Not all vacancies are advertised, and it's surprising how often graduates find 'hidden' jobs through more creative techniques such as networking and speculative applications.

For some employers, speculative applications are their principal method of recruitment.

Speculative applications

How to explore the 'hidden' job market

  1. Select the occupation(s) or sectors you are interested in.
  2. Identify potential employers you would like to target.
  3. Draft a CV to use when contacting prospective employers.
  4. Prepare an individual cover letter for each employer

Identifying potential employers

Identify one or two sectors that you would like to work in and research them. Look beyond the big names to their suppliers, distributors, customers and competitors. In particular, look at the small and medium businesses growing within these sectors – they may have the need for new staff but not the resources to engage recruitment agencies like their larger competitors.

Scan your local paper for signs of growth, eg companies that are expanding, have planned new developments or received government awards. Make contact before new jobs are advertised.

Keep in touch with changes in your chosen field by keeping up with professional and trade journals, newsletters, electronic media databases and news websites.

Find out if companies have open days. Use careers presentations, employment fairs and conferences to find out what the job involves to refine your approach.

Get on the inside track by keeping in touch with people in your chosen field. Tap into their information networks, eg subscribe to newsletters, press announcements or Twitter accounts.

Get yourself out and about – walk or drive round your local business park, office complex or local environment. Check all the business opportunities on your doorstep. Use them to make speculative contacts.

Making speculative applications

When you have identified potential employers, you can start sending off speculative applications.

Find out the name of the appropriate person in the business function or Human Resources (HR) Department before making contact. Never send a general letter, because you have no way of following up and developing the contact. Use the company website or LinkedIn, or call the HR team to source names.

Prepare a general CV and covering letter geared towards a particular role and industry sector, and then adapt it to target the specific employer and role. Targeting your CV shows effort and will help you to demonstrate what you have to offer for that particular organisation.

Ensure your covering letter states clearly what you are looking for – type of work, dates available and whether you require payment or are looking primarily to gain relevant experience. Volunteering to work unpaid or on a trial basis may be especially useful in small businesses which see recruiting new staff as risky.

Follow up the letter with a telephone call to show your genuine interest. See if you can arrange a meeting to discuss job possibilities, review your application or gain further contacts.


Networking, in this context, is using all your contacts to gather information about a chosen career path and available job opportunities. Consider contacts from all sources in your personal network that may have information on your chosen career path, including:

Even if these people can't help, they may be able to put you in contact with someone who can.

Your networking research could produce any of the following:

  • contacts that lead to an informational interview
  • contacts that lead to work-shadowing, temporary or permanent employment
  • the realisation that an associated career is more appropriate for you
  • the realisation that you may be more likely to earn a living by working freelance or being self-employed
  • information that can then be used to make more targeted speculative applications

Informational interviews

Informational interviews are an opportunity to learn – at this stage you are seeking advice and information, not a job.

When arranging the meeting with a networking contact, explain that your aim is to gather information and advice about all aspects of a particular career. Mention the name of your mutual contact and enclose your CV.

When you meet, ask about the interviewer's background and training, the work they do, their workplace, their role, and what advice they would pass on. If you are interested in the company, try to find out if there are any work shadowing or work experience opportunities. Even if this is unpaid, you can add this experience to your CV.

Ask if they have names of colleagues in other organisations who could also provide advice about a particular career or role.

Write a letter thanking your newly acquired contact for their time and trouble in seeing you. If it seems appropriate, keep them informed about your progress and plans.

Keep a log of your contacts, with brief details of the meetings and any follow-up actions.