The Hidden Job Market – How to Find a Job that Isn’t Advertised

Job searching can be a full-time job. It takes time to create the ultimate resume, search available positions, tap into your professional network, schedule interviews, etc. To top it off, it’s often easier to find a job when you already have a job. There are a few reasons for this, but it usually boils down…
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Job searching can be a full-time job. It takes time to create the ultimate resume, search available positions, tap into your professional network, schedule interviews, etc. To top it off, it’s often easier to find a job when you already have a job. There are a few reasons for this, but it usually boils down to this: when you are already employed, you are seen as a more desirable candidate than someone who has been out of work for a long time.

I have experienced this personally. I was unemployed for six months after I separated from the military and transitioned into the civilian sector. Granted, this wasn’t an apples to apples career transition. It was a major career shift. That was part of the reason it took so long to find a job. But I also didn’t have a professional network in the location where I was seeking work as I had recently separated from the service and relocated across the country. It all added up to a difficult situation. I was changing careers, I moved to a new location, and I didn’t know many people in the industry I wanted to enter.

I struggled. I was inexperienced at job searching, and at first I focused primarily on using online methods – I started with Monster, Career Builder, job search engines for veterans, and similar online search tools. Then I researched the local area and compiled a list of all the companies in the industry I was trying to get into (the defense industry in a military community). I searched all of their websites individually. I was organized – I created spreadsheets to track the companies, the open jobs, the dates the jobs came open, whether I had applied to the job, if I had heard back, etc. But even thought I was very organized, I wasn’t getting anywhere fast.

Gradually, I began to meet a few people in the area. I spoke at length with my neighbor, who had been in the industry for decades. He arranged a lunch meeting for me with a colleague. His company didn’t have any openings for someone at my experience level, but the insight to the industry was helpful.

After 6 months, I finally landed an entry-level job. It was exciting to start working again after being unemployed for so many months.

Finding my next job was a much different story. I landed my next job in the span of two weeks.


The Hidden Job Market

I’ll let you in on a little a secret: most companies don’t publicly announce their openings until they have exhausted every opportunity to fill them in house or through recommendations.

In other words, that job you applied for on – that was a leftover position that the company couldn’t fill any other way. To get that job, your resume will need to get through layers of automated filters and rise to the top of pile of hundreds of resumes. It’s inefficient and incredibly difficult. There is a better way, and that is through the hidden job market.

How big is the hidden job market? By definition, it’s impossible to say. These are jobs that aren’t advertised, and they range from small mom & pop businesses, up through major corporations. I’ve seen estimates that place the hidden job market anywhere from 30% – 70% of all job openings. Duncan Mathison, co-author of Unlock the Hidden Job Market: 6 Steps to a Successful Job Search When Times Are Tough, estimates the hidden job market at 50%. He also observes that this number fluctuates with the economy. When the economy is better, the number shrinks. When the economy is hurting, it increases. This makes sense, as employers have to filter through hundreds of more resumes when the economy is poor and many people are out of work.

Regardless of which number you settle upon, it’s clear the hidden job market is massive. And it’s the best place to get your next job.

Why the Hidden Job Market Exists

It’s purely a numbers game.

Let’s look at hiring from the company’s perspective: When a company has a job opening, they want to fill it as quickly, easily, and inexpensively as possible. In a tough economy, most hiring managers receive hundreds of resumes for each public job opening. Even with strict filters in automated software programs, it can take hours of time for HR professionals and hiring managers to wade through the resumes they receive. That is why most resumes only get a cursory glance when they are received. If your resume doesn’t stick out in the first 15-20 seconds (or less), it will go into the rejected pile. Don’t believe me? Read this exposé on how hiring managers screen resumes. It’s eye opening.

Let’s examine how companies often fill positions, then see where you fit in as a job applicant.

Internal promotions: Most companies look from within to promote employees. It’s faster, easier, and cheaper. The company gets other benefits as well – they get a known entity in the position, and get the reward an employee by promoting him or her. This comes with the added benefit of keeping a top performer in their job longer, and reducing overall turnover. A win-win for the company and the employee.

Recruiters: Some companies also reach out to recruiters for top-level or hard-to-fill positions. In these cases, recruiters tap into their networks of employees and search for the right fit.

Recommendations: The next place companies often look for employees is through employee recommendations. In fact, many companies offer bonuses when employees recommend someone who is eventually hired. Again, this comes down to a time and money savings on the par of the company. Hiring managers are much easier to sort through a few curated recommendations than to open a job to the masses. A portion of the money the company saves is passed on to the referring employee in the form of the bonus.

Company Website: The company website is usually next on the hiring hierarchy. The company posts the job description to their site and request applicants upload their resumes to their internal system. This makes it easier for the company to upload the resumes and scan them through their software. HR reps usually screen the resumes as much as possible, then pass them on to the hiring managers for further review. (note: this often occurs simultaneously when employees can refer potential employees, but the faster and easier way to the top of the stack is through an employee referral). It’s also important to note that some companies have a policy of placing every job opening on their company website, regardless of whether or not they have already filled the position internally or through a recommendation. In some cases, it’s possible the job you are applying for no longer exists. This is why you want to get your foot in the door as high up on the ladder as possible.

While all of this is going on, company Human Resource departments are working behind the scenes to fill positions, screen resumes, perform reviews, send HR reps to job fairs at colleges and industry events, and other areas. You may not get hired at a job fair, but you can ask some great questions and possibly make a connection where you can get your resume into the system more easily, or even directly into the hands of a hiring manager.

Other: It’s only after these options have been exhausted that companies place job openings on the major job search engines. In other words, if you are starting your job search with, CareerBuilder, or similar search tools, then you are starting at the end of the chain.

