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The Society for Professional Journalists and a prof in a college comm
course (The Art of Interviewing) put it best re: getting that coveted
Give the employer everything they ask for, or may ask for, or ought to ask
for, up front with the cover letter and resume, including references (as
opposed to "References provided upon request"). The philosophy is simply
this: If an employeer has to go begging, the employer is less likely to
consider you as a candidate. If an employer didn't ask for samples but you
provided them anyway, you're that much farther ahead of your competition.
Worst case, they throw away what they don't want or need. On the bright
side, you've shown tons of initiative. Recall that time is often of the
essence for both the candidate and especially the employer. The less
heel-dragging both parties have to do, the simpler the process and the
quicker the deal is done.
In the realm of journalism, this means sending audio (radio), video (TV),
or print (newspaper/magazine) samples along with the cover letter and
resume. With tech writing, and given the direction documentation management
is heading (Web-based systems providing external access to, for example,
user and service manuals), a candidate can refer an employer to a URL where
samples can be downloaded in, say, PDF format. Granted, the documents are
likely to change over time long after you've left a company, but it works
in a pinch and it exemplifies the public availability of some companies'
tech pubs. You can download a publicly-available copy of something you
wrote (assuming you have external access to such stuff), then use it as a
legitimate-sample print master for your portfolio. Any reasonable employer
will likely ask relevant questions about the samples in an interview,
assuming the samples aren't so bad that they automatically eliminate you
from the running (the samples you choose to send -- relative to the good or
bad judgement you've exercized in sending them -- can speak volumes to an
employer). Don't like or agree with the editing or proofing someone else in
your present company did on the sample you sent? Say it in the cover
letter, or at least explain that you'd like a chance to describe what you
would do differently. I once had an "editor" rewrite my material to include
misplaced modifiers, among other abominations. I spent those six months
interviewing elsewhere and used anything but those manuals as samples.
If you're uncertain of the confidential status of a document, ask someone
who knows or cares. Phrase it as if you want to know in the event an
unknown entity calls asking for a particular type of manual, or in case
hackers worm through whatever firewalls you have in place. But refusing to
provide samples, for whatever reason and particularly when requested,
easily can be construed as looking like you have something to hide. Worst
case, make something up, or improve on an existing document for, say, that
garage door opener you installed in your garage last week, then explain in
the cover letter the reasoning behind the unorthodox writing sample as it
relates to the present employer's confidentiality issues. At least you've
fulfilled the employer's request and stopped fretting over real or
perceived ethical concerns.