Applications / Work experience

Make your speculative cover letter shine – 5 top tips.

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.

businessman look with magnifying glass question markThis 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.

hire_me100I 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.

apples_&_pears200If 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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