Networking, social media and speculative approaches

Speculative applications - how to find 'hidden jobs'

Not all organisations advertise their vacancies, many recruit through speculative applications. If you are interested in working for particular organisations you may need to contact them and ask about their opportunities.

Speculative applications are more likely to work if you come across as well-informed and interested, so you need to research the type of work and the potential employers before you make contact with them. 

Start by looking at job profiles which describe the kind of work that interests you:

Then you can use business directories to find details of employers such as location, size, and what they do. Knowing more about an employer's business before you approach them will improve your prospects.

Making contact

Contacting employers involves more than simply asking about jobs. Ask for information and advice to demonstrate your interest and develop your knowledge. This insight means you are more likely to succeed when asking about actual vacancies.

Possible approaches:

  • Ask for information about working in their industry and the routes in. Explain what appeals to you about it.
  • Ask if you can work shadow someone for a day to see what the job involves, or ask about short term work experience.
  • Follow up and develop your contacts. Talk to as many people as you can to add to your network.
  • Read our guide to social media and your career to create a professional online profile and connect to people and organisations, e.g. on LinkedIn.
  • Email them a CV and covering letter to ask about jobs or work experience and phone them a few days later to see if they can help.

Speculative applications have to be well informed and persuasive, tailored towards your chosen type of work and employer. Not all succeed and you often need to be persistent, but many people do get jobs, experience or work shadowing this way. It is well worth trying, especially in sectors with relatively few advertised vacancies e.g. media, arts administration, publishing.

Market yourself positively and try not to be put off by rejections.

Social Media

Employers are increasingly using social media to promote opportunities, screen candidates and even head-hunt suitable employees. You can use this to your advantage!

Creating a digital footprint

Your 'digital footprint' is a collection of all the content that you've shared on social media. Sometimes this content can be seen by anyone and can be traced back to you, and many employers are now using social media in the recruitment process; either promoting opportunities online, or well as screening applicants by searching for them and checking their digital footprint.

So if you've shared inappropriate content before (photos from nights out, bad language or poor spelling and grammar, or complaining about work/university) this could potentially mean your application will get rejected. However, if searching your name brings up more positive results (examples of work, posts about your achievements or interests, or evidence of volunteering and work experience etc) then this could improve your chances of progressing to the next stage.

Try searching for yourself online and see what you can find on yourself. Is it appropriate? If there's something showing up that you wouldn't want employers to see, you can sometimes remove it by changing your privacy settings or deleting old content from Facebook/Twitter etc. If you haven’t posted anything interesting, it could be helpful to start sharing more content to boost your applications.

Use our short course for tips on how to create a professional digital footprint.

Personal branding

Just like any company, everyone has their own 'brand'; the impressions and perceptions that people have of you. Being more aware of your own brand can help you adapt your digital footprint to represent yourself better. Think about your values, your skills, your personality and style, and the product or service that you can offer to potential employers. It can take time to identify your own brand, so spend some time thinking about yourself and identifying your skills and abilities. Try our 'Getting Started' page for more help. Once you better understand yourself, you can use social media to promote your own personal brand.

Thinking about the kind of person you are, and the activities you enjoy will also help you in deciding what career would be right for you. Would you suit particular working environments? Are you a specialist in a particular area?


LinkedIn is the Facebook for businesses and business people. Your profile is effectively an online version of your CV showcasing your expertise. It allows companies to head hunt and make further contact with you faster.

Using LinkedIn you can:

  • Join groups and discussions on topics you are interested in to expand your network and create work opportunities.
  • Show off your work experience, achievements and recommendations from work colleagues
  • Find out where your friends work and who works for the company you want to work with and become directly introduced.

LinkedIn for students - provides tips on how to create a professional brand

Your profile is similar to a CV so include details of your education and work experience, volunteering and interests. Share examples of work and talk about your skills. Remember to include key words to increase your chances of showing up in searches.

Our Careers Service online resources can support you in setting up a professional LinkedIn profile and networking with groups.

Growing your network

Networking is a vital skill in any career, and while networking in real life is important, online networking can be just as important. Sites like Twitter and LinkedIn are great for finding other professionals working or interested in the same subjects as you, and allows you to connect with them and share ideas.

Having a larger network will also open up more opportunities for you. Even friends and family who don't work in the area you are interested in might know someone else who might be able to help you with your career.

Following the right people online can help you keep up to date with industry news through the updates they share. You can then join discussions by contributing to LinkedIn groups or Twitter hashtags, which will help you reach more people. A larger network also means you can share your own achievements and skills with a larger audience. Making a blog post about some recent work and sharing it through Twitter could potentially gain the interest of employers!

