Not all internship and graduate roles are advertised and the 'hidden job market'  describes vacancies that employers do not advertise yet still want to fill. A speculative application is an application made to an employer where a job or internship is not publically advertised but you want to enquire if there is a potential job or internship available. 

Speculative approaches can also be made as part of the networking process. You can find out more about this process, through which you can develop personal contacts and enhance your knowledge of career opportunities, by reading our networking webpage. 

Four key steps to speculative applications

Spec Apps Accordion Widget

Step one: define your interests

 Before making any applications, you need to define your interests and be clear about what you are looking for.

  • Where am I in my career journey, and what do I want to gain?
  • Why do I want to do an internship?
  • Do I want to learn more about an industry or explore a new sector?
  • Does my internship or graduate job need to be in a specific geographical location?

Use resources such as Prospects to explore different job profiles or sectors to help direct your speculative applications to what interests you.

Step two: find the company

Now that you have a better understanding of what you want to do, create a shortlist of companies that match your interests. Use resources such as:

  • JobsLive – browse the JobsLive online employer directory (currently with over 5500 registered employers).
  • LinkedIn – visit the Imperial College London page and utilise the Alumni Tool to search through thousands of profiles and identify new companies. You can select parameters based on industry, geography and even degree disciplines.
  • Professional Bodies and Associations – identify if your sector of interest has affiliated professional bodies or associations, as these often have information or links to employers in their sector via membership lists. For example, ACE for the consulting sector.
  • Google Maps – a search in google maps for your job profile or sector of interest can generate a fantastic list of companies, in your preferred geographical location, matching those key words or tags.  
  • Graduate Outcomes – discover where previous Imperial graduates from your degree have gone on to via our website, to add more company names to your shortlist.

For more suggestions on how to find companies please read the information on researching a career

Step three: tailor your application

Once you have identified the companies you would like to contact, you should try to identify a named person in each company you are interested in, to address your email application to them. Search for this on their LinkedIn company page, their company website or call the company directly and ask who you can address your application to. The more personalised approach can indicate that you have taken the time to do your research and are therefore motivated. 

Just like an application to an advertised position, you should include a CV and Cover Letter tailored to the kind of role you are seeking within that company when making a speculative application. You could consider using job descriptions for similar positions in the industry to gain an insight into what you should be highlighting. Use our online resources for guidance on CVs and Cover Letters. Below are some of our top tips for writing speculative cover letters and CVs.

Cover Letter

You have two options when it comes to how you use a cover letter in a speculative application:

  • Write a standard cover letter, focusing on the role you would like in the company, and attach it as a PDF to a very short introductory email. Your email should be short (150-200 words) and concise.
  • Alternatively you can use a condensed version of your cover letter to form the basis of your email. Your email should still be short (300 words maximum) and concise. You should make sure to include:
    • Who you are and what kind of experience you’re interested in gaining?
    • Why have you contacted that organisation? Detail in two or three lines maximum your motivation and interest for that company.
    • What is your availability?


  • Ensure that you target the content of your CV to the type of work to which you are applying. What information about your skills, knowledge and experience will be of most relevance?
  • You might wish to write a more concise one page CV so an employer can see at a glance what you have to offer.
  • Attach your CV as a PDF and save it with your full name as the file title e.g. Jennifer Humphreys CV, so they can find it more readily. 

Step four: keep track and follow up

Be sure to keep track of all the speculative applications you are making, as you are unlikely to receive an automated recognition. To improve your chances of success, follow up on any unanswered speculative emails a few weeks after sending them to keep in professional and polite contact with that company.

For further guidance on your speculative applications, please book an Internship or Career Discussion via JobsLive