Beat them to the punch

Try applying for that job before it has even been advertised, suggests Philip Schofield
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The Independent Online
About three-quarters of job vacancies are never advertised. Some are filled through JobCentres, employment agencies and search consultants; some newly qualified graduates continue to be recruited through university "milk round" campus visits and through careers fairs; and a few posts are filled through personal introduction and recommendation. However, a significant minority are filled through speculative applications.

In surveys, about one in six people claim to have got their present job by applying directly to their employer. Clearly, the direct approach pays dividends.

Speculative applications may be made in writing or by telephone. However, they seldom succeed if made at random. Large employers are inundated with unsolicited, and usually unsuitable, applications. Few are acknowledged and most are either filed and forgotten or tossed in the waste bin.

If a direct approach is to have any hope of success, it must be accurately targeted to meeting a precisely identified need within an organisation. It must also demonstrate convincingly how the applicant meets that need. To do this one must anticipate the employer's future recruitment needs and submit an application before the employer has had a chance to advertise or brief recruitment consultants. Fortunately this is not as hard as it looks.

As well as describing existing needs, job advertisements often provide clues to future vacancies. For example, an ad looking for someone to head a new department in a company suggests that there will be a subsequent need for subordinate staff.

The job seeker should scan recruitment advertisements as well as news items and articles in the business pages of newspapers and in relevant trade, technical and professional journals. They should look for references to the commissioning of a new factory or office, the winning of major new orders, the introduction of new technology or work systems, entry into new markets, the launch of new products and services and other events which indicate a need to recruit more staff. Unsolicited applications from people with specialist knowledge and experience in the areas in which a business is moving for the first time are likely to be warmly welcomed.

Feature articles profiling particular organisations can be a fruitful source of information. Interviewees often reveal more of their plans than they intend. If a large company is aiming to do something new, there will almost certainly be new job vacancies at some point.

Look too for news of organisations planning to relocate to a new area. Although these usually try to take all their key staff with them, they rarely succeed. Typically the enterprise will need to replace a third of its key staff. There are also likely to be various support vacancies.

Trade and professional journals often have "people on the move" columns which carry news of resignations, retirements, promotions and transfers. Most of their replacements are likely to have already been made from internal promotions. But if the post was a senior one, it is likely that there will still be a vacancy further down the ladder. News of a sudden incapacitating illness may also indicate a sudden recruitment need.

On occasion one sees news stories about a company affected by particular skill shortages. So if you have the relevant skills, a carefully crafted letter of application should be like manna from heaven for them. And if there is an industry-wide shortage of your skill, it is worth writing to a handful of the most desirable employers in that field.

Networking is another fruitful source of opportunities. Attend meetings of trade and professional bodies, as well as exhibitions relating to your field of expertise. This is not only a matter of developing useful contacts but gathering news which you may not have read or which has not been published. It is also worth being "visible" in your chosen field. Sometimes this can lead to invitations to join an organisation or a call from a "headhunter".

If you have expertise and experience in a particular field, you may persuade an organisation to create a job specifically for you. There are few firms which do not overlook some business opportunities or have some unsolved problems. If you can spot these opportunities or problems, and can persuade the management that you have the know-how to exploit the former or solve the latter, a new post may well be created for you.

For example, someone experienced in organising and running conferences might persuade a large hotel with spare capacity to create a management post to sell and administer conferences and related events. An experienced export marketing executive might persuade a manufacturer - selling only in Britain and having spare capacity - to enter overseas markets under his or her direction.

Having identified a potential vacancy, one should not waste the opportunity by submitting a standard CV to the personnel department. You need to research the company to make sure that your application is not based on false assumptions or contains errors of fact. This may involve going through trade directories, trade and technical journals and the organisation's marketing and other literature. You also need to identify the name and job title of the decision maker you should approach. Only then should you submit a CV tailored to the position which interests you, with a short covering letter briefly describing the need you have identified and showing how you satisfy that need.