The unsolicited application is the modern day equivalent of a saga: a collection of myths about great journeys, where it sometimes becomes hard to distinguish where reality stops and fiction begins. It may not involve getting past a fire-spitting dragon that is standing between you and your goal (even though in some cases that might be a preferable option), but it definitely involves one thing: a win over something (mostly your own insecurity) in order to get what you want.
Everyone has heard and read those great stories of guys who created a website, a movie or an innovative product and got called up by the CEO of a multinational company who would then offer them a job. What are the odds of that happening to you? A rough estimation would be “1 to don’t hold your breath”. But if you are looking for new career opportunities and can’t seem to find the right one in the listed job advertisements, a different approach to the job hunt may be in order. And there are some things that you can do to improve your chances with an unsolicited application.
Where an unsolicited application makes sense
A commonly quoted figure in human resources is that 70% to 80% of available jobs never make it to the job advertisement sections. At the same time, most applicants stick to the listed jobs. The result is that the majority of job-seekers applies to the minority of available positions. Therefore, the unsolicited approach may allow you to swoop in before the masses and to impress an employer before anyone else can.
However, that does not mean that an unsolicited application is always a great idea. As a rule of thumb, one can say that the bigger the company the more difficult it is to get your unsolicited application into the hands of the right people. Large corporations usually do their recruitment by the book – after all, they have elaborate employer branding strategies designed to deliver talented applicants to them constantly. So they can take their pick out of their vast employee databases and your five cents worth may not make that much of a difference in their talent pool.
You might be more successful with small- and mid-sized companies that often don’t have the HR capacity to sift through the applications coming in when they post a job opening through regular channels. Your unsolicited approach may actually save them time and money. Furthermore, in smaller companies there are fewer people standing in between you and the manager you actually need to talk to.
The three most important things: Research, research, and research
Imagine you were to go to a city where you don’t speak the language and they had no street signs, no maps, and no info points. In short: a traveler’s worst nightmare, and – brace yourself – the nightmare doesn’t even have Wi-Fi. What would you do? You would do as much research as you could beforehand, store up information that you can refer to, and once you get there, you’d walk around a lot to get a feel for the place. Right?
An unsolicited job-hunt in a certain field or a certain industry is not that different. When you are applying for an advertised position, the posting itself provides you with many hints on how to tailor your CV and your cover letter in a way that fits with the company’s expectations: they tell you about the company background, the required skills for the job and the tasks for the position. The style of the job ad may even tell you a little bit about the company culture. All of this is vital information that you have to obtain by yourself when you apply unsolicited.
While it is always good to scan employer profiles where they are available on the web and on social networks, trade publications that are specialized in one industry may hold more detailed information. Also, reading industry news or following important awards in an industry may point you towards companies that weren’t even on your radar.
Also, use your network to get insights: Maybe you already know someone who works in an interesting position or company and can shed some light on what it takes to get a job there.
Once you have figured out which company or industry you want to work in, you need to become a bit of a detective: You need to figure out how to get in touch with those people who can actually make the decision to hire you. Preferably, you want to do that without coming off as rude, creepy or obnoxious.
This is the point where many people shy away from an unsolicited application because you cannot hide behind an e-mail that has a CV and cover letter attached. While most HR departments have e-mail addresses where you can send your CV unsolicited, you probably have to take things one step further if you want to make sure someone actually looks at it.
Networking events at universities are usually a good starting point to meet the right people. So are conferences or seminars on industry-specific topics. When going to these events, it often pays to be there early before the official introductions and seminars begin because this is where important people are often at their most approachable and are not yet in corporate mode. The same usually goes for staying late after those events.
A risky but sometimes effective move is calling the office of a target connection after regular working hours. Then your desired contact is more likely to pick up the phone himself rather than being guarded by a secretary or an assistant.
An important potential wildcard in the whole game of unsolicited applications is office politics that may appear rather opaque to a company outsider. You have to keep in mind that, if you are after a certain position in a specific company, the person who is currently holding the position might perceive you as a danger to their own career. In case you manage to make a connection to someone inside the company, it could then be advisable to meet them outside the company venue for a coffee or lunch. This raises fewer questions than just showing up at the office.
When you meet or call up that one manager who you believe can decide your fate, you need to have your elevator pitch prepared – who you are, what you are good at and how the company can benefit from your skills. This is not that much different from the “Tell us about yourself”-question in a regular job interview, but once again you are lacking the job description as a cheat sheet to prepare your answer.
So, in preparation for that pitch, you basically have to pick a job and bring forward arguments why you are the person to do it. Do not only outline your skills but also highlight how you would put them to use for the company in question. It is also important to realize that in almost any country a presentation of yourself will be most convincing and effective when you can do it the local language.
Finally, you have to be clear about what the goal of that pitch is. No one is going to hire you off a one minute pitch, but it is your chance to leave an impression that will open the door to the recruitment process. The goal is to get someone so interested in your CV that they will actually request it and, hopefully, bring you in for a longer job interview.
In short, an unsolicited approach to the job hunt takes an extra amount of courage and self-confidence because there is a very real risk of being rejected after having put yourself out there. Basically, it is like approaching someone in a bar and asking for their phone number, only worse, because you have to do it sober and in broad daylight. One should also keep in mind that there may be cultural differences between companies and countries as to how well they regard unsolicited applications. However, with the right amount of research and preparation an unsolicited application may be just the edge that you have over the applicants who are only waiting for the right job advertisement to be posted.