UK: APPLICATION PAYS OFF. - Do your homework before writing to a company on spec.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Do your homework before writing to a company on spec.

What's the best way of finding a job? Somebody probably gets appointed to fill each of those executive vacancies advertised in the press, but with job ads frequently attracting 100 or more applicants, the odds are stacked high against any one individual. Lodging your curriculum vitae with an agency often produces frustratingly few responses. So what about the direct approach, writing or telephoning 'on spec'? Or is this just another route to disappointment.

Thee are no statistics showing the proportion of jobs that go to people who use unconventional approaches but Cranfield School of Management's survey of recent MBAs offers a few hints. Nearly 19% of 1994 graduates found their jobs through advertisements, almost 18% by networking and 9.5% by cold calling.

Few speculative job applications go straight into the bin. They are usually held by the personnel department for several months and may be circulated to line managers. But David Spencer, director of human resources at Smiths Industries, warns that anyone taking the unsolicited approach must be very focused and have done the research. "I get so many applications that are just addressed Dear Sir to The Personnel Director. That really puts me off straight away, because they haven't done any research." If they're high calibre, they will have found out not just about the HR director but also which of the other functional directors they might be approaching.

Geoff Rogers, regional head of human resources for the UK and Europe at Standard Chartered Bank suggests that it might be better to make a direct approach to a line manager rather than to the personnel department. "The role of HR is to provide the system and best practice for selection, but it's the line manager's role to actually make the selection decisions."

Such is the demand for specialised skills in organisations which are undergoing radical change (like banks) that they might even create a job for a speculative candidate with a particularly outstanding cv. Or at least they would bring forward one which was already being planned. "Often jobs are in the minds of senior line managers, thinking about their forward business plans," Rogers points out. "They may have had a discussion with HR at generic level but will take an earlier punt if they can see an opportunity."

Networking needs the same standard of preparation and presentation. "When you telephone a contact and say "I've lost my job, may I come and talk to you",' says Chris Whittard of outplacement firm Coutts Career Consultants, 'there is going to be a certain amount of discomfort unless it's made clear that the guy isn't expecting the person he's talking to to have a job to offer.' But he may have contacts who have openings.

In the end, much depends on luck. Andrew Dawson, who works in the HR department at Westland Engineering, found his job through, ironically, a speculative letter. He never adopted a hard sell approach, just asked for 'a cup of coffee and a natter' and softly pushed his wares - he is a specialist in self-manager learning. His advice to others is to try a range of techniques. 'Keep a balanced approach. Register with agencies, reply to job adverts in the paper and do some speculative work. Keep it interesting for yourself.'

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