Cracking the hidden job market

The majority of jobs are not advertised, says author and career coach John Lees, so breaking into this hidden job market can shorten your job search time dramatically…

It’s tempting in a tight market to be put off by the large number of applications received by advertised positions, and their shortage makes it easy to believe there are no jobs out there. Bemoaning the state of the market is a great excuse for a low-octane job search. 

Job seekers spend too much time on the most unproductive channel - the Internet.  Too many - particularly those with a technical background - choose to sit in front of a screen. After all, it feels productive, firing off messages and gathering data, and more than anything else it looks like work

The problem is that it gives you a poor rate of return. The web is a fantastic research tool, but a poor tool for communication. Use the standard electronic tools: use them thoughtfully, and frequently enough to maintain your visibility, but try using your PC outside working hours only. To shorten your job search time, learn the art of a multi-strategy job search. This means working smarter, not harder in your job search programme. A multi-strategy job search does not rely on one method alone (e.g. following up job ads), but on several together, used simultaneously, knowing that statistically the one most likely to achieve a result is networking.

The hidden job market

Why networking? Because of the hidden job market. The majority of jobs are not advertised. If you only ever respond to job advertisements, you’ll never know about them. This is the hidden job market, and most people believe they don’t know how to break into it. Workers used to an equal opportunities environment often believe this approach is unfair. They object to what they see as ‘old school tie’ networking, believing that the only proper way to fill a role is through open, transparent advertised positions. 

Such a view fails to take account of several important factors:

  • Even in a buoyant market most employers will fill jobs without advertising them. 
  • In a tough market, it’s even easier to do so.
  • All employers, even public sector bodies, fill jobs on this basis.
  • In the new world of social media, connections matter more than tracking advertised roles.
  • About 50 per cent of jobs are filled by small organisations, who are more likely to fill jobs by word of mouth.

Making people remember you

Breaking into the hidden market isn’t about old school tie networks or special favours, nor is it only open those who are great at self-promotion. If success was about the people you already know, there would be little point to networking. It’s about expanding your horizons, meeting new people, and making sure they remember just a few positive pieces of information about you. Begin with contacts made in your last job, and anyone with professional experience in your circle of family and friends.

The best definition of the hidden job market is what people say about you when you’re not in the room. This is a message you can shape and manage. Getting mentioned isn’t a matter of chance. Tell people what you’re looking for and what you have to offer. Be brief, upbeat and very clear, and your message will get remembered. Have a good CV to hand in case you are asked for it, but otherwise don’t ask directly for CV advice or job leads - the indirect approach works better.

Push your boundaries

The only sure-fire job search strategy in tough times is to talk to people. Networking can feel wrong - demeaning, or exploitative, and it’s easy to fear rejection. If you’re shy or reluctant, keep talking to people you know until you gain the confidence to break into a new circle. Put some old misconceptions to rest: it isn’t about begging for a job, exploiting everyone you know, or being part of a closed club. It’s about the help you ask for in an honest and straightforward manner.

The good news is that it requires a skill set you can learn, and it will put you in touch with like-minded people. In 40 days you can expand your contacts and seriously improve your visibility in the hidden market. Networking is something we all do unconsciously. If you move to a new town and want to find a good dentist or know the best local greengrocer, you ask people, casually. 

Your network

Your network as a career changer is going to be focused on people who can give you key information about what jobs are like, how companies are changing, and what trends are affecting your chosen sector. Begin with your close circle of friends, and then spread out to colleagues, professional contacts, clients, suppliers, professional bodies. Always start with people you know and then ask them to make the introduction so you never have to begin a phone call “you don’t know me, but…”


How To Get A Job You’ll Love by John Lees now available in its 2011/12 edition; see for free career tools and tips.

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