The “hidden job market” is a phrase that describes job openings that are not publicly advertised.

And yes, it’s real.

Why would companies not publicly post a job opening?

  1. The cost of advertising an open position can be substantial.
  2. They don’t want to be overwhelmed with applications.
  3. They’d prefer to fill it internally or through a referral.
  4. They are replacing an existing employee (who doesn’t know they are being replaced).

Most of these job opportunities are accessed through referrals from current employees of the company. It’s estimated that anywhere from 50-80 percent of jobs are found through networking. No one knows for sure how many of the available jobs are publicized and how many are hidden.

While not all of the jobs found through networking are accessing the hidden job market almost all candidates who get interviews for unadvertised jobs do so through networking.

Current employees can be an excellent source of candidates. Particularly if the company has a strong workplace culture, having existing employees identify prospective candidates can help ensure solid candidates are encouraged to apply. Many companies offer referral bonuses of up to $5,000 for referrals!

Being referred by a current employee may also mean that your application is set apart from the typical internal processes that most jobseekers have to navigate — such as an applicant tracking system for online applications.

Recruiters are another source of unadvertised positions. An employer may choose to work with a recruiter to fill a job rather than advertise it publicly. The recruiter sources job candidates, screens prospective hires, and sends the hiring manager a handful of handpicked candidates. This saves the company time and money. In many cases, when working with a third-party recruiter, the company only pays the recruiter if a candidate is hired, and only if he or she stays for a specified period of time.

So how do you tap into the hidden job market?

Accessing the hidden job market works best when you have a clear target in mind — either a specific job title or, even better, a specific list of companies you’d like to work for.

Here are 12 ACTIONS for job seekers looking to tap into the hidden job market:

  • Let your network know you are looking for a new position. While this can be difficult if you are conducting a confidential job search, it’s important that the people you know think of you when an opening comes up.

  • Help others. “Give to get.” Zig Ziglar famously said, “You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help enough other people get what they want.” Keep your ears open about unadvertised openings and help connect those in your network to these opportunities. This type of assistance is often reciprocated. Cultivate relationships with peers in the industry. These connections at other companies can pay off.

  • If there is a particular employer you are interested in working for, consider approaching the company directly. When approaching a target employer directly, research the hiring manager and see if there is a mutual connection you can approach to make the introduction. Focus on expanding your network until you connect with someone who works there. Ask him or her to keep you in mind for unadvertised opportunities — or even pass along your résumé right away, even if there isn’t currently an opening.

  • Identify companies in growth mode. Read your local business journal or the Business section of your local newspaper to find out which companies are growing. You’ll find announcements of new contracts, large office leases, and similar news in local publications or by setting up a targeted Google News alert.

  • Look on LinkedIn for recruiters who work at your target employer. Some companies recruit primarily through in-house recruiters (recruiters who are company employees). Connecting with these individuals can be an excellent way to access the hidden job market.

  • Connect with 2-3 recruiters in your industry or specialty. You may even be able to find out if the company uses a specific outside recruiter or agency for its searches. (Your network may be able to help you find this information, or you can contact the company directly to ask.) Having these extra eyes and ears looking out for opportunities can be a valuable asset in your job search.

  • Make it easy to be found. Another angle to accessing the hidden job market is being approached directly about an unadvertised opportunity. Make sure your LinkedIn profile is up-to-date and make yourself visible by participating in industry activities, speaking and writing, and positioning yourself as a thought leader.

  • Be active on social media. Follow employers you are interested in and engage them thoughtfully — liking and commenting on status updates and participating in online conversations with the brand itself or key employees. Share articles and insights about your industry. Follow and interact with key influencers in the industry using social media.

  • Join online groups in your industry. While LinkedIn Groups have diminished in influence over the years, they still remain a good way to connect with colleagues. (Did you know that you can send a LinkedIn connection request to a fellow Group member without having to know their email address?) Plus, being active in Groups can make you more visible to recruiters in your industry.

  • Join other online groups. Industry groups are the most logical choice for growing your network, but really any online groups can help you connect with others who may be able to help in your job search. This can include groups focused on your hobbies and interests as well as school alumni groups (not just college, but high school too).

  • Get involved in associations and activities in your industry. Participate in professional association activities and build rapport with colleagues. Attend conferences and industry events. These are an opportunity to meet hiring managers and decision-makers at your target companies. The wider your network, the more opportunities to access the hidden job market.

  • Another source of networking connections may be your university’s alumni association. If you are looking for a connection at a target company, see if the alumni association knows of one, or peruse the bios of company employees or leadership and see if you have a school in common. Looking at a company’s profile on LinkedIn may also potentially help you find alumni connections.

Remember, exploring the hidden job market is just one possible way to connect with your dream job. It’s a strategy that can pay off handsomely but will often take longer than simply identifying advertised openings and applying. However, you will likely find there is less competition for the job opportunity, and if you are using an “inside source” — either a current employee or an internal recruiter — your likelihood of landing an interview can be higher than seeking out an online posting.
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