For those approaching the end of their degree or seeking summer work, haunting job boards and companies’ careers pages can become a full-time occupation. But applying for an advertised position isn’t the only route to finding employment; you also have the option of sending off speculative applications. These involve approaching an organisation to find out if they can offer you work, rather than responding to a specific vacancy.
Why send off speculative applications?
Approaching an employer under your own initiative can benefit you for a number of reasons. It might be your way into an industry where roles are rarely advertised, such as journalism or publishing. And in a cutthroat jobs market – which in 2014 saw an average of 39 applications for every graduate job – it can help you cut out the competition.
Speculative applications are also a great way to get work experience or job-shadowing opportunities if the company has no formal scheme. Reaching out to small and medium businesses can be particularly effective, but asking for work experience at a larger firm sometimes pays dividends.
With this in mind, here are the steps you should take when sending off speculative applications.
Choose your target
First of all, you need to decide what companies you want to reach out to. Treat each one as an individual application; you won’t impress by sending off identikit emails to any old person.
Choose a company that you genuinely want to work for, and then investigate who you should send the application to. It’s always better to address a specific person rather than emailing a general HR inbox, where your application will likely never be read. You might find a suitable contact on their website, on LinkedIn, or by phoning up and asking.
It’s worth noting that some companies specify that they won’t accept any speculative applications, so make sure you read through their careers page carefully before reaching out.
Take time to research
As with any application, researching the company is key; you may not be targeting a specific role, but you still need to know your stuff.
Find out as much as you can about what the company does, its ethos, and its internal structure. This can help you figure out how to tailor your letter and make it relevant. Don’t just visit their website; check out their blog, social media channels, and any press coverage of the company, to give yourself a more rounded perspective.
You should also try and find out what skills and attitude they’re looking for. Read past job specifications and their list of company values, and consider how you can match your experience with their needs.
Draft the content
It’s vital to be concise and precise – your contact will be busy, and might well ignore big, ‘waffly’ chunks of text. Try and keep your email to about three short paragraphs. You should attach your CV to the email, offering a more extensive outline of your work history. Be sure to tailor this to the industry as well, and to include up-to-date contact details.
First, you need to establish the purpose of your email. Make sure you include a relevant subject line, then start your email with a short introduction to yourself and what you’re looking for – for example, a recent English graduate looking for work experience in the marketing department of the company.
You then need to lay out why you want to work for the company, and why you believe you would be a good hire. Highlight your most relevant skills and back yourself up with evidence; if you say you’re a good communicator, you need to provide an example that proves it. You can then point them towards your CV for more evidence of your suitability.
To finish, say that you’re looking forward to hearing from them soon, and sign off with the words ‘yours sincerely’ (as you’re writing to a named person); don’t succumb to the temptation to be informal in an email.
Wait a week or so, and then follow up with another email or a phone call. It’s likely you’ll get some rejections, and need to accept that nothing may come of it. However, by demonstrating your enthusiasm you might increase the chance that they’ll keep your CV on file and contact you about future opportunities.
Claire Kilroy is a content writer over at the UK’s leading graduate recruitment agency Inspiring Interns. She writes about all things graduate jobs and internships, including advice for graduates, from applications and interviews right down to how to advance in their first graduate job.