We spoke to Dominic Sutherland, the managing director of NextShoot, a corporate video production company in London. In the third installment of this series, Dominic Sutherland talks about speculative job applications.
What is a speculative job application?
While some media jobs are advertised, a large number of jobs in the Creative Industries are awarded to those who make speculative applications. A speculative application means that you have to get in touch with a company to check whether they have a job for you, even though they have not advertised a vacancy.
To make a speculative application you will need to have a Covering Letter and a CV completed. Tailoring the CV and Covering letter to the company you are applying will increase your chances of a reply. With your Covering Letter and your email you should aim to include a relevant name.
How do you find the details of the right person to contact?
You may find the name of the person who fields work applications online, and perhaps their email address, but typically you will get this information by calling up the company in question. This is cold-calling. Cold-calling has bad connotations, but it’s a perfectly legitimate way to gather the information you need to apply for work. The challenge you will face is getting over your own discomfort in ringing up out of the blue and being persuasive enough to get the information you want.
When you call you can talk to the receptionist who deals with new positions. In a small to medium-sized Factual TV production company, for example, there probably isn’t an HR department, but there will be a Head of Production who passes CVs to Series Producers and Producer/Directors.
The first time you call the reception they will probably give you that person’s name and their email, but you may want to call back a few days later and ask to speak to them directly. You may or may not get through to them. If you do get to speak with them directly, you have a chance to represent yourself in a positive way. You are then no longer anonymous to them and have a higher chance of them paying attention to your application.
You might push your luck and ask them what is going into production and who is producing it. You can then target that person directly. Having a name to address and a referral to that person helps your cause enormously.
Do speculative applications work in your experience?
Absolutely they do. All of the under-graduates and recent graduates that have joined our own work experience programme have applied in this way. The main issue is that NextShoot, like other production companies, receives a high volume of applications so to succeed a candidate needs to stand out.
So what happens with a speculative Letter and CV that gets sent in for work experience?
I’ll speak for NextShoot. We now have a formal procedure that involves a specific task but before this, I would look at an application and make a quick judgment as to whether that person felt like a good fit for us based on a number of factors such as their sense of passion, presentation, communication skills, degree, experience and work examples. If they felt like a strong candidate I would file the application in an email folder under work experience, flagging the ones I particularly liked. When we were looking to fill a work experience placement or needed some help on a particular project I would then look at the flagged emails near the top of the folder and get in touch.
It is worth noting that it pays to get in touch more than once, especially if you can give the impression that you’re writing to update them with something new - a new CV, a project you worked on - so you stay near the top of the folder.
What about speculative applications via LinkedIn and Social Media?
In short, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain by making speculative applications on LinkedIn. As with any communication, you need to identify the right person to contact, which might involve making a call to the company. The responses you get will vary. Some people use LinkedIn messaging like email, others pay little attention to it. On most social platforms you will likely get a standard response directing you to email a generic address, in which case I would suggest you explore finding a name to contact.
Do you have advice for students who have never applied speculatively?
My advice to anyone who is looking for work, especially at the start of their career, is to be proactive in your approach. You will benefit from this professionally and psychologically. If you are to become a freelancer, putting yourself forward to new potential clients will be key to your success, so this is a skill worth practicing now.
There is a great deal of chance in finding a job and so it pays off to approach speculative applications on all fronts. It’s never obvious how your request will land at the right person at the right time, so keep them coming and a break will eventually open up for you.
NextShoot is a small video agency, but we do offer year-round work placements to undergraduates. For details on this please visit the NextShoot work experience page.