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Speculative Volunteer Cover Letter

What should you do if you would like to find a job, or work for a particular organisation, but no vacancy is advertised? How about sending off a speculative application? You don’t have anything to lose (apart from some time) and you might get lucky. You’ll need to put together a good cover letter though and here are my top tips:

1. Get a name of someone to write to.

This is important. Your application needs to hit the right desk. I have seen cover letters beginning “Dear Employer,” “Dear Sir or Madam,” even “Dear Whoever”. If you address a letter like this and it comes in through a post room, how is anyone to know where to deliver it? The same is true if you send your application to a generic email address. Do all you can to get the name of someone who deals with recruitment or human resources. You can phone the organisation and ask, google it and hunt through the website, talk to friends and contacts and / or use LinkedIn to try to track down the information. If you are applying to a small organisation you can even turn up at reception. Usually persistence pays off! If you absolutely cannot get a name then at least make sure you send your letter or email to human resources; the “Dear Sir or Madam” salutation would then be best.

2. Start the letter by explaining what you want.

I suggest a heading immediately under the salutation, “Application for temporary work experience/a post in….” Your first sentence can then explain “I am a (first/second) year student (or graduate) looking for a position as… This is direct and your prospective employer will know immediately what the letter is about. You’re going to come across as business like and your addressee might well be tempted to read further.

3. Explain what you can do for the organisation.

Probably the foremost thing in your mind, as you write the letter, is what getting a post with this organisation might do for you. Perhaps it might lead to an offer of your dream job? Maybe the experience you’d gain over the vacation period could really set you up to make successful applications for graduate schemes in the future? It’s really tempting to blurt all of this out, in hopes that the putative employer will be able to see how much benefit you’ll gain from working in the company. Before you do this, think about your application from an employer’s point of view. Of course there are altruistic employers prepared to give you some work experience to help you out, there are probably far more who will want to think what you might be able to do for them if they take you on. So what can you offer? Perhaps you’ve already got some great administrative experience, are a whizz with Excel, fantastic at setting up social media campaigns? How might this benefit the organisation? Think through your own unique selling points and pitch your application based on how useful you could be.

4. Don’t try to compare your target employer with its competitors.

If you’ve been applying for graduate schemes you’ve probably mastered the need to make clear why you’re applying for a particular organisation rather than its competitors. You’ll be used to talking about awards the company might have won, the unique culture within it and its arrangements for training its graduates. You’ll be excellent at explaining why all this is better than the offering anywhere else. This sort of comparison isn’t necessary in a speculative application. It doesn’t mean that you don’t need to research the organisation and show that you understand something about it and the work it does. You do. Just don’t worry about demonstrating why you chose this company, rather than another one as your target recipient.

5. Stick to the normal rules of effective letter writing.

We’ve blogged more generally about cover letters before and it’s worth a look at one or two of our older posts. Remember to make sure that your spelling and grammar are correct. Try not to use overlong sentences or over complicated vocabulary, you want your letter to be easy to read. Make sure that what you write complements your CV and does not simply repeat it and keep the cover letter to one page.

Good luck with the application! You may not get any success (or even a response) from some employers, don’t give up or lose heart. Keep going and the chances are that you’ll find someone prepared to give you work experience, you’ll enhance your CV and probably gain some really useful skills. With any luck you’ll enjoy the experience too!

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by Michael Cheary

How do you get a job without a job advert? It’s all speculative…

Unfortunately, some vacancies won’t always be advertised online. But instead of getting discouraged when your perfect position isn’t on offer, there is another way to stand out to recruiters and find a job with a company you love.

We’ve already covered what cover letters are, but here’s our guide to speculative cover letters (just in case):


What is a speculative cover letter?

A speculative cover letter is sent alongside your CV when you apply to a company that isn’t currently advertising for staff.

Rather than being written with a particular position in mind, they’re usually more tailored to the company – selling your skills, experience and potential should any potential vacancies arise.


What should a speculative cover letter include?

OK, so the specifics of what to include will vary depending on the job you’re applying for. Not to mention where you currently are in your career.

However, the format will be fairly similar to a standard cover letter:

  • Start with your personal information (e.g. name, address and contact details – never include a national insurance number or bank details).
  • Include a manager’s name (if you have it)
  • Dear Sir/Madam (if you don’t have a name)
  • A first main paragraph outlining what kind of role you’re looking for, and why you want to work for the company
  • A second paragraph explaining a bit more about your own skills and background
  • A closing paragraph to sum up why you’d be a great fit for the company, and how they could benefit from hiring you
  • A thank you for their time, and a professional sign-off (e.g. ‘Yours faithfully’)


Why should I send one?

Companies may not always advertise their available roles, for a variety of different reasons.

It could be that they’ve only just come up, or that they have to wait for internal applicants before putting the job out there. They might just not have any current vacancies on offer.

However, by sending a speculative application, you can demonstrate that you’re proactive and ahead of the game when it comes to your career. And even if they don’t have any roles at the moment, you’ll ensure you’re front-of-mind if a suitable positon does come up.

Because the company might need you – even if they don’t know it yet.


How does it differ from my CV?

Cover letters are important for all applications, but they take on even more importance for speculative ones.

CVs tend to be rigid, professional and impersonal. In contrast, your cover letter allows you to create a rapport with the reader and showcase how right you are for the company in a much more engaging way.

And, without a specific job to apply for, you need to work even harder to stand out. A well-written cover letter will talk about your skills, previous projects and selling points, and help keep you keep front of mind if any suitable jobs do come up.


How long should it be?

Just over half a page of A4 – and no longer.

It should outline why you’re a great potential hire, and what makes you a great fit for the company. It should not be War and Peace.


Should I include some research about the company?


Let’s face it, recruiters are as prone to flattery as anyone else. By explaining why you want to work for their company, without even knowing if there are any roles available, you instantly demonstrate that you buy in to their product or company culture.

A few well-researched facts could be all it takes to back your interest up, not to mention show your dedication to the business before you’ve even joined.


How do I send a speculative application?

Firstly, try and find the appropriate person to address it to (e.g. the hiring manager, or a member of the HR team).

If you can find their email address, great. You can send it to general addresses, but it’s likely to get lost in the sea of other emails – so make sure it has a killer subject line.

Alternatively you can post the application, if you have the company’s address.


What do I do next?

Now you wait.

Usually the company will get in touch, to let you know whether they have any available positions, and if your application has been successful. However, this could take a little time to come through.

Alternatively, contacting the recruiter a few weeks after you send it is a great way to find out if they received your speculative cover letter and CV, as well as getting constructive feedback.

Remember: speculative cover letters won’t always work. But you won’t know until you try.

After all, what have you got to lose?



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