I’ll say it again – there is a better way.

How to Find the Hidden Job Market

I know what you’re going to ask, “how do you find something that is hidden?”

That’s a great question and one that doesn’t have a single answer. The best single-line response I can give is, “you ask.” It’s a bit more complicated than that, but that’s the gist of it. You let your network know you are looking for a job. You can ask them if they have anything that might be a fit where they work, if they know someone in the industry who is hiring, if they can make an introduction for you, etc. Using LinkedIn is a great way to expand your professional network.

It takes a lot of work. Much more work than most people realize. But it is also much more rewarding than blindly sending off hundreds of resumes, only to never hear back from the hiring companies. Remember, by the time a job is posted on Monster, it’s already weeks old, and the company may have been interviewing candidates for a few weeks before you even knew about the opening. The best time to interview for an opening is when you are the first and only person in line.

Putting This Plan to Work

A few paragraphs ago, I mentioned that it took me two weeks to find my second post-military job. I had been working for a couple of years in the previous position, which was long enough for me to grow my network in the area. During this time, I had progressed in my job, but I felt as though I had more to offer. I was looking for a change, and I let a few trusted colleagues know I was open to moving to a new job. A good friend (and former coworker) sent me an email out of the blue one day, letting me know that they had a job opening that wasn’t yet advertised, and he gave me the description before it was even posted on the company website.

This was a huge advantage for me. Not only was he recommending me to the hiring manager (a huge plus!), but I had a copy of the job description before it was publicly available. This gave me the time to create my resume specifically for this job, brush up on their project, learn more about their company, and run the resume be a few colleagues before I submitted it. I had a one-week head start on everyone else. This is a perfect example of why you need to maintain a current resume at all times. I submitted my resume the day the job opening went live on the company website. The first resume the HR department and hiring manager saw was custom-tailored to their job description. I guarantee you every other resume that came in shortly after the job posting fell short. Not only that, but i had a personal recommendation. All that was left for me to do was nail the interview. And I did.

This was a win-win-win situation. The hiring manager and HR team didn’t have to spend weeks sorting through resumes and tie up dozens of hours conducting job interviews. This process saved a ton of time, money, and energy. My former coworker received a referral bonus for recommending me, and I landed a job within two weeks. The two weeks broke down like this: My friend informed me of the job opening, I created my resume, I submitted it a week later when the job was posted on the company website, I was called in for an interview a few days after submitting my resume, and was offered the job a couple days later. I later found out over one hundred resumes were submitted in the week-plus the job was listed on the company website. Mine was the only interview conducted for the job opening.

How You Can Find and Land Hidden Jobs

I’ll be the first to admit, my example above was a perfect storm for me. But I’m not the only person who has done this, and I won’t be the last. You can do it too. It’s all about who you know and how far you are willing to go.

Don’t know someone at the company you want to work for? Then meet them. Ask a colleague for an introduction. Contact them on LinkedIn.

Join a professional organization, submit articles to peer magazines, send the person you want to meet a helpful email if you know they are working on a project. Invite them out for coffee for an informal informational interview. Most people are willing to help if you are willing to seek them out and ask them for assistance.

All it costs them is 20 or 30 minutes, and if you’re nice (which you will be) they will even get a free coffee out of the meeting. Just remember two things: don’t waste their time, and don’t ask them for a job. Your goal is to meet this person and make a great impression. If they have something available, they will let you know. If they don’t have anything available, but you make a good impression, they may be willing to pass your information to someone hiring.

Above all, don’t get discouraged if you don’t hit a home run in your first at-bat. There is immense value in building your professional network, so even if you don’t get a job offer your first time out, you may gain excellent professional contact. And if you structure your meeting well, you should end up knowing more about the company, the industry, projects they are working on, and other information that can be helpful in meetings with other professionals.

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  1. Jason Hull says

    I can confirm both what you and David said. We never posted jobs on our website or on Monster. The only thing we posted on Monster was for internships. We used our network and our stack of resumes/contacts we’d get from speaking at conferences. In desperate times (e.g. I need a Ruby on Rails dev STAT), we’d use a recruiter, but only for a short-term must-fill need. If we’d never heard of you prior to our need, then we weren’t bringing you on.

    • Ryan Guina says

      Jason, I’ve heard similar stories from many small business owners. Many small companies don’t advertise their positions for a variety of reasons. However, some larger companies make it a policy to place every position on their company site, even if the position has already been filled, or is likely to be filled based on interviews they have already conducted. It has to do with covering their bases than anything.

  2. Manette @ Barbara Friedberg Personal Finance says

    I cam totally relate to your article. When I was younger, I moved from one job to another and most of them were referrals from friends and former colleagues who are working on the company. There were also internal promotions.

  3. Jake Erickson says

    This is an awesome article. It’s so true that the majority of jobs are never listed on the major job websites. I’ve moved positions twice and both were from internal references. Knowing someone in the company gives you a leg up on most other applicants. My wife and I are considering moving to a different part of the country where we don’t know anyone, which makes finding these “hidden” jobs harder. Do you have any specific suggestions for finding a job while changing locations?

    • Ryan Guina says

      Great question, Jake. This is a little more difficult since you may not have an established network in the area where you want to relocate. There is a lot involved, but it can be done. My response is much longer than can fit in this comment (over 1,000 word article) Here is how I would approach it: How to find a job when relocating.

      I hope this gets you pointed in the right direction!

  4. David says

    Ryan, I recently wrote a piece about how I helped my brother get a job. If you’re in technology a lot of time, all you need to do is contact a recruiting firm and they will help you find jobs not advertised.

    • Ryan Guina says

      Very true, David. Technology firms often rely on recruiters to find talent. But not all businesses utilize recruiters. So it helps to look at all your options.

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