What you need to know about the hidden job market

What is the Hidden Job Market?

If your job hunt strategy is scrolling through Indeed each day, then you’re missing out on a huge source of career opportunities – the hidden job market.

When an employer has an opening, their first step will be to fill the job internally. Next, they’ll look to their network – people they’ve worked with in the past, or people referred by a trusted source. If they can fill the job from these two places, they never have to advertise and you may never hear about it. This is what we call the hidden job market.

As you can imagine, many jobs never make it to the public market of job boards, trade magazines and career fairs. How many? Well, that’s hard to tell. A commonly cited figure is 80% of all jobs, but that number seems to hail from the 1980’s, before online job boards and social media. Modern research suggests it may be closer to 40%. For senior-level positions where networking and performance is key, the percentage is much higher.

Regardless of the exact number, the ‘hidden market’ makes up a significant number of job opportunities. It’s also the first, and preferred source of candidates for most hiring managers.

Performance First

If access to more career opportunities isn’t enough incentive, there’s another reason you should get into the hidden job market.

When a hiring managers posts a job publicly, they are opening their inbox to hundreds of applicants, good and bad. Because of this, there is a tendency to use the job post as a screening process. The focus is weeding out weak candidates with a checklist of requirements and tasks, instead of attracting high-performing professionals by sharing the value and benefits of the position.

The problem is that this excludes people who could do the job well, but have a different mix of skills and experience. This includes military veterans, parents returning from leave, diversity candidates, and people switching industries.

By comparison, the hiring process in the hidden job market is flexible and informal. Your first contact with the hiring manager is based on a referral or your past experience with the employer. Candidates in the hidden market are usually evaluated on their performance or their potential, not on a list of requirements. Focusing on the hidden market is a great strategy for candidates with unique backgrounds.

How to find the hidden job market

The problem with the hidden market is…that it’s hidden. So how can you find these jobs? The answer is simple: Networking.

Of course, there’s a reason why many candidates prefer job boards. Networking can be an intimidating and long-term process. Most of us were taught how to write a resume in school, but not how to network in the modern world. Regardless, it’s an essential skill that you should develop over the course of your career.

One simple way to network is to put yourself on the radar of recruiting firms. Many organizations outsource their hiring to agencies, and these recruiters use private networks of skilled candidates to fill jobs quickly. It’s Academic works with many K-12 schools, post-secondary institutions and other organizations in education to fill their mid-to-senior level jobs. Some of these job openings are confidential, which means we never post them online. At other times, we can fill a position quickly using our network, so the job post is only up for a short time. When recruiting firms do post a job, it may not be on general job boards, but on specialized industry websites.

Search for recruiting firms in your fields. You can apply to one of the jobs on their board, or email them your resume and the kind of work you’re interested in. You never know when you’ll get an email with a great job recommendation.

Finally, once you do make a connection, you’ll need to be able to demonstrate your past performance. Prepare tangible examples of your work. Practice telling stories about your successes. Develop your online presence through LinkedIn or a personal portfolio website. The hidden job market can free you from endless posts looking for “2-5 years of sales experience” and provide exciting career options, but only if you’re willing to do the extra work.