In this era of precision medicine, molecular biology is becoming increasingly significant for the diagnosis and therapeutic management of non-small cell lung cancer. The specimen as the primary element of the whole testing flow is particularly important for maintaining the accuracy of gene alteration testing. Presently, the main sample types applied in routine diagnosis are tissue and cytology biopsies. Liquid biopsies are considered as the most promising alternatives when tissue and cytology samples are not available. Each sample type possesses its own strengths and weaknesses, pertaining to the disparity of sampling, preparation and preservation procedures, the heterogeneity of inter- or intratumors, the tumor cellularity (percentage and number of tumor cells) of specimens, etc., and none of them can individually be a “one size to fit all”. Therefore, in this review, we summarized the strengths and weaknesses of different sample types that are widely used in clinical practice, offered solutions to reduce the negative impact of the samples and proposed an optimized strategy for choice of samples during the entire diagnostic course. We hope to provide valuable information to laboratories for choosing optimal clinical specimens to achieve comprehensive functional genomic landscapes and formulate individually tailored treatment plans for NSCLC patients that are in advanced stages.