When you read the initial request, it can make you cringe. In most cases, filling out a job application is relatively painless, but if a company then requests that you include an application essay, also known as a writing sample, it's not uncommon for your nerves to kick in. Such on-the-spot exercises can illuminate a prospective employer, especially if you're applying for a job that requires frequent writing under deadline pressure; however, it's understandable that such a request might make an applicant feel anxious. Fear not. You can prepare for this task by following some sensible, straightforward guidelines. By learning how to put your best foot forward, you can dance your way through the exercise with grace and flair -- while making a lasting impression.
Budget your time accordingly. Most employers allot a certain amount of time for an application essay, such as 30 minutes. In this case, you might want to allocate 5 minutes to reading the directions and your essay choices, 20 minutes to writing and 5 minutes to proofreading and editing.
Choose the topic of your application essay carefully. Employers often give interviewees their choice of three or more topics, so follow the writer’s maxim and choose a topic with which you're familiar and can address with comfort and authority.
Read and highlight the instructions carefully. Take note of the number of paragraphs required, the word count and whether you are asked to incorporate quotes. Particularly if writing is part of the job description, focus on clarity, specificity and a logical progression of ideas.
Avoid topics, words and even punctuation that make you uneasy. As tempting as it might be to want to impress a prospective employer, you might do just the opposite if you misrepresent an idea, misspell a word or punctuate incorrectly. For example, if you're uncertain about how to use a semicolon, use a period instead. Give yourself every opportunity to succeed.
Write an engaging introduction for your job application essay. Strive for creativity, but don’t stray from the topic. Try to relate to the reader. Think of how you would verbally “speak” your essay and follow your instincts.
Write a strong topic sentence and illustrative follow-up sentences to form each paragraph. A strong topic sentence sets the subject and tone for the sentences that follow -- each of which should amplify that first key sentence, one building upon the other. There is no set number of sentences to include in a paragraph, but a good rule of thumb is to strive for at least four.
Close your job application essay on a memorable note, perhaps by tying it into your introductory paragraph. Endings are often the most difficult part of an essay to write, so consider closing with a quote or a provocative question. A good ending should bring an essay to a proper conclusion, without leaving out important information or raising new questions. It also should feel “right” and as such, read your entire essay again to see if the final sentence effectively concludes it.
Edit your words carefully, eliminating vague qualifiers such as “really,” “basically,” “probably,” “very,” “somewhat,” and “practically.” Pare redundancies, such as “future plans,” “first introduction,” and “free gift.” Strengthen your verb choices, but don’t forsake clarity for dramatic flourish.
- Try to have fun writing your essay, but invoke humor and wit only if you're certain they will enhance your essay. Sarcasm is often humorous, but unless someone knows you and your sense of humor, it might be best to avoid it as it could backfire.
- The New St. Martin’s Handbook; Andrea Lunsford and Robert Connors; 1999.
- The Scott, Foresman Handbook for Writers; Maxine Hairston and John Ruszkiewicz; 1991.
- The Prentice Hall Guide to Basic Writing; Emil Roy and Sandra Roy; 1989.
- Step by Step Writing; Randy Devillez; 1992.
- Purdue University Online Writing Lab: Expository Essays
- The Writing Center at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill: Writing Concisely
- BananaStock/BananaStock/Getty Images
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