How to write a speculative job application

Jemma Smith, Editor
July, 2015

Not all graduate jobs are advertised so be proactive with your search and apply 'on spec'. Here we share some expert advice on how to perfect a speculative application

If you're only applying for advertised roles it's likely that you're missing out on a variety of job opportunities, particularly in the charity, design, environmental and media sectors. To gain access to this hidden jobs market a speculative application is usually necessary.

Speculative applications often provide a more direct route into a company and making contact with people of hiring authority can lead to:

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

A speculative application proved successful for media and communications graduate Aisha Kellaway who works as an account manager at Seriously PR.

'I was moving to the UK from Australia and knew I wanted a role in travel PR. When I came across Seriously PR they were a good match in terms of industry and sector but there were no positions advertised. The company was such a perfect fit that it felt silly to not try and send an introductory email to set up a meeting for when I arrived.

'Upon arrival in the UK I met with the managing director and was offered a job that same evening.'

Follow up your application about one to two weeks after sending. Persistence is reasonable but pestering will negate any good will

Plan your approach

To find success with a speculative application you need to be organised from the start, rushing off a standard CV and cover letter won't cut it.

Start by drawing up a shortlist of employers to target speculatively by focusing on the sectors and companies that interest you. Once you've identified where you'd like to work you'll need to do some background research in order to appear knowledgeable and well informed. For ideas on employers see our employer profiles.

Look on company websites to find out how the organisation operates and to get a feel for the work it does, also check social media channels to keep up to date with the company's current events and activities.

Rowanna Smith, careers consultant at the University of Exeter advises graduates to be clear in their speculative communications, 'you need to be clear about what you're trying to achieve and what you want to happen next.

'It may be worth using speculative applications as part of a longer-term plan where you first ask for support that doesn't incur too high a cost to the employer and from here you can develop a relationship with them.'

This approach certainly worked for Aisha, 'I didn't ask for a position outright; I asked for an opportunity to sit down over coffee to discuss future possibilities.'

Tailor your speculative application

In order to reach someone with hiring authority and to make your job application stand out try where possible to include a named contact. If you can't find the relevant contact information on the company website, call the organisation and ask who is in charge of recruitment or alternatively do a LinkedIn search of the company.

'I found the email address of Seriously PR's managing director online and emailed her directly, rather than emailing the general HR address. I introduced myself and my situation and highlighted what attracted me to the company and stated how their values and approach echoed my own,' explains Aisha.

Despite there being no advertised job or person specification, Jill Freeman, employability consultant at Staffordshire University still believes that it's important to tailor your application to the company and the role you're aiming to fill. 'Include your skills, qualities and experience and focus on your unique selling points, also mention why you want to work for that company in particular,' says Jill.

Keep cover letters and emails concise but be sure to emphasise what you can bring to the company rather than what the company can do for you.

Find more information on CV's and cover letters. and discover how to craft a winning application with our example cover letter for a speculative job application.

Top 3 tips for a successful speculative application

  • Follow up your application about one to two weeks after sending - 'This allows time for your email to be read. Persistence is reasonable but pestering will negate any good will,' says Rowanna.
  • Focus on how your values and personality match the company ethos - 'You obviously need to have the appropriate skill set for the job but don't get hung up on technicalities. You can be trained for most positions but personality isn't something that can be learned on a training course,' advises Aisha.
  • Keep going - 'Stay resilient and remember that every interaction is a seed planted. Some may grow and harvest immediately and others may spring up when you least expect it,' adds Rowanna.