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Maddie Smith

March 19th, 2020

Making speculative applications

2 comments | 2 shares

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

Maddie Smith

March 19th, 2020

Making speculative applications

2 comments | 2 shares

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

When thinking about your career interests, one of the key starting points is to create as many potential opportunities as possible. With estimates suggesting over 60% of jobs are never formally advertised, applying only to advertised roles gives you a limited opportunity space. You are only tapping into part of the job market.

While this figure varies from sector to sector, this is particularly the case if you are targeting industries like advertising, marketing, journalism, publishing, charity sector or NGOs.  Speculative applications are are also common in smaller or medium sized companies where there might not be formal internship or graduate programmes.

So, what should you do to increase your chances of getting a job?  One way to expand your opportunity space is by sending speculative applications.

What is a speculative application?

A speculative application is sending your cover letter and CV to organisations that you would be interested as potential employers, to explore job opportunities in these institutions. The Cambridge Dictionary defines it as “a request for a job sent to an employer, even if no job has been advertised’

Does this mean you should just send out CVs to any organisation that looks interesting? Not at all. The power of speculative applications come from the fact that they are tailored to the target organisation and demonstrates how you have researched them and what they do. Your application should demonstrate how you can be part of and add value to that 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.  The crucial element is that you are not replying to an advertised vacancy, but instead are writing on the off chance that one might be available. There’s a large element of randomness to this approach, but if you follow the tips in this blog you’ll increase the odds in your favour!

Tips to make impactful speculative applications:

  1. Research the organisation well:

The power of a speculative application comes from your understanding of the organisation and their sector. This means really understanding the following

  • 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 is their recruitment cycle – what time of year do they usually recruit?
  • how do they want to be approached, are they happy with a speculative application?
  • what is it that excites you to be part of this organisation?

Once you complete your research, shortlist the organisations that you will apply with a speculative application.

  1. Apply strategically:

While doing your research, also pay particular attention to understand how each organisation wants to be approached for job opportunities. Some organisations (often smaller ones) will actively encourage speculative applications. Others will explicitly ask that you follow their formal programs and recruitment processes, so will say so on their website for example. Make sure you devote your resources to organisations that are either open to such approaches or at least not explicitly against them. This approach may be necessary where jobs are rarely advertised such as journalism, production, publishing and roles within small charities and NGO’s.

  1. Write a dedicated speculative application per organisation:

You might be led to think that as some organisations are in the same sector doing similar work, you can send the same speculative application. This will not lead to success. Make sure you write individual applications, tailoring them to each organisation, so that the reader will get a clear sense of how dedicated and enthusiastic you are about working for them.  If you don’t your application will come across too generic and end up in the recycle bin.

  1. Show you know what the organisation does and what you can offer them:

While writing your application, try to find something that ‘hooks’ the reader and shows that you understand their organisation and how you could help them. In your cover letter, try to match the tone of the organisation. For example, a digital start-up may appreciate a less formal approach than a law firm. Demonstrate the understanding and knowledge you gained as a result of your research about the organisation and sector in your application. Careful targeting is essential and much more likely to generate a positive response.

  1. Get the name of the right individual and direct your application to them:

Now you are ready to send your application. But who should the speculative application be sent to?

You’ll need to make sure that your application gets to the right person. Who this is will depend on what you’re applying for, but will often be the head of a department or service line. Track down the name of this individual and write directly to them – there’s no need to go via the HR department. 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.

Other sources of contacts could be LSE alumni working within the organisation your interested, and LinkedIn is a good way of finding these.

  1. When to make speculative application:

As mentioned under key points to research, you need an understanding on the recruitment cycle of the organisations you are targeting. Use your knowledge of recruitment cycles to submit your application at the right time.

  1. Be clear about what you’re asking for:

Is it an internship, or is it a job (if so in which area)? 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 that 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.

  1. Politely follow up:

Whilst you may get an immediate response, 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.

  1. 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.

If you’d like support with your speculative applications you can book a one-to-one appointment with one of our careers consultants.

Good luck!


About the author

Maddie Smith

Careers Consultant, LSE Careers

Posted In: LSE Careers


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