Not all placements are advertised and sometimes you need to use your initiative to seek out work experience opportunities. Discover how to approach employers with a speculative application
Find hidden opportunities
The first thing to do is to look at your network of family, friends, colleagues, university tutors and previous employers to see if they know of an opportunity. At the very least they may know someone who works at the company that you're interested in and could give you their contact details.
In conjunction with this, use social media sites such as Twitter and LinkedIn to keep up to date with what companies are doing and, in some cases, connect directly with employers. While some opportunities aren't advertised formally, vacancies may be mentioned in passing on social media channels. To ensure that you make a good impression when connecting with recruiters you need to conduct yourself professionally when online and only post content that you'd be happy for an employer to see. Find out more about social media and job hunting.
Small-to-medium sized enterprises (SMEs) are a great option when it comes to hidden opportunities. While big companies tend to advertise formal internship and work placement schemes, SMEs generally rely on word of mouth and speculative applications so do some research into smaller organisations in your area.
To see what recruiters have to offer, take a look at our employer profiles.
How to contact an employer
Addressing your application to a named person will show that you've put in some real effort and aren't just blanket emailing lots of companies. Someone in HR or the recruitment team will usually be the contact, but to be sure that your email is going to the right place phone the organisation and ask for a name and contact details. If all you can find is a generic company email address send them a message politely asking for the contact details of the recruitment team.
Once you know who the correct contact is, email over your up-to-date CV and cover letter. Use the body of the email to briefly introduce yourself, explain what experience you want and why you want it then describe what you have attached, before politely signing off thanking them for their time.
What to write in your cover letter
First briefly introduce yourself; who you are and what you're studying. Be clear about the type of experience you're looking for, but show your willingness to be flexible. This is important because organisations usually want to help but are time poor, so, while you might want a month-long placement initially ask for an informal interview or a few days' worth of shadowing. Establishing a relationship could lead to further work experience opportunities.
In the next paragraph explain your interest in the company and say how this relates to your career aspirations. Then give some background information about yourself including your interests, skills, qualifications and other work experience or relevant training, and relate this to the work experience requested.
Show them that even in a brief work experience opportunity you have something to offer them, in both the shorter and longer term. Include any additional information about your availability to work and how to contact you.
Always use a professional tone and double check for spelling and grammar mistakes. Close your message positively and politely, reiterating your interest, willingness to provide more information and your hope to hear from them soon.
You should also show respect for your contact’s busy schedule and thank them for their time when considering your application.
How to target your CV
If you're applying speculatively, there won't be an advertisement listing the person or skills requirements for you to refer to. Instead you'll need to research the company and make sure your CV reflects what the company does. You should make sure that any experience you list is relevant to the company, whether this is directly relevant industry experience, something you've learned on your course or an extracurricular activity.
The aim is to make your speculative application as personal to the company you’re applying to as possible. Generic ‘copy and paste’ applications are unlikely to impress. If you want an organisation to effectively create an opportunity just for you, you need to demonstrate knowledge of the company and your passion for working for them.
When to follow up your application
Knowing when to follow up is tricky, as you want to appear dedicated and professional without coming across as demanding or pushy. However, it's important as it can jog an employer's memory if your application has fallen off their radar.
If your initial request doesn't receive a response within one or two weeks, follow it up with an email or call. Make sure you use some common sense and make allowances for busy schedules. If you have been professional and polite, you shouldn't be afraid to follow up your application - nor of people saying no if they have to.
If you receive a response but it's not what you hoped for try to bear in mind that not all organisations have the time or resources to accept speculative work experience requests, so don’t take a rejection too hard. View the experience as a learning curve and ask for some constructive feedback on your application. This could help you fine tune future speculative applications.