I’ve landed a lot of my jobs with strong writing samples and I know many other writers who have also had great success launching their careers with samples. If you want to write primarily for newspapers or magazines, then your “samples” will be published clips. If you want to try out business writing, though, you will need samples. These are pieces of writing that you have completed. They can be published or unpublished and must show your prospective employer that you are a good candidate.

Once you have worked with some clients, you can ask whether you can use the work you have completed as samples. For example, if you have written web site content for a client, it’s perfectly ok to ask “May I direct my potential clients to your web site to see samples of my work.” Unless you have signed a non-disclosure agreement or the client wants to keep it under wraps that he or she hired a writer to complete the project, this is usually no problem at all.

Back when I was just getting started, I didn’t have any previous work to show so I just came up with a file of samples. I sat down and wrote a brochure for a company and then wrote an ad and an article. These were not companies that had hired me – I just wrote these pieces on spec. I learned a lot from writing my samples and when I was done, I had actual work to show employees. When I actually started applying for jobs, though, I found that I could often land a good job (even if I didn’t have a lot of experience) by using samples wisely. For example, when applying for a job writing articles for a florist, I might submit articles on a related subject (for example, gardening or landscaping) as well as some more general samples.

Related – but not too related – samples are important because they show that you know (or can find out) about the topic at hand. They also show the client how you write about a similar subject. When applying for jobs, if I don’t have samples on a related subject, I will sometimes take 30 minutes to come up with a sample – provided that the job is worth it. It’s extra work but I find that it helps me set my application apart. If I don’t get the job, I can always shop the piece around to newsletters or other paying markets, so it’s not work for free.

I have found, too, that if you write your samples from scratch it’s important not to make the samples too perfect a match. If the samples are so close in subject matter that they are something a client can actually use, you may find that some clients simply steal your samples and neglect to pay you or hire you. It’s rare, but some clients are not fully aware of copyright, and some clients are just not good guys, so safeguard yourself and your work by sending samples that can’t be used. If you do find that a client takes off with your work, be sure to call them on it. Call, send emails, or contact the web master of the site where your work appears until you are paid or the content is removed.

Speaking of less-than-ethical clients, some will ask you to write a “sample” for them on an assigned topic. If you get such a request, proceed with extreme caution. Some clients will ask this of a few “applicants” giving each applicant a different topic and get their entire project written for nothing. Then, they simply hire no one and take off with the free work. If you are asked to write a sample, you should be paid in full for that sample. If a client insists on free samples that you custom write around a specific topic, then you know that there is something fishy going on. It is one thing to write up samples of your own that you can then use on your blog or can market elsewhere. It is another thing to be asked to write for nothing so that someone else can profit.

Here are today’s writing job leads:

1) http://www.asbpe.org — The American Society of Business Publication Editors (ASBPE) has a job bank.

2) http://www.4jobs.com/ — A general job site with lots of writing and editing jobs.

3) http://www.ccmc.org/oped.htm#chart – This useful page gives guidelines on how to submit op-ed pieces to a number of newspapers across the US.

4) http://www.abdopub.com/c/@eYd7.t8oa.hnA/Pages/employment.html — The ABDO Publishing Company sometimes has positions open for in-house writers, editors, and graphic designers.

5) http://www.dnapress.com/index/employment — This science publisher has an employment page that sometimes lists writing positions.

6) http://www.thomsoncareers.com/index.aspx — A very comprehensive careers page from a major educational company.

7) http://www.creativecentral.com/cc/JobUList.asp — Creative Central is a web site that lets you browse and search for jobs in creative industries (including writing).