It’s disheartening when you keep submitting online job applications but get a big, fat nothing back. So why not switch tactics? Sending a letter out of the blue is a bold approach and it might just get you a job when the more traditional approaches fail.
Did you know that only about 40% of jobs are advertised? The rest are filled by informal contacts,word of mouth and speculative applications.
And some sectors, like technology and digital media, are constantly on the look out for fresh talent – so even if a company is not actively recruiting, they may well make a position available if the right person comes along.
To help you take the plunge, here’s The Work Ladder’s guide to sending a speculative job application.
Show some initiative and stand out from the crowd
Making a direct approach to a company shows initiative and motivation. What’s more, you’re not competing directly with others, so you get the opportunity to shine on your own terms. And if you get it right, a letter sent ‘on spec’ lets you show off your skills and personality much better than any online application.
But don’t be fooled into thinking this is an easy option; each letter requires careful research and your best writing skills if you want to impress the busy executive on whose desk it will land.
Follow the ground rules but in your own style
1. Do your research
As with any application, you need to understand the sector and each of the companies you want to approach. Precision targeting to one or two companies is far more likely to succeed than sending a ‘cut-and-paste’ letter to a dozen.
You also need to understand the type of role you are seeking and where that fits within the organisation. You want to stand out as an informed and committed applicant so try and find out which job title most closely fits the position you are looking for.
Lastly, you need to find out the name of the person you want to target. That should be the head of the department you want to work in, or if it is a small company, the name of the MD. Never open a letter with ‘Dear Sir or Madam’!
Use every resource you can find, including company websites, LinkedIn, social media as well as the business press and professional and trade journals. If you want a good idea of the sort of person they are looking for check out the ‘About Us’ section of their website and look at their Mission Statement and Values.
Once you’ve done your research, it’ll be much easier to identify relevant points to include in your letter.
2. Match the tone of your letter and format of your CV to that of the company you are approaching.
Making a direct approach means you’re not restricted by the online application format. From your research you’ll get a clear idea of the tone and style of the company so make sure you reflect that in your letter. Don’t just lift copy from their website, instead use your own words and ideas to show just how well you’d fit in with the company’s ethos.
Remember you can vary the layout, presentation and colours on your CV for greater impact. Again, the presentation of your CV should reflect the style of the company – so a more informal tone and colourful CV may be just right for a media company but not for a law firm.
Also consider whether to send it via email or in the post: if you choose the former, make sure you use the subject line to best effect. e.g ‘Business studies graduate with plenty of practical commercial experience’.
3. Be clear about what you are looking for and what you can offer.
Make it clear straightaway what you are looking for (e.g entry level position within the marketing team) but don’t close the door on any other opportunities, such as internships – you just don’t know where they could lead!
Similarly, be clear about the skills and expertise you have to offer because even if the recipient of your letter doesn’t have a job for you, they may know someone else in the company who has.
You need to be able to illustrate your skills and expertise with practical examples and ideally ones from work experience, rather than from your studies. You won’t necessarily be expected to have done some high powered internship; many employers equally value the experience of working in your local supermarket or coffee shop – you just need to demonstrate how the skills you acquired are relevant to the role you now want.
4. Follow a simple structure
Keep your letter to one page. Use the introduction to explain why you are writing and what you are looking for. But remember, a speculative letter needs to grab the reader’s attention straightway so try not to open with ” I am writing this letter…..”. Instead relate your wish to work for Company X to an industry trend or issue and Company X’s position within that market. A bit of flattery won’t do any harm but the main aim here is to demonstrate your knowledge of their business.
In paragraph 2 explain in one sentence why you are interested in that sector: what sparked off your interest and why? Then in the next sentence, describe why you are interested in that particular organisation.
Paragraph 3 should demonstrate 2 or 3 of your skills or attributes that are directly relevant to the position you want. Be specific and use examples from work experience or extra curricular activities. If you can, include any facts and figures about how you added value to the organisation you worked for: think of the difference you made in terms of sales, customer service or productivity. Don’t forget to include any responsibilities you may have had in terms of staff, money or equipment if they are relevant.
This is your big chance to sound positive and enthusiastic but don’t be tempted to embellish your skills and experience as employers will probably take up references.
End on a positive note. Thank the recipient for their time in considering your application and and reiterate your enthusiasm for working for the company. Sign off by indicating that you are ready and waiting to leap into action: e.g ” I am available to start work immediately and would be happy to meet at your convenience to discuss any openings for which I may be suitable”.
Don’t forget to include your CV!
It can be tough to write that first letter so if you need further inspiration, here are some great ideas to start the creative juices flowing:
Alison Green’s before-and-after cover letter demonstrates how making it personal works so much better.
The Guardian gives you three examples of letters for different sectors.
The Harvard Business Review’s example is just 5 lines of great copy.
And if you are feeling really brave, check out this ‘Marmite’ example from Forbes magazine – employers will either love it or hate it!
Don’t under any circumstances follow this one which Jesse Hertzberg received whilst COO at Squarespace- apparently he really did think it was the best one ever but we’ve included it just here to brighten up your day.