Whether you’re a technical or content marketing writer, saving writing samples is something you must do as a fact of life. The days when it was easy enough to print out a copy of your documents for your portfolio are no longer. The same goes for saving your documents and taking them home.
NDAs and other rules
My career crisscrosses the public and commercial sectors. That means I have writing samples that I can’t show in mixed company. There were times pre-pandemic when in-person interviews were the order of the day. I would bring a print portfolio and keep the samples under my watchful eye. If somebody asked to copy something, I would politely tell them no.
Non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) are so commonplace in the tech industry that you must be extra careful with samples, especially now that many interviewers want you to send them writing samples or post them online for them to view. NDAs are too easy to violate these days for writers and content marketers. While so many NDAs lack real legal teeth, you just never know in our litigious society, and staving off a potential hassle proactively is always a good thing, especially when you find yourself laid off.
Remote work and layoffs
I got caught in a layoff in 2021, and while I knew it was coming, I didn’t take the usual steps of saving writing samples for no good reason except that I was just plain worn out from the pandemic at that point. All my work was in Google Workspace, so my access was cut when I was told my position was being eliminated.
The next layoff that hit me came in my tenure before I had any seminal work except for some Miro boards and Google Docs to show a prospective employer or client from that short-lived job.
That situation taught me a lesson about having better control over my writing samples. While there wasn’t a crucial sample for me that I lost during either layoff debacle, it could’ve happened to me. I went double-down on my samples after that layoff. I began to lean on my bylined articles for samples because that work represents me best.
Another thing that’s made me cautious about writing samples is that so many interviews are for ghost jobs that don’t exist. The companies are just fishing for ideas or seeking competitive intelligence under the guise of interviews. The irony is the very people I heard wanting me to send them internal documents as samples would be the type to blow up if one of their employees sent out their internal documents.
The new age of work samples
In pre-pandemic days, you could present your samples in-person to an interviewer when interviewing for a writer job. You could discuss the battles you won and lost over edits and project highlights. You can write a short narrative about your sample before sending it in for a remote job interview. It doesn’t mean the recruiter or hiring manager will read that narrative. You lose control of writing samples in the era of SaaS and remote work.
The answer I found for myself was to focus my portfolio on my work in the public domain. Granted, not everyone has that option. Oddly enough, I’ve still gotten dismissive questions from interviewers in the past about those samples since I’m not a “SME” (at least in a traditional sense) on the subjects I write about.
Remote work is also changing the format of standard deliverables. I have a major client right now. 90% of my work for them occurs in Notion or Miro. Both are fine tools in their own rights. However, neither is really a friendly format for an online writing sample. Eventually, governance features in each platform will enable enterprises to track who exports or saves their content.
Generating a Notion site PDF isn’t the right solution for presenting a work sample. It also doesn’t feel right to export a copy of a client’s Notion site and import it into my personal Notion space. Besides, none of this work is public-facing, further complicating the sharing of these samples.
While an honest dialog between companies and content creators about the need for work samples might be too much to ask for in today’s world of layoffs, you must figure out the solution for work samples that makes you comfortable. As tools such as Notion and Miro proliferate in the enterprise, the demand for samples in those formats will only increase.
Will Kelly is a writer and content strategist who occasionally writes on Medium for fun. He’s a keen observer of the IT industry His writing experience includes white papers, playbooks, solutions guides, blogs, and bylined articles. Will has considerable experience helping startups and teams inside established firms to build their first content engines to create and publish technical, marketing, and thought leadership content. Follow him on X: @willkelly.