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Pursuing The Hidden Job Market

By Ford R. Myers
President, Career Potential, LLC

In order to maximize your job search efforts and achieve your long-term career potential, it is vital that you understand the importance of “the hidden job market.” For many years, career experts have been saying that the best opportunities are to be found in the “hidden” or “invisible” job market – these are also known as “unpublished” opportunities. These terms simply mean that the positions are not advertised, posted or made available to the general public.

Candidates who spend all their job-search time applying for advertised positions are stacking the odds against themselves. The 80%-20% rule applies to the hidden job market. Only about 20% of quality job openings are advertised, and 80% of candidates are applying for those advertised positions – so your chances are terrible with this strategy.

Here are some examples of how positions get filled without ever being published:

  • An employee leaves a position and recommends someone else from outside of the organization who could replace her.
  • A position opens-up in a company, and a current employee recommends someone already within the organization for the job.
  • Before publishing an open position, the employer asks-around for recommendations from friends and colleagues.
  • In the course of doing business, an employer comes across someone who could add real value to the company, so a position is created for them.
  • The company has a job opening and engages a recruiter, who fills the position by contacting candidates who are already in his database.

When it comes to the hidden job market, there are some facts you really need to know:

  • Employers often choose not to advertise positions because it’s expensive and tedious to sort through all the resumes. It’s also a very drawn-out process – it’s much faster, easier and safer to hire a candidate who has been referred.
  • Many positions are advertised for reasons other than there being an actual job opening; so things are not always what they seem to be in job postings.
  • Finding good opportunities in the hidden job market may require stepping outside of your comfort zone, but once you get used to this approach – you’ll see how effective it really is.
  • All of this leads career experts to recommend that you spend about 80% of your time networking, as you pursue the hidden job market.

This raises the question of what networking is and what it isn’t. Let’s start with what networking ISN’T:

  • Networking isn’t sitting around chit-chatting with your friends about the job market.
  • Networking isn’t sending-out hundreds of resumes to everyone you know.
  • And networking certainly isn’t directly asking anyone for a job.

Now let’s talk about what networking IS:

  • Networking is leveraging your relationships for mutual benefit.
  • Networking is broadening your exposure to a much wider range of employment opportunities.
  • Networking is offering compelling value and solutions to others.
  • Networking is learning, exploring, and getting valuable feedback and advice.
  • And networking is the BEST way to grow your contact database.

At this point, you may be asking, WHY does networking work? It works for many reasons, including:

  • Because people want to help, especially people they know.
  • Because people feel a sense of obligation and responsibility to the friend who referred you. Friends do favors for friends; that’s one of the things that friendships are for.
  • Because it makes people feel valued and important to be asked.
  • And because many people have been through the job search experience themselves, so they empathize with your situation and want to help.

Another question you might be asking at this point is, “How can I access the hidden job market?” Here are some tips that should help you do just that:

  • Uncovering the hidden job market takes time, patience and persistence – but it almost always pays-off – so you need to trust the process and stick with it.
  • It’s important for candidates to invest the majority of their time into networking. This is because there are SO MANY candidates, that it’s nearly impossible to differentiate yourself from the rest. The only effective way to do this is to get referred to the hiring managers, where you’ll have a chance to personally make a connection and demonstrate your unique value.
  • Accessing the hidden job market calls for three primary disciplines: (1) research, (2) networking, and (3) organization.
  • Research and list the specific industries and companies you’d like to work for – this is your “Target Company List.” At one-on-one networking meetings, you’ll show this list to the other person and ask for their input about the industries and companies you’ve selected. You’ll want to get names and contact information of any individuals they might know inside those companies.
  • You can also mine information about companies and contacts from social media websites, such as LinkedIn and FaceBook. You’ll want to reach-out to 2nd and 3rd level contacts through your online connections, to continually expand your network.
  • Your research will reveal some of the problems and challenges that these companies and hiring managers are facing – then it’s your job to identify how your own skills and experiences could successfully address those needs.
  • Gather useful information by attending industry conferences and trade shows, job search groups and clubs, and networking events, such as at Chambers of Commerce, New Venture Fairs, places of worship, schools, social events, etc. Develop a comprehensive list of networking venues.
  • Any time a group of people comes together with a common interest or purpose, you have a great opportunity to network.
  • When you’re at events and meeting people, try to set-up networking meetings with them right then and there – so always have your schedule with you.
  • The old adage, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” has never been more true than it is in today’s hidden job market.
  • Employers hire people they know and like, and they like friends of friends – which is why networking introductions are so vital.
  • Leverage your relationships with EVERYONE you know, no matter how you know them or what they do for a living.

