How to write a speculative job application

Rachel Swain, Editorial manager
May, 2019

Not all graduate jobs are advertised - to find these hidden roles you'll need to write a speculative application to a company you're interested in working for

Being proactive in this way can give you access to a much wider variety of roles and increase your chances of success in the competitive job market.

What is a speculative application?

Making a speculative application means getting in touch with an organisation to ask whether they have a suitable job for you, despite the fact that they aren't advertising a particular vacancy. It usually involves sending a cover letter and a CV.

Of course, major graduate schemes and roles at large companies will usually be advertised and you can apply in the normal way. But if you rely solely on responding to job adverts you may miss out on a range of opportunities, especially in the charity, design, environmental and media sectors where applying 'on spec' is common practice.

Speculative applications provide a direct route into the company and making contact with recruiters can lead to:

  • temporary or permanent work
  • internships or work shadowing opportunities
  • increased business connections.

Even if it turns out there isn't a job available, your positive approach may impress the employer and they'll bear you in mind for future vacancies.

Search for employers

To be successful with a speculative application you need to be organised as rushing off a standard CV without any context or explanation won't cut it.

Start by drawing up a shortlist of employers to target by focusing on the sectors and companies that interest you. For ideas browse employer profiles or attend careers fairs. Once you've identified where you'd like to work, and checked that they aren't advertising vacancies, you'll need to do some background research so that you are knowledgeable and well-informed.

Look on company websites to find out how the organisation operates and get a feel for what it does. What projects is it working on? Are there any plans for growth or expansion? Follow the organisation's social media channels to keep up to date with the company's current events and activities.

Tailor your approach

Take some time to think about exactly what you’re trying to achieve and what you want to happen next. Are you going to ask for a permanent role or an internship? How are you going to sell yourself to the company? How can you persuade them that you're a good match for what they need? You need to be clear in your own mind before you start sending any applications.

Your CV and cover letter must be tailored to each company. Set out in simple terms what you are looking for and why you have chosen them, then highlight your relevant skills and experiences. The emphasis should be on what you can bring to the company, not on what they can do for you, as the last thing you want is to sound like you're begging for work.

In order to reach somebody with hiring authority, make sure you send your application to a named contact. If you can't find the relevant contact information on the company website, try searching LinkedIn or make a phone call to ask who is in charge of recruitment. Always be polite in your dealings with the employer.

Discover how to put together a winning application with this example cover letter for a speculative job application.

Follow up your application

About one or two weeks after sending, follow up your application with a phone call. This gives your contact time to read your email - while it's good to be persistent, pestering the company will not show you in a good light.

Should the employer decide they'd like to meet you, it's time to explore interview tips. Be aware that you may be offered something different to what you asked for - for example, a work placement or internship instead of a graduate job. At this stage you can be flexible, but don't automatically accept - make sure you think about whether it's right for you.

If no opportunities are available, ask the company to keep your details on file for future. They may be able to give you advice on how they go about recruiting graduates and when vacancies are likely to arise.

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