The Art and Science of Speculative Job Applications


Should you apply for a job you’d really love to have when there are no openings advertised and no visible signs that the employer is hiring?


Webster’s Dictionary defines speculate as “to assume or take a risk in the hope of achieving a gain.” A speculative job application is when a job seeker applies for employment to an employer where there is no known opening for the ideal employment a job seeker desires.

The Hidden Job Market is HUGE. The hidden job market is defined as the job openings that exist which are not advertised, and thus are hidden from public view. It is estimated that the hidden job market could be at least 50% of all open positions available.



If given a choice, most hiring managers would prefer to use the following internal search methods to fill openings before advertising the job to the public:

1. The hiring manager has someone in mind, either someone already on the team who will move up, or someone on the outside they want to move in. BMG research indicates that about 12% of job openings are filled with internal candidates. Being filled by an internal candidate opens up the position from which the he or she was taken.

2. If the hiring manager cannot identify someone, the next option is to request a referral from someone inside the company whom the hiring manager trusts. If the employer has an employee referral program, all the more incentive for employees to refer qualified candidates.

3. If there are no internal referrals, hiring managers often reach outside the organization to get referrals from people they trust. For both the previous method and this one, résumés of qualified candidates may be forwarded to HR to put into the company’s Applicant Tracking System (ATS).

4. The hiring manager may then request HR conduct a stealth search for passive candidates. Job boards (such as and Career Builder), social media platforms (such as LinkedIn), and even an employer’s own ATS database permit a search of résumés and social media profiles by keyword to see if there is a near-perfect fit.

Because the hidden job market is so large, speculative job applications are considered to be a job search best practice, especially for someone who is not driven by a pressing need to find a job or change jobs.


Speculative Job Applications. Most employers’ websites offer the ability for candidates to post résumés when there are no openings specified, which is a perfect opportunity for a speculative job application. Most speculative applications are poorly done so they never result in a call for an interview. Remember that HR is literally bombarded with thousands of job applications in a week, so a speculative job application may not produce a single result. That said, here are the best practices to improve your chances if submitting an application for one:

1. Thoroughly research the employer so that you can identify the top three skills this employer needs from its employees, and the top three problems it is facing in the area in which you’d like to work.

2. Identify the target positions at the employer for which you are qualified. Search the employer’s prior job postings and job descriptions for these positions to identify the skills, keywords, and essential duties of the position. You may also want to look at similar closed postings at other employers.

3. Develop specific examples how, in past positions or roles, you have demonstrated expertise in the skill areas. What specific measurable results can you cite?

4. Create your application/résumé with the above three steps in mind, tailoring your it as if you were posting for an opening in the target position.

5. Use your cover letter or email to:

a. Address the speculative application or résumé to three specific individuals: the hiring manager, department head, and HR manager.

b. Cite an internal referral or two in the company, and make sure you inform your referral(s) of your speculative application, so they are prepared to speak favorably of you if asked by the hiring manager, department head, or HR manager.


Bottom Line. If you want to work for an employer that doesn’t have an opening advertised for a position for which you’d be the perfect candidate, consider applying with a speculative job application.

For 3,000 more current and emerging job search and career launch best practices, check out my newest book, Get a Better Job Faster™. It is now available for download on in two editions, one for college students and recent grads, and one for experienced professionals and skilled workers. It’s one investment in your job search that can deliver a 10,000% return on your investment!

I help job seekers, higher ed, and employment services connect people to better jobs faster. My company’s acclaimed career development tools help people navigate the ever-changing landscape of conducting a successful job search. I also work with some of the world’s top employers by helping them get the most out of their talented people. My company’s extensive leadership development course catalog provides effective skills-building for everyone in the organization, from the new / developing leader to the seasoned C-level executive. My company’s coaching programs produce significant results in compressed periods of time. To find out more, please visit us at, email us at, or call us at 215-942-0982.


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