When you are looking to enter the job market or make a change, one of your starting points will be to identify as many possible openings as possible. Estimates suggest that upwards of 60% of positions are not advertised, considerably more in some sectors like advertising, marketing, journalism, publishing the charity sector and NGOs. Smaller or medium sized companies without formal internship or graduate programmes are less likely to advertise too. Applying only for advertised jobs will inevitably limit your opportunity space. You are only tapping into a limited part of the job market, the one that’s out there and advertised, that everyone else will see.
So, what should you do? One way to expand your opportunity space is by sending speculative applications. Here we will go into a bit more detail about what a speculative application is and how to approach the process.
What is a speculative application?
A speculative application is simply sending your cover letter and CV to organisations that you would be interested in working for as a way of exploring possible job opportunities. The Cambridge Dictionary offers a simple definition “a request for a job sent to an employer, even if no job has been advertised.”
This doesn’t mean just sending your CV out to a really wide range of random organisations that look like they might do something quite interesting. The power of speculative applications comes from the fact they are tailored to the target organisation and demonstrate your research. Like any good application they should also demonstrate how you can be part of and add value to their organisation.
What are the key points to making a good speculative application?
Essentially they involve crafting well written, tailored CVs and cover letters to an individual in an organisation who may be in a position to hire you. There’s a large element of randomness to this approach, but if you follow the tips below you’ll increase the chances of success!
Here are some tips to make impactful speculative applications:
Research the organisation well:
The power of a speculative application comes from your understanding of the organisation and their sector. Do your research into the organisation including:
- what does the organisation do
- the dynamics and needs of the sector they are in
- how the organisation stacks up vis-à-vis their competitors
- what excites you to be part of this organisation
Once you complete your research into possible organisations, the next step is to shortlist the ones you will apply to speculatively.
It is helpful to know a bit about an organisation’s recruitment cycle and also whether they are happy to be contacted speculatively. Some organisations, especially those with established schemes and formal routes, state they won’t accept speculative applications but if it doesn’t say then assume they will. Smaller companies often actively encourage speculative applications. A speculative approach may be the norm in certain sectors and organisations where jobs are rarely advertised such as journalism, production, publishing and roles within small charities and NGO’s.
Write a dedicated speculative application per organisation:
Although an organisation might do similar work in the same sector, you cannot send a generic application. Make sure to tailor them to each organisation so your reader will get a clear idea about how you dedicated and enthusiastic you are about working for them. You can also do this through the tone and style of your letter. Always try and write to a named person too. This is much more likely to generate a positive response.
Show you know what the organisation does and what you can offer them:
In your application, try to find something that ‘hooks’ the reader and shows that you understand their organisation and how you could help them. Personalise where you can. A quick online search will often reveal that the person you’re writing to has been in the news recently, published a paper, spoken at a conference – you can refer to this in your cover letter as a way of showing your interest. Try and target someone working in the Department you are interested in. There’s no need to go via the HR department. Other sources of contacts could be LSE alumni working within the organisation your interested, and LinkedIn is a good way of finding these.
Be clear on what you’re asking for:
Is it an internship, or a job you are applying for? If this is your first experience within a sector you may even find it useful to ask for work shadowing experience. Make it easy for the individual reading your application to know exactly where they could make best use of you. If you’re too general and vague there’s a risk they won’t know what would be most appropriate for you. Be as specific as you can in terms of your areas of interest, what you are looking for, and other logistical constraints such as when you are available from.
Politely follow up:
Sometimes you will get an immediate response but the chances are that you won’t. Wait two weeks and then very politely follow up asking if they’ve had time to look at your application. If you still don’t get a reply that might be the sign to move on to the next organisation. Don’t take it to heart – it’s absolutely normal. Try not to get too disheartened by this; it may be that the organisation is simply not hiring at that time and do not have the resource to reply to all speculative applications.
Combine speculative applications with other job search techniques:
Finally, speculative applications work best when combined with other job search techniques such as applying to advertised jobs and networking – this will really increase your chances of success.