When I used to work in Career Centres helping people to get jobs by improving their marketing skills I would often come across speculative letters addressed to Dear Sir, not saying what kind of work they would like to do and including phrases like ‘I am a good comunicator’.
In the centre we were helping people to find jobs rather than filling them directly so the letters unfortunately went straight in the bin. This experience helped me to realise that although those people may have thought that they were making applications, in effect they were not, since they had no chance of success however many letters like that they sent out.
So when I hear that someone has sent off over 300 speculative letters enquiring about a job and has not received a single reply, I tend to think that they have in effect not made any. If the letters, are like the letters, that I received, there would have been nothing to compel the recipient to pick up the phone or the laptop to make contact.
Generally speaking sending speculative letters to a potential employer is a low yield strategy. It is thought that only around 4% of people get jobs this way. Having said this it is worth remembering that recruitment is expensive and time consuming for employers. Sometimes a well-presented and informative letter crossing the desk at the right time may well prompt a potential employer to see you before engaging in a long protracted and costly selection process.
What you are looking for is an organisation which may be expanding their business or changing the range of services that they are providing. This is more likely to occur in small to medium size businesses, who are less likely to have formal procedures in place. I would say that sending speculative letters to a public organisation is more or less a waste of time since they will have very formal processes in place to recruit staff.
Once you have decided which companies to send your letters to, you must give some thought to the person who will be opening it.The first thing I suggest you do is contact the organisation to get a name of the person who might be interested in receiving you application. This is not always the Human Resources department. HR departments may well be the first ‘port of call’ for applicants applying for newly advertise jobs but when it comes to considering potential candidates for potential jobs they are often ‘blockers’ rather than facilitators.
Switchboards are quite rightly reluctant to give out the names of their staff over the phone. So try to be a bit more creative. If you want to work in sales, ask to be put onto the sales department and ask for the name of the manager. If you want to work in customer services, ask to be put through to them and ask for the name of the person who would be in charge of recruitment. Do not write a speculative letter to a company unless you can address it to someone. This gives you the opportunity to follow it up later. You also never know, in making these enquiries they might ask you what type of work you are looking for, so be ready to say what you want and what skills that you think you could bring to the organisation.
After you have got the name, job title and address of a person you want to write to the next thing to consider is what you are going to write. Generally your letter should be three paragraphs. The first paragraph should say why you are writing, the second should outline why you are ideal for the job you think that they might have and the last paragraph should state what you would like to happen next.
Paragraph One – Why I am writing
Here you should explain why you decided to write to their company and their department. You must do your homework to find out a bit about the organisation and the type of people that they are likely to employ. For example a company making ball bearings is likely to employ people who are interested in manufacturing, a garden centre is going to be more interested in people who have a genuine interest in plants, whereas a heating and ventilation company will want someone who already has some of the necessary qualifications.
I am interested in working in manufacturing in a local firm. Having researched your company I am aware that you are one of the main producers of ball bearings in the UK and was wondering if you have any vacancies, which match my skills.
I have a genuine interest in gardening and having visited your centre a number of times I have been impressed by the variety and care of your stock. I would love to work with plants and was wondering if you have any vacancies at the moment?
I am a qualified gas engineer looking to discuss with you the current requirements your company has and how my skills may fulfil those
Paragraph Two – Why I am ideal for the job.
Since this is a speculative letter and as far as you know there is not a job at the moment you have to imagine what type of people the company you are approaching are likely to be recruiting.
The ball bearing company will probably be looking for people who can work quickly and accurately with a high attention to detail. They also want people who can get on easily with other people and be able to maintain focus over long periods of time.
The garden centre would be looking for people, who can work outside in all weathers, be able to move heavy loads, have an understanding and interest in plant care and have good customer service skills.
The heating firm would be looking for people who were qualified in gas engineering and safety, can work at a fast pace, have a high attention to detail and good interpersonal skills.
Once you have made your list of qualities and skills that they might be looking for you then have to present yourself as the person who is ideal for this (in this case hypothetical) job. I suggest you put the list of required qualities on the left hand side of a sheet of paper and then put what you have to offer in relation to these qualities on the right side of the paper.
The ball bearing factory may want:- I have to offer
Quick and accurate
I have worked on a supermarket check out for the past two years and gained a reputation as a fast and efficient worker. Achieved employee of the month on two occasions.
High attention to detail
When working in the supermarket I was able to identify errors in pricing which was costing the company money. Undertook basic accounts when working in catalogue company and had a reputation for spotting errors on the computer print outs.
Get on easily with people
Worked in a day nursery and built relationships with colleagues and parents.
Maintain focus over a long periods
Used to entering data onto the computer for long periods of time when working in the catalogue company
When you do this process you will remember aspects of your previous work experience that are relevant to the employment that you might be seeking. Keep going until you have remembered everything that might be important. When you have done this you are now ready to construct a paragraph which highlights what you have to offer and why they may be interested to pick up the phone to you or send you an email.
First two paragraphs of a letter to the ball bearing company.
Dear Mr Watson
I am interested in working in manufacturing. Having researched your company I am aware that you are one of the main producers of ball bearings in the UK and was wondering if you have any vacancies, which match my skills.
I have recently worked in Aspar Supermarket where I gained a reputation for being a fast and efficient worker and managed to achieve employee of the month on two occasions. I consider that I have a high attention to detail and reported costly pricing errors a number of times. When working for Myspar catalogue company I was involved in data entry and could concentrate for long periods of time whilst still maintaining the level of attention required to do the job well. In all of my roles, including working in a day nursery I have worked closely with colleagues and see myself as a friendly and approachable person with an excellent attendance record.
Paragraph Three – What I would like to happen next
To finish your letter make a positive statement about what you would like to happen next. In the example above a typical ending might be something like this.
As a progressive and highly productive company, I hope that my experience is of interest to you and look forward to hearing from you should you have any suitable vacancies.
If you are feeling brave you can suggest that you will call them next week to check that they have received your letter and to answer any questions that they may have. This gives you the opportunity to start building a relationship with them and come across as a motivated person who can use their initiative and clearly has a particular interest in working for their company. But don’t do this unless you are prepared to make that call the following week.
To email or post?
Once you have constructed your speculative covering letter you need to decide whether to email it or post it. Although email is quick and cheap, it is also easy to delete and will not stand out from the crowd. So little mail is posted these days that a letter will stand out particularly if it is addressed to a specific and well selected person. So I would suggest that you mail your letter on really good quality paper and ensure that it is typed rather than handwritten.
Use the what are they looking for and what you have to offer process to work out what you have to offer the company you are approaching speculatively. The same process can of course be used to construct covering letters for jobs that have been advertised. In which case you should follow their instructions on whether it is emailed or sent via the post.
I hope that this article has given you some more ideas on how to present yourself positively to a potential employer and that this will lead to greater success in the job market.
Don’t forget to read my blog on ‘Creating a winning CV’ and if you want to improve your people skills which are really the basis of all success, look out for my books – the People Skills Revolution and the People Skills Revolution Handbook which are available from Amazon and the publishers Global Professional Publishing.
Please note that this article is Copyright and cannot be reproduced or transmitted in any form without prior permission