Once you've built a good profile, you can use LinkedIn to start growing your professional network. Connect with people you know; friends and family, colleagues, course mates, tutors etc. Generally it's recommended that you shouldn't connect with people that you don't know, however sometimes you may come across users who could help you with your career.

So long as you can offer a valid reason, then it might be worth sending a request to connect. Just remember that they can choose whether they want to connect with you or not.

Using the Alumni Tool is a great way to search for individuals who may be able to help you out. You can search for alumni from your own degree subject and narrow it down to people working in a particular field or for a particular company. You then might want to contact someone who could give you information on a career you are considering.

Join groups

Groups are a fantastic tool for researching careers and networking with others. There are thousands on LinkedIn on just about any subject, many with thousands of members. Here you can ask questions about careers and industry areas, join discussions and share your views. It's a great way to grow your network and engage with a new audience.

Researching employers and careers

Social media can also be a really useful tool when you're researching potential careers or preparing for interviews or applications. LinkedIn in particular can offer a lot of information to help you learn more about different career options. You can search for people and companies within a line of work, or join groups where you can ask questions to professionals who can help you.

It's also important to research an employer before completing an application or going for an interview. Employers often want to know why you're interested in working for them, so having more background information can help you put together a strong answer - demonstrating that you know about the job you are applying for and how it suits you and you suit the company.

Remember however that social media is just one source, and will usually be biased in favour of the company. Always double check your sources!

LinkedIn Resources

If you're applying for a job or still considering your career options, LinkedIn is a great place to start researching. Many companies have their own profiles on there, and you can easily find other members who work for the same company or in the same role.

LinkedIn also offers two useful resources to use while researching careers: LinkedIn Jobs and LinkedIn Salary.

LinkedIn Jobs is their own job listings website. These will mostly be graduate and professional level jobs, but will range across all industries and roles. Some will take your profile as the application, but most will link you to their application website.

LinkedIn Salary allows you to see a detailed breakdown of salaries by job title and location.

Case studies Chloe Cook

Chloe Cook - Economics

I managed to source the perfect part-time job through an advertisement on Facebook; I saw that Seed Marketing Agency were looking for Student Brand Ma

nagers to support a marketing campaign they were running which targeted UK universities.

This was ideal for me as I have aspirations to pursue a career in marketing after I graduate so I immediately clicked the link to apply. At interview stage, I needed to prove my ability in using social media effectively, demonstrating myself as a competent social media marketeer. My responsibilities included promoting the company and their events through Facebook, Twitter & Instagram.

If you are interested in a role in business, IT developing or marketing, having a good understanding of social media marketing and why it’s so important to business is a great thing to start developing at university.

Chloe's Top Tip:

Never forget that whatever you post online could be found, and perhaps by someone you never intended. Publishing negative comments about an employer, including part-time roles, or even about university work could land you in trouble or put potential employers off. Why not try and post more positive things publicly? Like how proud you are that you finished your dissertation on time or how pleasantly surprised you were with your exam results? I know work can be frustrating sometimes but it’s always best to keep your grumbles to private conversations with friends.

Kate Lovatt

Kate Lovatt - MA English Language and Linguistics

As an active Twitter user and writer for The Forge Press, the university student newspaper, I always tweet links to my articles. This encourages others to retweet and I can hit a wider audience this way. In particular, the Showroom and Workstation would often retweet what I had posted about films I had seen at their venues. This online interaction meant that not only did I build up a closer rapport with my readers and followers, but I established the Showroom as a professional contact.

I also often retweet or tweet things to Toast, one of Sheffield's independent magazines on Twitter and, as a result, I was able to begin contacting one of the editors via email. She explained the magazine's publishing dates to me and added me to their mailing list as a new contributing writer.

Kate's Top tip:

It saddens me to see people using their social media platforms to be unkind or degrading towards others. Even when you are feeling tense or hateful, refrain from putting your angry thoughts online. Remember, social media platforms are a public space and once you publish something it can be found, even if you delete it.

Bent Bunge

Bent Bunge - Business Management and Informatics

Over the summer of my first year I secured myself an internship placement at a company set up by a former University of Sheffield student who had given a presentation about her career in one of my modules earlier that year. After the lecture I casually contacted her over Twitter, asking whether they did internships, which led to me being invited to send in my CV. The key here was that once I sent out my application they were already familiar with me, making the whole application process a lot more relaxed.

