If your job search consists only of applying to advertised vacancies, you’re likely to be missing out on many other opportunities – as well as unnecessarily lengthening the process.
This type of job seeking – though it might make you feel you’re being proactive – can only get your application into the same pile as everyone else. Instead, writing a speculative application directly to an organisation can be a quicker and more direct route into a job. Researching the company (to understand how your interests and skills meet their needs) takes time, but the result is that you’re more likely to know if you’d be a good match. This means that you’ll come across more confidently at a meeting with a decision-maker.
There’s always the risk that your letter goes unanswered or you receive a rejection, and it’s perhaps the fear of this that puts people off. But it’s also a strategy that puts you more in charge of your job search, and allows you to uncover opportunities that might not have previously existed.
Understand what you have to offer
You need to be clear about why someone would want to meet you. What can you bring to the company? Write down your key strengths and skills, and find examples where you add value. Don’t oversell yourself (this can backfire and damage your credibility), but try to answer these questions:
• What is your expertise?
• What have you achieved for other companies using your key strengths?
Do your research
Find out everything you can about the company. You’ll need to know how it’s performing, who the competitors are, and plans for expansion or growth. You can then work out how your background and expertise might be valuable.
Research who is the best person to write to. Ideally you want to reach someone with hiring authority – and that’s unlikely to be HR. Find the name of the head of department, or the managing director if it’s a smaller company. You can find names on LinkedIn (follow the company there), from your network, or in industry publications, which often have an ‘on the move’ type section.
Write your application around the company and their needs
Bear in mind the ‘what’s in it for me?’ principle. Link your strengths (and career interests) to the company’s requirements. Use your research to do this effectively.
Show, don’t tell. Rather than just saying you’re effective or goal-oriented, give examples of how what you did in the past has brought results and solved problems. Your aim at this stage is to pique someone’s interest so that they invite you in for a meeting. In most cases you won’t need to include your CV (although you can include links to your personal site or LinkedIn profile).
Delivery is important
Letters are almost always opened, making them perhaps a better choice than an email. Alternatively, get inside help. If you already know someone within the company, you can ask them to hand-deliver your letter.