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Understanding your sector
Understanding your sector

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4 Are all jobs advertised?

Described image
Figure 4

Think about all the jobs that are advertised every day of the week in different ways in the UK. What proportion of all job vacancies does this represent – 90 per cent, perhaps, or maybe 80 per cent?

Many job vacancies are never advertised. This is often called the ‘hidden job market’, and means that the job advertisements that you see in the newspapers or Jobcentre are merely the tip of the iceberg.

There are various reasons why this is the case, but perhaps the most common, as you discovered earlier, is that the UK employment market is dominated by SMEs. Many of these companies would not be able to afford to commission agencies for expensive advertising campaigns, nor will they have dedicated HR departments tasked with staff recruitment. Instead, they will use word of mouth to publicise the fact that they are looking for employees, or rely on interested applicants contacting them directly. This method, while having some disadvantages, also keeps the number of applications manageable and thus reduces administration. In times of recession or economic difficulty, arguments in favour of this approach are persuasive.

In these circumstances, what is the most sensible way to find out about and apply for job vacancies? If you apply only for those vacancies that you see advertised, you are probably already fishing in a crowded pool with lots of competition. The answer is to think about the potential benefits of making speculative applications, i.e. not waiting to see a vacancy advertised by a specific employer but contacting them to market yourself. The intended outcome is that they will be impressed enough by your motivation to consider you for a vacancy that might come up in the future, or even that they will create a vacancy for you. The following case study illustrates what could follow from a speculative job enquiry.

Case study: Ruth

Ruth is a project manager who has worked for a financial services organisation for seven years and feels she needs a change. She has been applying for advertised jobs without success for about six months.

Last week Ruth spotted an article in the local newspaper about new businesses coming to a local business park. These included an insurance company, so she looked up their website and found out about them and how they operated. She sent them an email introducing herself, outlining her experience and enquiring about opportunities.

Impressed by Ruth’s initiative in contacting them, the insurance company invited her to their head office for an informal discussion, and subsequently offered her a formal interview for a project manager post at their new premises.

Activity 6 Job advertisements vs speculative applications

Timing: Allow about 10 minutes

Part 1

Think about the two scenarios that have been outlined:

  • replying to an advertised vacancy (on the internet, for example, or through an agency)
  • making a speculative application to a company.

For the latter, think also about the example featuring Ruth, and the way in which she proactively made contact with the company moving into her local area.

Use Table 8 to organise your thoughts on what you see as the pros and cons of these two approaches to applying for a job.

Table 8 Identifying pros and cons of different application methods
Responding to a job advertisement Speculative application
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You may have identified some of the pros and cons listed in Table 9. You can see from this example that there are advantages and disadvantages to each approach, but remember that you don’t have to choose between them; you can use both in different circumstances.

Table 9 Suggested pros and cons of different application methods
Responding to a job advertisement Speculative application
  • You know the vacancy exists.
  • The job details are clear from the advert and the job description.
  • The whole recruitment process is clear, so you know what to expect.
  • The employer has to comply with recruitment legislation.
  • There is less competition if you are lucky and a vacancy is about to become available.
  • The employer could be a useful contact, for information perhaps, even if there is no vacancy.
  • You can tell the employer exactly what you want about yourself rather than having to complete an application form.
  • Even if there is no vacancy, the employer might refer you to another or keep your details on their files.
  • You feel more in control of the process, which is good for your confidence.
  • Competition could be high.
  • If the employer gets lots of applicants, they might take shortcuts to reduce the number.
  • If you get a few rejections, this may be bad for your confidence.
  • You don’t know that a vacancy exists so it could be a waste of your time.
  • The employer has no obligation to respond to you, which might affect your confidence.

Part 2

Reflect on how you have applied for jobs in the past – what has been successful? Have you tried a speculative approach – if so, what happened?

Record in your notebook or the Toolkit [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]   whether or not you feel that making speculative applications would be appropriate for you and the area in which you are seeking work.

As you have discovered, the job market can vary between sectors and even employers, and it is not always the case that a particular job vacancy will be advertised. Making a speculative application can, therefore, be a very powerful method of presenting yourself to an employer and convincing them that you are a credible candidate.

You need to go about this in the right way, however, and be clear about what you are trying to achieve. You will need to do your homework first so that you know something about the employer. You need to be able to demonstrate that you have the skills and experience they might need and that you have thought about how you might fit into their organisation. This is usually more challenging than responding to an advertised vacancy.

This article from the OU Careers and Employability website provides is a helpful introduction to making speculative applications.