Everyone has heard those stories about the plucky job-seekers who created an eye-catching website, movie, or innovative product, then got called up by the CEO of a multinational company and offered a job.

What are the odds of that happening to you? A rough estimation might be “1 to don’t hold your breath”.

In fact, unsolicited applications are hugely underrated, and often very successful. More jobs than you think get filled as a result of speculative applications.

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 is in order.

And even if you are finding opportunities listed in job adverts, an unsolicited application might just see you land that dream opportunity.

Unsolicited applications make a lot of sense

Success is more likely than you think

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 apply to the minority of available positions.

The unsolicited approach may allow you to swoop in before the masses and to impress an employer before anyone else can.

Aim small- to medium-sized

As a rule of thumb, the bigger the company the more difficult it is to get your unsolicited application through. Large corporations often do their recruitment by the book.

Plus, 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 medium-sized companies (SMBs) that often don’t have the HR capacity to sift through tons of incoming applications.

Your unsolicited approach can actually save them time and money. At smaller companies, there are fewer people standing between you and the manager who might wish to hire you.

Before you apply: research, research, research

It’s up to you to make your case

With an advertised position, the posting itself provides you with many hints on how to tailor your CV and write your cover letter in a way that matches the company’s expectations.

They’ll tell you about the company culture and background, the required skills and experience for the job in question, and what tasks you’ll be expected to undertake in the role. The style of the job advert may even tell you a little bit about the company culture.

When making an unsolicited application, you’ll have to do the research yourself.

Work smart and be resourceful

Educate yourself about the company by reading its website and checking out its social channels. Check for press coverage and, if possible, find out how the outside world perceives the company. If you are new to the industry, educated yourself using trade magazines or dedicated sector websites, blogs or forums.

Just because you’re applying speculatively doesn’t mean the employer will expect less of you. You might have to do more to demonstrate you are worth hiring.

You can also use your network to get insights and find out about staff shortages. 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.

Reach out the right way

Talk to the right person

Whether you’re planning to apply to a single company, or work your way through a list of potential employers you’ve identified, in each case you need to find out where to send your application.

Many companies nowadays invite unsolicited applications on their websites. (Usually in the same place where current vacancies are listed).

Those that don’t invite speculative approaches might only offer a generic ‘info’ or ‘help’ email address. These addresses might not be monitored by the right person, so you could risk your application going unseen or ignored.

Get networking

If you’re worried your application won’t be received properly, there are a few other ways you can grab a company’s attention. (Don’t be shy, people are likely to be flattered that you want to work with them.)

Don’t be afraid to call the company directly. It’s best to speak to someone in HR who takes the lead on recruiting, but in some cases, your prospective line manager or department head might also work. Simply explain what you do and ask if they are looking for new recruits.

Networking events at universities are usually a good starting point to meet companies actively looking for talent. So are conferences or seminars on industry-specific topics. It often pays to be there early and/or to hang around after the scheduled events. Especially if you have a particular person or company in mind to approach.

Making your pitch: The  job application email

How to write an unsolicited application letter

Whether it be at a networking event, over the phone, or simply via an email, your pitch to a potential employer should sum up who you are, what you do, and what motivates you. Check out our advice on preparing your personal introduction – or “elevator pitch”.

Your elevator pitch should be the basis for any unsolicited application letter. If you choose to apply via email, just send across your CV with a supporting cover letter outlining why they should hire you.

The only difference between this and a normal cover letter is that you don’t have a list of requirements and expectations to work from. Focus on what you have to offer, anticipating the skills, experience, and qualities the company is looking for (your research will help here – see the second section of this guide.)

How to make first impressions count

If you are enquiring in person or over the phone then your pitch becomes the first part of your application. Based on the strength of your personal introduction, they will consider asking you to send over more information.

Unsolicited applications may take an extra amount of courage and self-confidence, but that’s exactly the key to their success. By proactively seeking opportunities you are demonstrating positive traits already, and showing enthusiasm in the company for who they are.

If you’re serious about finding a job that’s right for you, speculative applications might be just the thing. It’s always worth a shot.