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Networking and speculative applications

What is networking?

It's not only WHAT you know, but WHO you know that counts!

Networking is all about building mutually beneficial relationships and talking to people with a view to discussing topics that are of joint interest.

Every time you make a new contact you are effectively tapping into a new circle of people, so you can gradually build up a list of contacts who can help you.

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Why do it?
  • Approximately 70% of jobs are never advertised publicly as employers fill positions internally instead or in response to direct approaches from job seekers. Cold approaches, where you don’t know the employer, can work but are exponentially more effective if you can harness your network and drop a name or two!
  • Draw a mind map – where do you come into contact with people? Make a list, reach out to them, and tap into their networks too.


What can you get from networking?
  • Work experience – politely ask for a chance to gain work experience in that job, company or sector. You’ll be amazed how willing people are to help, they’ve all been in your situation before.
  • Knowledge about a type of job, company or industry - ask those you know to give you the low down on this, they’ll be more honest than websites.
  • A mentor – can help with looking for work (checking out internal jobs boards for you, advising on your CV, providing further connections and recommending recruitment agencies).
  • Inside knowledge – on company culture, recent company news, and even the person interviewing you.

How to do it

Different types of networking require different approaches
  • Networking events: Ask yourself ‘who do I want to meet and why'? Practise your 30 second commercial, who you are, what you are looking for and how you can help that person/organisation.
  • First impressions count: Eye contact, a firm handshake and a smile will get you a very long way. Jot down their contact details. Always remember to offer something in return such as an article you’ve been reading or some social media advice for example. Even if the person you meet cannot help you it is quite likely that they will know someone who can. Always follow up with an email saying how nice it was to meet that person, reiterate your need and offer something in return.
  • Networking via phone or email: Contact those in your network with a letter, email or phone call, stating the connection you have and why you are writing. Click here to see in detail how to write a speculative email.
  • LinkedIn and other online means: Make a professional profile, this is not Facebook! Connect with alumni, and other work-based contacts, you can ask for support in your endeavours. Ask the PDC to help you with your profile.


Create a contact list of people that you meet, with a few notes about what they do and any other helpful information you have picked up about them. You can use Microsoft Outlook to manage this task by producing contact business cards.

Speculative applications

Are you looking for jobs, work experience, placements or internships? Try the speculative, or direct, approach. Contacting companies directly and enquiring about opportunities to shadow, meet for coffee, gain work experience or insight into a company or sector. It really works. You demonstrate initiative, tap into the hidden market, and it puts you in control.  

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Why it’s vital
  • Approximately 70% of vacancies are never formally advertised. Everyone else is tackling the 30% that are, so avoid the crush, and the competition.
  • It impresses employers. It's essential in very competitive sectors such as media, advertising and environmental work.
  • Only a small percentage of graduates work for traditional graduate recruiters. The speculative approach allows you to access many other vacancies in small to medium companies, that might not be able to afford expensive recruitment programmes.
  • Reaching your career goal may take several steps (including voluntary work, unpaid work experience or a lower level job to gain relevant experience).
How to do it
  • Be clear about the purpose of your approach - is it to land work experience, a job, a chance to pick someone’s brains about a sector? Sometimes it can be better to seek a quick 20 minute meeting where you buy coffee and build the relationship from there rather than ask outright for a job!
  • Tap into your network and LinkedIn to locate the right people to contact, or a name to drop when approaching a company. Starting a letter 'Person X suggested I drop you line' is one of the best ways in. 
  • Think about where you would like to do this. For teaching work experience, for example, start with your old schools, or local school, and work outwards contacting all the head teachers in easy commutable distance.
  • Be specific about the type of organisation – are you interested in engineering or media jobs, for example? That’s a big pool. Narrow it down, perhaps start with companies you admire, companies that are local to you, companies named best to work for.
  • Create target lists. Look at the top 100 best firms in a sector for example, but don’t start with the number one firm in that sector as everyone does this, start from the middle or bottom and work upwards. 
  • Find the correct contacts for recruitment; a blue-chip company may have a recruitment team that you need to go through whereas with a small and medium-sized employer (SME) it might be straight to the directors.
  • Have your CV ready and, ideally, checked by a Careers Consultant
Enquiries by letter and CV or email
Enquiries by telephone
  • Find out who deals with recruitment and ask to speak to them.
  • State the nature of your enquiry clearly. Are you asking about any current post they may have coming up which may suit you? Are you asking if it would be possible to work shadow an employee of the firm? Are you asking if you could gain some (maybe unpaid) work experience with the firm?
  • Think about what you want to say in advance and be clear and direct.
  • Be prepared to talk about yourself and to sell what you have to offer.
  • Sound positive, enthusiastic and polite. Offer evidence and examples from your CV.
Enquiries in person with a CV
  • Direct 'cold calling' - going on foot from one workplace to another, asking about employment. It requires a great deal of persistence, resilience and self-confidence in the face of potential rejection. However, using this method, you are more likely to succeed in getting jobs within the retail sector and in sales orientated environments where it is part of the job to be able to sell and persuade.
  • If the person you need to speak to is not available, make an appointment.
  • If this is not possible, ask for their name and whether to phone, write or email.
  • You may find Informational Interviewing useful for tips - this is obtaining information about an occupation or industry by talking to relevant employees.
Find out more
  • Our website contains information on specific industries
  • Look at Prospects, TARGETjobs, Guardian UK 300, and Times Top 100 Graduate Employers or pick up the directories from the Professional Development Centre reception
  • Use Brunel Library market research databases, e.g. Passport, Business Source Premier, Nexis Company Dossier, that contain company profiles
  • Kompass provides financial and product information for companies
  • Small and medium size employers (SMEs) are offering more jobs. They are less likely to advertise and more likely to take up speculative applications. Try www.yell.com or Thomson Local directories. PDC staff can also give you some leads in this often-neglected area 
  • Talk to family and friends. Lots of job opportunities come to light this way
  • PDC can help you make approaches to employers by offering advice on approach techniques and strategies