A company may not be hiring, but you could still land yourself a job. Here's how.

The best-kept secret in finding a new role is the hidden job market. This means that while not all jobs are advertised, you can still apply for them by writing a speculative application.

In this article, learn all about the speculative job application - including what it is and how to write one.

What is a speculative application?

A speculative application, also known as a speculative CV, involves reaching out to a company and putting yourself forward for jobs that have not been advertised or do not exist right now. It usually involves sending a CV and cover letter via email or an online portal.

Applying “on spec” is the term used to describe sending a speculative job application. It's common practice for many industries too. If you're solely looking for job adverts to respond to, you could be missing out on opportunities in the charity, design, environmental, and media sectors, where applying on spec is commonplace.

Sending a speculative CV isn't limited to full-time roles either. Applying on spec can pave a direct route into a company that may reveal temporary or permanent work, contract work, internships, and graduate positions. 

Do speculative job applications work?

Speculative applications are worthwhile. They work particularly well for a variety of industries where applying on spec is commonplace, particularly in media, including journalism, broadcasting, publishing, TV, and film. However, they can be advantageous regardless of the field you wish to pursue. 

Sending speculative applications can grant you access to a wider pool of roles that you otherwise wouldn't have discovered. Taking a proactive approach can therefore increase your chances of job-hunt success.

And at the very least, you will have increased your business connections that may inform you of future work opportunities. 

How do you write a speculative application?

Writing a speculative job application takes a healthy pinch of creativity, logic, and determination. It's a little trickier than your usual application, as you have to assume the details of an imaginary job spec. However, it's not impossible. Here are five steps to follow:

1. Identify what your ideal job looks like

Before you start a speculative job application, reflect on what your current employment needs are and the type of job you are looking for. Remember, just because the job isn't advertised, it doesn't mean you can aim for a “dream job” you're not qualified to do. Consider a role that aligns with your experience, skill set, and career goals.

Once you have pulled together a vision of your ideal job, hunt for vacancies online and peruse the requirements. This will help to verify whether your abilities align with the type of job you're looking for.

2. Curate a shortlist of prospective employers

The next step involves drawing up a shortlist of employers to target. Start by considering the companies that interest you the most. This might be based on a bucket list of dream companies to work for, recommendations from friends or old colleagues, or even brand mentions in industry-related publications that have sparked your interest.

Then move on to look for companies based on their sector and location, to whittle down a shortlist of potential targets. While a simple Google search should reveal “marketing agencies in Bristol” and the like, you can also take to job boards, employer review sites, and professional bodies, which host company profiles to peruse with ease. 

3. Conduct background research

Once you've found the companies that meet your sector and location requirements, the next step is background research. This is to ensure that you're well informed about the company and get a feel for the type of work they do.

Start with the company's website. Look through the “About Us” pages, which will highlight the organisation's aims, employees, and values. Also, review the product and services pages and the blog to get a deeper understanding of how they make money, who their customers are, and the topics they care about. 

Most importantly, review the careers section of the website which should reveal details about life at the company and the current vacancies. This section should signal the areas where they are currently investing in headcount and at what level. Don't let it deter you if you can't find a vacancy for yourself. Instead, use them for inspiration. 

By reading through live job adverts, you'll pick up on keywords that are used in the company's recruitment drive, in addition to desirable traits they are looking for in applicants.

4. Find and establish a suitable contact at the company

It's essential that you find a personal contact at the company before making a speculative application. While an organisation may advertise on their website that they will welcome speculative applications, the email address will probably be related to a group inbox rather than a personal inbox, meaning it may be deprioritised. 

LinkedIn will likely be your best friend in this instance. Find out who the hiring manager is, or even the head of the relevant department. Browse their profile to gain an insight into their professional interests and position at work. If their work email isn't listed on their profile, send a short message to say you're looking to reach out and discuss potential work opportunities at the company and ask for the best email address.

Failing that, call the company to find out the name of the person in charge of recruiting and the best email address to reach them on.

5. Tailor your CV and cover letter to an assumed job spec

A tailored CV is a job-search essential. Even though you do not have a job description to reference, this shouldn't stop you from writing a bespoke CV. By using your research about the company, the sought-after traits listed in their live vacancies, and job specs from your earlier research related to your ideal job, you can craft a customised CV.

Pull out organisational values to subtly reference throughout your personal statement. Then, identify industry- and role-relevant keywords to add throughout your CV to highlight where your skill set lies and your relevant achievements. This will make it clear to the employer what you can do, the value you can bring to the company, and that you know what type of job you want.

Mirror the same level of personalisation and detail throughout your cover letter. The first paragraph of a speculative cover letter is slightly different to the standard cover letter for an advertised vacancy. In your introduction, instead of stating the role you're applying for, reference why you're approaching the employer. This is especially pertinent if you have an existing relationship with someone there. 

In addition, make it clear what type of role you're looking for by providing a concise and snappy description. If the employer believes you don't know what you're looking for, you may come across as disingenuous.

How do you send and follow up on a speculative job application?

When emailing your speculative application, use your cover letter as the body of the email and attach your CV. This is rather than writing a short email and attaching the cover letter and CV. Be sure to name the file of your CV with something descriptive, so that they can tie the file back to you. Your full name and ideal job title, followed by “speculative CV application” or similar should do the trick. 

Follow the same logic with the subject line, but note that you don't need to include your name as the recipient will see it in your email address.

Depending on the size of the company, it could take anywhere from a few days to a few months to respond. Some may not respond at all. As a rule of thumb, send a follow-up email no sooner than a week later to check in and see if they've had a chance to review your speculative application. Keep it light and friendly - after all, this could be your future employer. 

Speculative applications are tricky in comparison to applying to live vacancies, but you may hit the jackpot of jobs if it pays off. Be patient, open-minded, and proactive, and remember that, even if there isn't a role available right now, keep all doors open so you'll be in the front of their mind when there is.

Submit your CV for a free review to check that you've portrayed your abilities and achievements in the right way for a particular employer as part of your speculative application.

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