When it comes to getting where you want to be on the career ladder, there are numerous ways to get your foot on your favoured rung.
Everybody knows about scouring job ads and joining recruitment agencies - but what about those positions which haven't been advertised yet? I always recommend bypassing recruitment if possible - yes, there are agencies and ads, but it's often better to go direct to the decision maker. After all, only around 20% of jobs are filled through ads posted online.
Don't worry about appearing presumptuous or arrogant - writing a good speculative job application letter demonstrates that you're pro-active and keen.
In fact, writing a speculative letter can be the best way of getting an internship, work experience or placement with a company too.
If you're making a speculative approach to a hiring manager however, you need to craft something different to a cover letter - and it takes a lot of effort and time to get the tone right. Here's how...
Research, research, research
First up, you need to find out exactly which hiring manager you need to be sending the letter to, whether that's the head of department, or the MD if it's a smaller firm - there's no point sending a speculative letter to the HR department as you'll get nowhere.
Starting off "To whom it may concern" or worse "Dear Sir/Madam" won't score you any brownie points.
Getting to the right person is vital and it also demonstrates your rigour and professionalism. Talking of which, make sure you spell the hiring manager's name correctly!
Look up the company in question on LinkedIn (make sure you follow them too), search on Twitter, search around the company website, even phone up and ask - do anything it takes to find out who you need to address.
And while you're in research mode, do as much as you can around the company in question, how well they're doing and who their competitors are. This will help you to work out exactly how your background, skills and interests will benefit the business.
Keep it formal
You might not have been formally asked to apply for a job, but you still need to keep your speculative letter formal.
After addressing the hiring manager with "Dear XXXX", don't then start with "I hope you're doing well/having a great week." You don't know the person, so don't be so familiar - besides which, do you really want an answer?
Seeing as you've already done your research about the company and person in question, instead, it's a good idea to start with a comment relating to that. So perhaps "I see that you've just opened up an office in Cardiff - congratulations!" or "I see that you've just headed up the team that landed the contract for Acme Inc to make all the government's anvils - congratulations!"
If not, cut the extraneous, time-wasting pleasantries - maybe just start with: "I know you're busy, so I'll keep this brief."
Next, explain your situation - i.e. you're looking for your first proper job, you're looking for a new challenge, etc.
Then state very specifically the type of work you are looking for, why you love the sector, why you want to work for the company in question and, most importantly, what you have to offer the business - you have to think WHY they would want to hire you. Outline what value you could add to their bottom line.
List all your demonstrable transferable skills, not just those specific to the role you've got in mind in case there are others on offer that you might be a good fit for.
Keep it brief - just three of four paragraphs - and summarise your key strengths, skills and ambitions using lots of active language. Use concrete examples of where you have achieved positive outcomes, solved problems or added value for other businesses using your key strengths. Be enthusiastic, but don't exaggerate or oversell yourself - no one likes a braggart.
Finish with how you'd best like to be contacted, i.e. your phone number or email address, then "I look forward to hearing from you".
Conclude your speculative letter with "Yours faithfully" or "Yours sincerely" and it's a good idea to include your LinkedIn profile url under your name.
Then, last but not least, check and check again for spelling mistakes, typos and grammar errors.
Of course, don't forget to include your revamped, tailored, results-based, key-word rich CV to show just how much value you can bring.
But you're not quite finished...
You might have hit 'send', but your work is not done just yet. It's a good idea to chase up your speculative job application with an email or phone call after a week or so. It shows tenacity, perseverance and that you've really got the appetite to work for the company.
Take all my tips on board and fingers crossed, you'll pique the hiring manager's interest enough to ask you in for a meeting...