How to write speculative cover letters

How to write a speculative cover letter

The company is perfect. The team members are experienced and dynamic. You agree with the company mission and can see yourself sitting behind a desk in the office, putting your expertise to terrific use and helping the business to succeed. But there’s no job for you there. At least, not yet.

Unfortunately, this is often the reality of job hunting. But if you feel strongly drawn towards a particular company, and you believe that you could be a great employee there, don’t give up and move on. You can, and should get in touch to express your passion, your experience, and how you believe you can contribute. Submit a speculative application. While it’s unlikely to result in a job straight away, a speculative application is a strong way to make yourself known, either for positions that may be available but not advertised, or for any future openings.

When you’re sending a speculative application, how you present yourself is more important than ever. And that means customising your cover letter and CV for the occasion. But before we get to that…

Why bother with a speculative application?

The odds that a perfect role for you is just an email away are slim but a speculative application can be well worth your while.

The number of job vacancies never publicly advertised make up such a large percentage of openings that there is even a name for this sector: the hidden job market. Certain companies, and even entire industries, are more likely to lean on private networks or referrals to fill available roles quickly, rather than going through a public job posting process. So there’s a high likelihood that the perfect role for you is out there, but not advertised.

More significantly, a speculative application is useful for making a positive introduction to a hiring manager for potential roles in the future. It gets your foot in the door, so to speak. It may also be an opportunity for you to sell yourself, your experience and your knowledge of the company and its vision by suggesting to an employer that they need a role they simply haven’t yet thought of.

When should you send one?

If you’re applying for a position that is unlikely to exist yet, consider sending a speculative application in the discovery phase of a job search. This is when you’re interested in a new position but not actively in need of one. This way, you’re not placing too much faith in the application, and have plenty of time to create a long-lead introduction to the company.

It can also be helpful to pay attention to tech and business news, noting startup companies that have recently completed fundraising rounds. This is likely to mean that they will be hiring very soon.

How to write an accompanying cover letter

When you’re writing a cover letter for a speculative application, you won’t have a specific job description to guide you. This can be frustrating because it’s more difficult to clearly explain how your experience and skills fit a particular set of requirements without a framework. However, it can also be liberating, allowing you to be broader in your personal pitch.

The main idea, as with any cover letter, is to sell your expertise, your knowledge of the company and your belief that you have what it takes to help their business succeed. While the body of your email should be crisp and digestible, your cover letter is where you can make the most compelling case for your candidacy.

Even though there is no bullet list of job duties that you can reference, you can infer from the company’s products and services what your work there might involve. After, you can elaborate on how you would excel by using specific examples from your past experience as reference.

Here are a few tips specific to speculative cover letters:

  • Be as concise as possible while still clearly detailing your experience and ambitions. Because your application is speculative, a manager’s attention span when reviewing it will probably be even shorter than normal.
  • Be specific in describing how you could help the company, and what kind of position you would like. The narrower your goal, the more convincing it will be that you are a focused applicant, and not someone fishing for any available job.
  • Include examples of your past work, if relevant to your industry. Do this either in the form of a link to a professional portfolio website or as a separate attachment that you can reference in your email.
  • Email a specific person by searching through Welcome to the Jungle, or other recruitment websites and tools such as LinkedIn. This will make sure that your message reaches the right person and is (hopefully) read.
  • Ask for a recommendation, if you happen to have anyone in your social or professional networks who works, has worked, or knows anyone at the company to which you’re applying. Having a personal introduction can make all the difference, especially if said person is able to vouch for your abilities and your work ethic.

The waiting game

Next comes the hard part: being patient. It’s best not to expect any news, and certainly not straight away. You may not hear back after sending a speculative application at all. The company might simply not respond to unsolicited applications. Even if you made a good impression, it may be months before a role is open that fits your experience. In such cases, you can follow up with a friendly email.

Give it at least two weeks before following up to your first email, and then leave any subsequent unsolicited contact to once every few months. Any more than that, and you risk seeming less like an interested and passionate candidate, and more like a nuisance.

Despite the uncertainty, a spontaneous application is still an exercise well worth doing. Jobs, as with life, are uncertain—a unique combination of the right place, the right time, and more than a little bit of luck. Your application may not lead anywhere productive. But whereas the downside is nonexistent, the upside holds huge untold potential. Who knows? It might just end up with you landing your dream job.

Photo: WTTJ

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Andrew Craig

Writer, Editor, and Digital Content Specialist

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