Saturday, 25 May 2013

Making speculative approaches

Dr Steve Joy

I've had some requests for guidance on how to approach an individual or organisation on a speculative basis, particularly when looking to get some non-academic work experience. Below are some pointers - your starter for ten, if you will - but remember that you can book an appointment with me at any time to discuss this & other issues related to your next career step.

1. It's not really about you. Counter-intuitive? Not necessarily. In writing or in conversation, don't begin by narrating for the employer what you've done in your career, what you want to do in your career, what you would like to get out of a work placement with them, what you are prepared to do, and whatever else you want to say about you. You'll have lost or, worse, alienated your audience before giving them any motivation to be interested in you.

2. It's not really about you, but it is all about them. Don't forget that you are asking people to do something for you, so you must give them a reason. This isn't philanthropy; it's business, even in the ostensibly less 'commercial' sectors. Start by asking yourself: what are their needs & those of their organisation? What can you do to help meet these needs? What relevant skills, knowledge, and experience do you bring?

3. If it's all about them, then you need to do your homework. It's difficult to infer what the needs of an unfamiliar industry or organisation might be, so most people need to ask. That can in itself be a good starting point for a speculative conversation with an employer. In addition, think about using your networks: who do you know who might have an insight to share? And following the 'loose ties' logic of LinkedIn: who do your contacts know? You can also use our GradLink database to build new contacts.

4. You can now build on your awareness of your chosen organisation's needs, along with the mindset of wanting to demonstrate how you can help them, in order to develop a short pitch. A quick Google search throws up tens of thousands of hits for 'elevator pitches', but the key thing is to make it succinct, and this takes practice. Remember, too, that in the vast majority of cases you can't clinch the deal with a short pitch. It's an opener, to get the conversation started.

5. Finally, have a good, relevant, up-to-date CV at hand (preferably one that's tailored to the kind of employer to which you're presenting yourself). It's not exactly professional or confidence-inspiring if, in the course of what feels like a promising conversation, you're asked for a CV & you have to say that you don't have an up-to-date one. If you're looking for tips to get your CV into shape, you could do worse than pick up a free copy of our unique publication CVs and Cover Letters for PhDs and Postdocs. And have a look at some further examples which we didn't have room for in the last edition of the book.

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