Many jobs aren’t advertised, particularly in the media, charity work, design and environmental work. One of the only ways to tap into this hidden graduate job market is to write a speculative application. This can also be a useful way to approach small employers who don’t recruit graduates onto a formal scheme or to find jobs in a highly specialised field or specific location.
Just like applying for advertised vacancies, this needs a targeted approach to be productive. The next six points will help you get started on your speculative application strategy today, not only to uncover permanent graduate jobs but also to find work experience, shadowing or vacation work.
1. Draw up a shortlist of employers
If you are looking for jobs within a specific industry or profession, you need to look up employers in the graduate career sectors that interest you, such as charities, publishing houses, market research companies, local engineering firms, science park start-ups and so on.
For entry-level roles in more generalist career areas, such as finance, marketing, sales, administration, IT support and HR, you might choose to focus on listing employers within a particular region.
Many employers have their own website and professional bodies may have information or links to employers in their sector. You could also find useful information in newspapers and specialist publications, both online and in print.
If you still have access to your university’s careers service, look through the information they have on local employers, including reports from alumni. You may be able to tap into your university’s alumni network to find out about opportunities and get a feel for the kind of work you might enjoy.
Do make use of your network. For example, family friends and peers may be able to give you insights into their working lives and any potential job opportunities with their employers. Make the best possible use of social media, including your LinkedIn profile.
Careers fairs and recruitment events are another good way to select employers to follow up – particularly as you will meet recruiters and company representatives face to face. However, if the company already has a formal graduate programme, don’t waste your time applying speculatively.
2. Prepare to apply 'on spec'
Once you have your employer shortlist, you need to do your research. You need to not only find out details about the company, but also get a feel for the kind of work they do.
The organisation’s website might tell you about its recent projects, specialities, aims and values, which will help you explain why you want to work for them.
It can be useful to look at an employer’s current vacancies, even if they are above your level of experience. You can sometimes infer from these the types of roles, areas of work and skills used within the business. You may also pick up on keywords that are used in all the organisation’s recruitment advertising, as well as typical traits they like to see in all applicants.
You should aim to be aware of other organisations that operate in the same market. Part of finding out about an employer is understanding the competition.
- CV and covering letter tips for graduate jobs in the media and journalism
- How do I get a graduate job in a charity?
3. Establish a personal contact at the company
Finding a named contact is the number one rule of making a speculative job application. ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ letters sent to HR departments are likely to be ignored.
You may be able to get a specific referral from networking or from a recruitment event, but if not, a quick phone call to the company to ask for the name of whoever is responsible for recruiting will enable you to personalise your letter. Be sure to check the spelling.
4. Be focused, but also open-minded
You need to be clear about what you are looking for when contacting potential employers speculatively. Use the speculative job-hunting approach to:
- find permanent vacancies, temporary or part-time jobs, work experience or work shadowing opportunities.
- arrange a time for a brief visit/half-hour chat on the phone or the opportunity to meet a recent graduate or employee of an organisation.
However, you also need to keep your options open. While your ultimate prize may be a permanent position, you don’t want to close down the opportunity of a temporary job or miss up an opportunity to meet with someone working in the business. These could be a springboard to getting to your goal if a permanent job doesn’t exist.
5. Tailor your covering letter and CV
Most students and graduates make contact with an organisation by sending their CV, and this should be accompanied by a covering letter. These will be similar to a standard covering letter and CV, and they still need to be tailored even though you do not have an actual job advert to respond to.
It’s essential that your speculative covering letter is concise and that it emphasises what you can do for the employer rather than what you want from them.
Typically you should start with some brief information about yourself and why you are approaching the employer. If you have got the person’s name as a result of a contact made from a phone call or a careers fair, for example, then state this early in your letter.
Based on your research of the organisation and the skills you think they would find attractive, you should also point the reader to the skills, abilities and experience you have outlined on your CV.
6. Follow up your application: it’s good to talk
To improve your chances of success, follow up your speculative application with a phone call a few days after you have sent it. You might get some rebuffs but personal contact can be very useful. Even if the employer cannot help with your main request, talking enables you to explore if there are any future opportunities coming up, how the organisation typically recruits and where you should look out for their job ads.
It should go without saying, but be polite in all your dealings with an employer.