Should you make a speculative job application?

Is it worth your while to approach would-be employers even if you don’t know if there are any suitable vacancies? And how do you make sure your speculative approach hits its intended target?

A speculative approach is when you contact a company or organisation to ask if there is a suitable vacancy for you without any such role being advertised.

How not to do it

The wrong way to do it is to print off loads of copies of your CV and send them to lots of different companies or organisations willy-nilly. Equally, emailing your CV to lots of HR departments is a waste of time. You need to treat a speculative approach seriously or not at all.

Key takeaway: A scattergun approach is not worthwhile. Target your speculation

Is it worth it?

John Lees, Career Coach and author of Get Ahead in your New Job says: “What you are looking for when you’re looking for a job is the best return on your time. A speculative, direct approach is OK – it’s not the best but it’s not the worst either.

It’s certainly better than randomly signing up to lots of job sites. But it’s not as good as a personal approach such as speaking to someone at a networking event or similar. Face to face meetings allow you to convert personal approaches into opportunities”.

Lee Owen, Director at Hays Accountancy & Finance adds: “Speculative job applications can offer a quicker and more direct way to landing a role but this type of application needs to be done with the right approach in order to be worthwhile”.

Who to approach?

If you haven’t got a particular company or organisation in mind, then make a list of those which might interest you. A bit of internet research will be invaluable. Do check that the companies you’ve identified to make approaches to have not actually got any advertised vacancies that would suit you before you send off speculative letters. There’s more advice here.

Do your homework

Sending off a CV to an HR department isn’t worth it. You need to find the right person to aim it at – usually the head of the appropriate section or department.

In your approach, you also need to show your knowledge about the company or organisation, not just general comments about your interest in their sector. What is the company doing at the moment? Does it have expansion plans? Keep abreast of its social media output.

Then, apply that knowledge to your application. Lees says: “You should show that you have done your homework. So, for example, you might say something like ‘I’ve seen that you are doing such and such a project’ or ‘I notice you are using x software’ and say that you’d welcome the opportunity to talk to them about how you could help them with that”.

Key takeaway: Find out who to approach and research the company or organisation you’re trying to get a job with.

Have a goal

Think about why you’re making a speculative approach: what do you want to get out of it? You’re not going to get a job offer just on the back of one. Instead, says Lees: “What you want is a face to face meeting. This is your aim, the ideal outcome. Always keep your mind on getting that face to face meeting: once you’ve got that, it’s over to you to make an impression”.

And even if you don’t succeed in getting an interview, then think positively: there might really not be any vacancies at the current time but that’s not to say there won’t be any in the near future. If your approach was good and properly targeted then you could be remembered when something does come up.

Key takeaway: Remember your aim is to get a face to face interview and focus on that.

What should you write?

Don’t send a lengthy CV and accompanying letter – how many GCSEs you have won’t matter in an initial approach. But do share your AAT qualifications as they will be directly relevant for the role you are seeking.  “Keep it short – six bullet points on why you are making the approach and why the recipient should meet you,” says Lees.

What you are trying to get across in simple terms is what you are looking for and what skills and experience you can offer. Think always of what you can do for the organisation, not what they can do for you. Make sure it doesn’t come across as if you are begging for work. And don’t be too pushy either. Avoid starting every sentence with “I” too.

Key takeaway: Keep it short, targeted and concentrate on what you have to offer the company, not the other way around

Do you need help?

If you want to make speculative approaches but don’t know where to start, an expert could help you. Owen says: “Knowledge of the employment landscape is central to the role of a recruitment consultant, so enlisting their help will avoid targeting employers with no availability or plans to hire.

They will also be able to draw on their established network of clients so you know your application will go to the right person to be properly considered. Furthermore, they see countless CVs and cover letters each day so are well-positioned to advise on how to best tailor your application”.

Social media

Lees says: “The first thing someone will do when they get a speculative email from you is to look at your LinkedIn profile – so make sure it is up to date. That is crucial”. It also makes sense to clear up your Facebook profile and any other social media. You don’t want to spoil the favourable impression you’ve made on your speculative approach.

Key takeaway: Don’t ignore your social media profile

How long should you wait?

“If you don’t hear back in a reasonable length of time, then a polite follow up is appropriate – perhaps by telephone” adds Lees. And even if your approach falls on stony ground, it doesn’t mean future ones won’t be successful. 

And Owen adds: “While a speculative application can be a way of landing a one-off opportunity, job seekers need to take the right approach for it to really be worthwhile. Drawing on the support of a recruitment consultant usually results in a smoother and more time-efficient hiring process.”

Key takeaway: Follow up approaches. And remember while speculative approaches can work, traditional methods might have a higher strike rate.

Summary

Speculative approaches can work, but you need to treat them as seriously as any other job application or you’re wasting your time. Do your research; don’t send out a CV with a long covering letter and remember always that your aim is to get a face to face meeting. Then it’s all over to you and your great interview skills!

Further reading

Charlotte Beugge spent more than 20 years as the deputy personal finance editor on The Daily Telegraph and then The Daily Mail. A freelancer since 2010, her work has appeared in national newspapers, magazines and websites.

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