Tips for making speculative applications
Speculative applications are where you proactively approach an employer to seek out an opportunity that has not been advertised.
In some job areas you will need to be proactive and make the first approach to organisations that interest you. Speculative approaches to employers are useful, and often essential, for gaining:
- Work in employment areas in which vacancies are rarely advertised (eg journalism, broadcasting, publishing)
- Vacation work
- Unpaid work experience or work shadowing
Think about who you know – friends, family, tutors – that might help you get in touch with someone in the organisation or sector of interest. At Oxford you also have access to alumni contacts that can be very helpful in this regard – for example through the Oxford Careers Network and your college alumni office and department. For more ideas about how to develop your network and find contacts, see our webpage on Networking.
A speculative application usually consists of a CV and letter, but could be preceded or followed up with a telephone call. A few pointers:
- Identify your target (by researching employers and talking to people about their jobs).
- Write to a named individual if at all possible.
- Tailor-make each approach, showing how your experience and achievements are relevant.
Some sectors recruit more at different times. TV companies, for example, tend not to recruit many people in the middle of winter. Try to find out from contacts at what time of year your application is most likely to get noticed!
Speculative cover letters
- Download an example speculative covering letter for ideas.
- Match the tone of the letter to the organisation. For example, an advertising company may appreciate a flamboyant, individual approach, especially for creative positions. A law firm is more likely to appreciate a more traditional approach.
- Careful targeting is far more likely to lead to success than sending off a mass of near-identical applications.
- Research the role, organisation and sector and demonstrate your understanding in your letter. Allow your motivation and interest to come through and you will stand out as a knowledgeable applicant.
- Clearly and quickly establish what you want and why. If your goal is work experience, don’t cut out any chance that the recipient may be able to offer, say, a work shadowing opportunity. Be clear about what you would be interested in, but don’t close any doors!
- Make it clear what you have to offer them. You are making a business proposition, and must prepare your case carefully and research the organisation.
- Suggest that you will follow up your letter by telephone within, say, a week.
- Then follow the standard format of cover letters.