Bent's Top Tip:

Keep in mind that social media is a tool, nothing more and nothing less. Having a LinkedIn profile is not what increases your reputation, it’s how you use it to make connections and get in touch with people. Whatever field you are interested in; use whatever platform is most commonly used within those circles that yo

u would like to be a part of. Show interest in other people’s work and start a conversation, so that when you eventually arrive at an interview you have already spoken to people within the organisation. In my experience this can even eliminate the necessity of an interview altogether.

Hazel Nichols

Hazel Nichols - Business Management

I was able to secure my placement job through LinkedIn after I met someone at a networking lunch and connected with them - as a result they invited me to interview. The job wasn’t advertised on any other site which is why I strongly believe in the power of social media in improving career prospects.

I have also received messages through LinkedIn from recruiters with potential roles that I may be interested in - this was based on updating my profile regularly and my recommendations from colleagues and clients.

Hazel’s Top Tip:

Be aware that using public computers and devices for social media when travelling is a potential threat to security. Always be sure to log out and clear you history to avoid nuisance hackers accessing your personal details and passwords.

Top tips for social media

Prevent your profiles from being hacked

  • Do not share your password to anyone, keep it to yourself.
  • Always log off when you have finished using a social media site, both on your own computer or a public computer.
  • Delete any social networks you do not use anymore, to prevent hacking without you knowing.
  • BEWARE of online sites and emails asking you for your bank details. Only give away personal details online when you really have to.

Keep personal social networking accounts private

  • When using social networking sites for personal use, set it as private and use your nickname so you are more difficult to find for potential employers.
  • Facebook: check what you profile will look like to others and adjust your settings in accordance by ‘Reviewing what other people can see on your timeline’ found in Facebook's privacy setting under ‘Timeline and Tagging settings’.
  • Twitter: be aware that if your profile is set in the default settings, anyone (even those without twitter) can see your tweets. Having your profile ‘protected’ means your tweets can only be viewed by those you have accepted to follow you.BEWARE: The Facebook default setting for photo albums is ‘public’

Create a Positive Online Identity

  • If everything you post online is of good quality and professionally acceptable, you you will create a positive digital footprint identity. Think about your online image when you post comments, upload images or videos of yourself and your friends.

  • Build your own positive image by branding yourself in a pronounced way. Say “iAm” to the world.
  • Raise your profile and show people what you have to offer. Look around the social network for opportunities to share your knowledge, experience, skills or expertise.
  • Ideally, your digital footprint should reveal a rich blend of curated material as well as original content you've written.
  • Ensure your account is proactive; publish blog articles, online video content or presentations frequently to showcase your expertise and interest to the world.
  • Keep your content fresh and interesting, offer something different, new and exciting online.

Use professionals and personal contacts to build your network

  • Model your online presence similar to reputable teenage and professionals online you can find.
  • Build your network starting with people you already know: family, friends, work colleagues, other students, and more.
  • Listen to what's being said by key voices you respect and want to be associated with on important social media channels. This will give you understanding of which topics are popular, which are not and what tone and content will be accepted by your audiences.

Audit your online identity

  • Complete an online audit to find out if your online identity reflects your professional persona and expertise you wish to expose through the online world.
  • Audit your online identity every 3-4 months
  • Firstly, contemplate and outline your goals for the next five years and outline what online presence will help you excel towards these objectives.
  • Then carry out a simple Google search of your name, reviewing top results (first 3 pages) and summarize the overall impression they leave.
  • Identify any discrepancies between your online digital identity and your ideal online identity and create a plan of action to resolve these discrepancies (create new content, update old profiles, delete content, make content private or open new accounts).

Manage your profile using diagnostic tools

There are a number of useful resources to help you manage your profile.

  • - Display your social media profiles together on one site. This is a great way of creating links for your readers, to your entire online identity.

  • BrandYourself - helps you manage your visibility on the first page of Google search results, optimising the social network site links that you want people to see.

  • Google Alerts - set up Google alert emails to help you track mentions of your own name in Google search results.

  • Mention - similar to Google alerts: tracks mentions of your name or interests in real time on the web and social web, so you can monitor in real time and react in seconds.

  • Klout - website and mobile app that uses social media analytics to rank its users according to online social influence via the ‘Klout Score’

  • Tweetdelete - periodically erases tweets that are older than a specified age and allows the deletion of multiple tweets at once.

  • Reppler - connects to your Facebook, twitter and LinkedIn and shows how you are perceived across social networking sites, identifying any potential issues

  • Justdeleteme - directory of direct links which can help you to erase your account from the web