Try the third way to find that perfect job

A standard letter and CV will not necessarily lead to employment. Philip Schofield on the alternatives
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The Independent Online
MOST JOB vacancies are not advertised. Instead, they are filled through Jobcentres, employment agencies, search consultants, university milkrounds, careers fairs, personal introductions or recommendations. In addition, a significant number are filled by people making a speculative approach to their employer. Indeed, official surveys have found that one in six people got their present job this way.

Speculative applications seldom succeed if made randomly, however. Firing off a standard letter with a general CV is almost always a waste of time. Few are acknowledged and most are either filed and forgotten or thrown away.

There are two steps to making a successful speculative application. Identify, precisely, a specific unmet need within an organisation. Then show how your unique combination of knowledge, skills and experience exactly meets that need.

There are four types of unmet need: first, specific vacancies which employers have already identified, but for which they have not yet started recruiting. Second, vacancies where the employer has so far failed to find suitable candidates. Third, vacancies that have been recognised in a general sense, but which have yet to be defined in specific terms. And finally, jobs that employers do not know they need an employee for.

Your main source of information will be recruitment advertisements, news items and articles in the business pages, and relevant professional and trade journals. Networking is also a fruitful source of intelligence. Visit exhibitions which relate to your field of expertise and talk to people. You will not only make useful contacts but also hear news which you might have missed or which has not been published. Moreover, as your "visibility" in your chosen field increases, so does the chances of your coming to the attention of a search consultant or a prospective employer.

A job advertisement which seeks someone to head a new function or team implies that there will soon be a need for subordinate staff. Likewise, a news item - perhaps in the "people on the move" section of a journal - suggests that someone is shortly to join an organisation to develop a new function.

"People on the move" columns are a particularly useful source of information as they carry news of senior retirements, resignations, promotions and transfers. Although most of their replacements are likely to have been made through internal promotion, there will probably be vacancies further down the ladder that have yet to be filled.

Other types of news items that provide clues to new vacancies include stories about firms that have won new orders or contracts, those about to open new offices or factories, those entering new markets, those introducing new technologies or work systems, and those launching new products or services.

Look especially for news of employers who plan to relocate their activities from one site to another. Most people, especially those with a working partner and/or children, are unwilling to move home. Although most employers on the move offer generous incentives to retain their key staff, typically one in three employees will leave even if the move is as little as 12 miles.

Most organisations miss some profitable business opportunities or have unsolved problems. If you have the expertise and experience to identify these opportunities or problems, and if you can persuade the management that you have the know-how to exploit one or solve the other, a post may be created specifically for you. Thus if you have marketing and appropriate IT experience, you might offer to set up a company's e-commerce service. Alternatively, as an experienced export marketing executive, you might persuade a non-exporter to let you help them enter overseas markets. A local authority with premises that are not used full-time, such as schools, might welcome someone to organise and run conferences, exhibitions, training courses and other events.

Having identified an opportunity, do not waste it by sending a formulaic letter and CV to the personnel department. Research the organisation again to ensure that you have your facts right and that your assumptions are sound. Check the organisation's marketing literature and annual report if it has one. Check the latest trade directories and trade and technical journals. Find out the name of the decision maker so that you can approach this individual directly. Then carefully craft a CV tailored to the post that interests you, together with a letter succinctly setting out the need you have identified and your qualifications for meeting that need.