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Job Applications: Speculative Letters

speculative letter

Consider writing speculative letters as part of your job applications strategy


It may surprise you to learn that most jobs are never advertised, but if you think about it for a moment it makes sense. Advertising is expensive and the employer knows nothing about the people who reply to the advert, other than the CV that they send is. Whereas if they try to recruit by word of mouth employers will reach candidates who they either know themselves, or who has been introduced by someone they trust. Therefore, for most employers, advertising is a method of last resort.

But if most jobs are not advertised then it is well worth you writing a well crafted, speculative letter to the companies that you are targeting. Because they may well have vacancies that you just don’t know about, because you have not seen an advert.

The purpose of a speculative letter is to stimulate the recipient’s interest in you. So it needs to be well written and to sell you strongly. And it needs to be directed, not just to the right company, but to to the right person in the company.

Whom To Write To

To have the greatest impact your speculative letters need to be carefully targeted to the right person, the one who will make the decision to hire.  This might be the head of a department or a board member, depending on the size of the company. When you do your research this is one of the things you should try to find out. Don’t write speculatively to Human Resources or Personnel, unless of course you want to work in that department.

Your Letter

Your letter should be no longer than a page and a half.  Every single word is important, so take your time and make sure you get it right.

As a general rule, do not send your CV at this stage.  Your aim is to get a meeting at which they can learn more about you.  Sending the CV can lead to rejection before you have the chance to find out their real needs.

The following pointers are important in writing a good speculative letter:

1. Personalise It.

Make sure you know the name and title of the the person you are writing to . Don’t write Dear Sir/Madam.  And check your spelling- particularly of the addressee’s name- and the address before you mail a letter.  Don’t rely on the accuracy of directories or mailing lists, they are often out of date almost as soon as they are compiled.

The best way to make sure that you are using accurate information is to phone each of your target companies and ask them to confirm the details.

2. Attract the reader’s attention

A good sales letter starts by attracting the reader’s attention. We call the first statement you make a hook.  This statement is likely to be something about them, or the company. It should not be about you. You can obtain your hook from the annual report, from press reports, from looking in research material.  Or you may be able to get information on the person you are writing to which you can use for an attention grabbing introduction. Good places to look for this are on LinkedIn, Facebook and Google. Some examples of hooks, or opening statements are.

“I read with interest of ABC Company’s plan to open a new distribution facility in Woking.  Such a facility will no doubt need people with expertise in …”

“The recently announced Government strategy to increase the compliance of … will no doubt put additional pressure on your legal department.”

“I saw your profile on Linked In and realised that we have a mutual contact in…..”

Don’t start with

“I am an experienced Account Manager”

“I would be interested in working for your company”

Or anything else like that. You will simply turn them off before they read the rest of the letter.

3.  Get them interested in what you have to say

the next stage is to interest them in what you have to offer. This means putting yourself in their shoes and asking yourself what you would want to read in a letter from a candidate, if you were them. For example:

“In a recession cash flow is king and a good credit controller can make all the difference to a company’s revenues.”

“The pressures on your sales team must be even greater in the current climate and those who can keep a cool head are most likely to succeed.”

Then you need to back up these statements with evidence about yourself and your achievements. It helps if you can do so in such a way that it reads brightly and cheerfully, so that you can maintain the reader’s interest. Please make sure that you avoid anything that may be construed as a negative.

Explain your achievements and experience so that they are seen to be relevant to the organisation that you are approaching and show how your experience fits with their culture and their operation

Select from your achievements the best two or three, which most closely match your perception of the needs of the company and include them in your letter.

4. A Positive Close

Finish the letter on a positive statement, which shows you are expecting a favourable reaction.

“I would appreciate the opportunity to meet with you to discuss in more detail my background in relation to your needs”.

“I will call you in a few days to establish your level of interest in my background”.

Follow-up within three or four days of sending the letter.  If you get a positive response fix a follow up meeting.  If you are rejected thank them for the response and try to set up a network meeting.  If you cannot get a response, call to make sure the letter was received and again try for a networking meeting.


The most effective words are the ones you use normally.  Be concise so you don’t slow down the reader.  Be positive and use powerful active words. Avoid jargon, even the company’s own jargon!

Sentences should be long enough to express a complete thought.  But short sentences are easier to read and make sure you get to the point!

Shorter paragraphs also have power.  If a paragraph is too long your reader may get lost in the text.  State your main idea in the opening sentence and have one idea per paragraph, as your sentences should connect.  Make sure you keep the same verb tense.

And proofread what you have written Use a spelling checker.

Test Your Letters

First reread what you have written out loud to hear how it comes across.  You can avoid repetitions and bulky sentences this way.   If you stumble in reading it, your sentences may be too long or complicated.

Ask yourself “so what?” to every point you make.  If you cannot see a reason to be interested in your services, you need to rewrite your points so they have more impact and clearer benefits for the reader.

Next ask a third party to review to see if they get the same message as you intended.

Test your letter on a small sample.  If the response is positive then continue.  If the response is negative, then you need to revise your letter.  In any event you do not want to send out too many letters at one time as you need time to effectively follow them up and do further research.