Discover hidden internships: the art of speculative applications
You might not realise it, but not all work experience opportunities are advertised. Many smaller or local employers do not have the budget to advertise schemes or take on large numbers of students. However, they may be amenable to taking on one intern for a short period or having students in for work shadowing, which will give them the opportunity to observe professionals at work. If you want to benefit from this kind of opportunity, though, you’ll need to ferret it out, and you’ll need to be willing to apply on spec.
Create a shortlist of employers in the sector or sectors that interest you, making sure that they are based in a suitable location. Search engines and LinkedIn are probably your best friends here, along with online business directory listings. You can also go old school by checking out the employers featuring in local newspapers. Ask friends, family and lecturers whether they know of organisations that might welcome speculative applications. It’s worth looking through the information your careers service has on local employers and through your university’s alumni database – your careers service or department will give you access. However, don’t bother applying speculatively to a company that offers formal opportunities as its recruiters will expect you to apply through established channels. If the employer specifically states on its website or elsewhere that speculative applications are welcomed, make sure you follow any guidelines given about how to do this.
Making an application
Once you have a shortlist of employers, you’ll need to contact them ‘on spec’, usually by emailing a covering letter and CV or by dropping in your application in person. Whatever you do, don’t dash off a generic covering letter:
- Apply to a name, not ‘Dear Sir/Madam’. Ring the organisation's reception and ask who is the best person to apply to.
- Be clear about what you want and how long for: for example is it a day's work shadowing that you're looking for or a longer period of work experience?
- Show you’ve done some research on the employer and why you’d find it valuable working for this organisation in particular. Make it clear that you know what the organisation does in its specific market and say why that is of particular interest to you.
- Say what you can offer them in terms of your skills, knowledge and general attitude.
- If you have applied to a named person, finish your email with a ‘Yours sincerely’.
- Attach your CV.
Following up your application
Phone the employer a week or so after submitting your application. This will bring it to the recruiter’s attention if it has slipped down their ‘to do’ list. If they can’t offer you work experience, still ask them for feedback on your application. You may get some useful hints for the next time you apply.