How to find the hidden job market

You’ve probably heard this a lot: that 80% of the jobs are in the “hidden” job market. It is a secret trove of wonderful dream positions reserved for those pros who have special capabilities way beyond ours, whose accomplishments eclipse anything we may have done and whose connections virtually guarantee their membership in this exclusive clique. If only you knew how to join that club.

It almost sounds like the clichéd stories of high school, when you wanted to be one of the popular crowd, get accepted into their exclusive circle, get invited to their private parties.

Before I begin to talk about this hidden job market, let me explain how any employer goes about finding good help. I know because I’ve been there.

When you are in a senior or executive position and need to build your team you have a challenge. How do I find good people? I need good people because it is the collective performance of my team that I will be held accountable for. So I want to be careful about whom I want to hire.

I also don’t have a lot of time to go check on hundreds of potential candidates. So here is the dilemma. A large pool of candidates would increase the probability of finding the perfect hire. At the same time, a large pool of candidates would take a lot of time to wade through, reading resumes, doing interviews, comparing, coming to a decision and so on.  I have to do all that even while I, the manager, have to take care of my other day-to-day responsibilities. So what do I do to make this an efficient exercise?

A very good bet is to get a referral. Well how do I get a referral? If I am in a large company, maybe there is someone already working in the company who can fill this job. That would be great. I will already have a record of how good they are, I can ask their supervisor and colleagues in order to get an idea if they would make a good fit for the position. That is one of the reasons companies hire from within.

If I don’t have someone already working for my company who could fill in the position, I may ask people who work with me or whom I know outside of work if they know someone who is good. Now I, as the employer, have to be careful here. I want to make sure that when I ask Agnes from accounting if she knows someone who is a good database administrator, that she does not send me her nephew who just graduated from an English major but plays so well on his Playstation that he is “so good with computers”. So I don’t make any promises. I make it clear to whomever I ask to send me a referral, that my requirements are very specific and that any candidate would still have to go through the screening process to ensure a good fit for the job. If I feel that people who send me candidates by this method expect an instant hiring then I will forego this approach so that I do not damage my relationship with these members within my network.

I may be very selective about whom I ask within my network. I may only ask those people who really have an intimate understanding of the kind of work the vacant position requires. For the database administrator example I gave, maybe I will only ask those people within my network who understand about that line of work and know what it involves. They too would likely not want to send me someone who would turn out to be a dud because that would damage their own credibility.

Keep in mind I am the employer in this scenario. If I can’t find or believe I cannot rely on my personal network to find a qualified candidate then I have only two other choices. My first of these is I can use an outside recruiting firm to look for someone. They will do this either through advertising for the position or will look through their database of resumes. The other choice is that I myself look through my company’s database of resumes or advertise for the position. Of course when I say “I myself”, I could still use my human resources department to help out with this exercise. But let’s consider that to be one and the same thing. I, or my HR department, are going directly to search for the candidate.

So let’s summarize. There are 3 ways for me the employer to look for a candidate:

  1. Through my personal network
  2. Through third party recruiters
  3. By recruiting directly

So which of these is the so called “hidden” market? It is only the first one.

I won’t give you any direction in this article on how to tackle 2 or 3 above. You can always send your resume to recruiters to ensure you are on their database or in response to an advertised position. And you can also send it directly to companies through their online recruiting job boards just to be on their database or when they advertise for a position.

Just keep in mind that recruiters and companies do not spend thousands of dollars on building and maintaining job boards and on advertising for job positions if they have no intention of using that source for finding candidates. Advertising for jobs costs money. Nobody does it just for fun. Employers do it because they need people. So don’t ignore that because you heard all the good jobs are “hidden”.

So that leaves us with number 1 above. That is where I, the employer, am using my personal network to find a good qualified candidate. So how would you be able to tap into that? How can you reach me?

Let’s first tackle how you would even find out that I am looking for a “database administrator”. If you are a qualified database administrator and are interested in working for my company, you will have already tried to contact someone at my company that you already know and told them to keep an eye out just in case there is an opening for a database administrator. Maybe you know George in software development because you went to school with him. You keep in touch with George on a regular basis socially and you ask him how things are going at my company and if there is any news about a new database admin position.

What if you don’t know anyone who works at my company? Well maybe you know Samantha who works at a different company but she is George’s girlfriend and she can ask him. That’s how you build a “network”. It is people whom you know and whom they know.

All that you’re doing here is keeping your ears to the ground. You want to be alerted if a position materializes. It is in fact quite passive. It’s pure information gathering. That’s all it can be. Again, think of it from my perspective, the employer. I only put the word out that I need someone when I actually need someone. I work to my own schedule, not yours. So you have to wait until I put the word out so that you could hear about it through your network.

Can you anticipate that I will need someone? Can you get to me directly?

Actually, you can! And here’s the secret. I will show you how.

You can anticipate that I will need someone if maybe you’ve heard through your personal network that a database admin has left our company. You may even find out that someone intends to leave my department before even I know! Perhaps he is part of that network of friends and colleagues and you heard that he or she wants to move on and look for something different.

Or maybe my company has put out a press release saying that we are expanding our IT department. If you stay up-to-date on news in your field you will hear about these things and see immediately the potential opportunities for you.

So what do you do then? Send me an email. Tell me: “Hey, you may be needing a great database administrator soon. Look no further, I have all the qualifications you will need. Here they are…”

Maybe not those exact words but something along those lines. So now I, the employer, I have just been faced with having to look for good candidates and haven’t even started my search in earnest yet.  Your resume came along and you are a perfect fit. Guess what, you have just saved me a ton of time. I have no other candidates. What do you think the chances are that I will want to meet with you and maybe hire you? Pretty good.

So that’s the “hidden” job market in a nutshell. I hope presenting it from the perspective of the employer has made it a little less shrouded in mystery.

Good luck.


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