others’ assistance


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Editing and Writing Assessment Tests

You want to figure out how to test someone’s writing skills, so another option is to have them take a writing or editing test before or after the interview. Writing assessment examples could include a press release announcing a new partnership with an author, a blog post covering a recent development in the publishing industry, or five story pitches for your audience.

For an editing test, provide an unpublished piece from the actual publication and ask the candidate to edit for content, grammar, punctuation, and accuracy.

A writing or editing test can show you how well the candidate works under pressure and how effectively they can deliver the type of content they’ll actually be producing on the job.


Learning how to test someone’s writing skills is just one part of searching for a top-notch publishing hire. Get started finding your next talented writer on iHirePublishing.

By iHire | June 14, 2021