Here’s a perfect example. A few years ago, I had a client named Rob. He was a very successful sales manager at a large pharmaceutical company. He had just been laid-off, and I was working with him on his networking skills. Rob was very focused on networking into a specific company in the same field, but he had not been able to break through. In fact, Rob told me that this company he had targeted was as impenetrable as “Fort Knox.” We reviewed exactly what Rob had been doing – and not doing – in his networking. What I discovered was that he had only been talking with other pharmaceutical professionals – people just like him. I urged Rob to expand his reach, and to talk with anyone and everyone about his situation, regardless of their background or their line of work. It was difficult to convince Rob to do this, but he agreed to give it a try. That Saturday, Rob was getting a haircut. Although he felt uncomfortable about doing this, he told his barber about his career situation. He mentioned the name of the company that he had been having such trouble getting into. Without missing a beat, Rob’s barber said, “Oh, I know all about that company. I’ve been cutting the President’s hair for years. I could set you up in a meeting with him any time you want!” And sure enough, Rob’s barber set-up the meeting for that Tuesday. Rob met with the President, and after several conversations, he was offered an outstanding job at that company – his number one choice. I relate this story to underscore how important it is to network with EVERYONE, and to NOT pre-judge who can help you and who can’t. You just don’t know who other people know, and you can never predict who will be of most help to you.

Now that you’re ready to start networking into the hidden job market, let me suggest some specific, tactical steps to produce optimal results:

  • In addition to the Target Company List, you’ll also need a one-page “Professional Biography” that gives a broad overview of your background.
  • For networking meetings, bring copies of three documents: (1) a one-page Professional Biography; (2) a Target Company List; and (3) a Networking Agenda, which will help you organize and manage the discussion. This agenda includes these items: (1) introductions and rapport-building; (2) re-stating the purpose of meeting; (3) discussion of your situation, where you’ll state your Positioning Statement and Departure Statement; (4) detailed review of your Professional Biography and Target Company List; (5) explaining how the other person can help you; (6) getting valuable input, advice and contacts; (7) asking how you can be of help to the other person; and finally; (8) planning specific follow-up steps with timeframes for completion.
  • You’ll need to practice reciting your Positioning Statement (also known as the “15-second commercial” or “elevator pitch”), and your Departure Statement, which succinctly explains the circumstances under which you left your last position.
  • Remember, YOU called the networking meeting, so it’s your responsibility to manage the conversation in order to achieve your objectives – which are to get feedback, advice and guidance; and to get names and quality referrals to continue your networking.
  • Use a complete networking script for the initial networking outreach call. If you get voicemail, I suggest you hang-up and try again later. If you keep getting the same voicemail, you can leave a short message, stating who referred you and why you’re calling. But don’t ask the other person to call you back yet. Instead, just say that you’ll try them again soon, and hope to find them in the office. If you still can’t connect, eventually you’ll need to leave your phone number and hope for a return call.
  • Since it’s so difficult these days to get past voicemail and make direct phone contact, you can sometimes make the original outreach with a networking e-mail. Surprisingly, people may be more likely to return an e-mail than a phone call.
  • Practice your overall networking skills with friends, relatives or your Career Coach, by doing “role-plays.”
  • If you can get “warm referrals” into the companies on your list, you’ll be much better off than making “cold calls.”
  • Each person with whom you meet should provide valuable feedback and advice on your documents (for constant improvement).
  • Throughout your networking process, your Target Company List will continually change and develop as a result of the input you’ll be getting from networking partners.
  • Your primary goal is to schedule networking meetings with as many professionals as possible, and get introductions to hiring managers at your target companies and other relevant organizations that match your criteria.
  • Leave your resume at home; it’s not the appropriate tool because there is no job opening to discuss at a networking meeting.
  • Ask for what you want from your networking partners, and you’ll usually get it. Let me repeat that because it’s so important: ASK for what you want from your networking partners, and you’ll usually get it.
  • Be sure to take notes throughout your networking meetings (and interviews) – otherwise you won’t seem serious or engaged in the conversation.
  • In networking, give more than you receive, and have an attitude of generosity. You can offer information you’ve learned through your networking, share resources or industry trends, recommend articles, provide business tips, etc. Always seek to be of genuine service.
  • Being well-organized is “half the battle,” so use an efficient tracking system for networking, or you’ll quickly become overwhelmed with details and paperwork.

There is a lot of information above about pursuing the hidden job market, so let’s “connect the dots:”

  • Once you’ve networked in to people at your target companies, build rapport centered around the mutual contact who referred you.
  • Ask probing questions at the networking meeting to uncover what the company’s needs, problems and challenges are.
  • Discuss broader industry themes and trends as well.
  • You’re at the networking meeting to listen, learn and understand – not to “get a job.”
  • Be sure to ask for feedback, guidance and more contact names.
  • Position yourself as a “solutions provider,” not as a job seeker; and as a “problem solver” rather than as a candidate.
  • Of course, you must ALWAYS send a thank-you note right after the networking meeting.
  • If you truly believe that you could be of value to the company where your networking partner works, write a detailed follow-up letter articulating their problems and challenges (as you understood during the networking meeting). Itemize how you have successfully addressed similar issues in the past at other companies.
  • Invite the person to contact you if they’d like to discuss the ideas and suggestions outlined in your follow-up letter.
  • If things go well, you could create a new opportunity for yourself, even if there was no identified position originally. This doesn’t happen very often, but it DOES happen.
  • In this case, you would be the ONLY candidate, and you could bypass the entire “application process.”

The bottom line is that to find opportunities in the hidden job market, you need to offer compelling value in every meeting and conversation. This means drawing a direct connection between your strengths and experiences, and an employer’s needs and challenges. Understand that EVERY company is hiring all the time, IF you have what they need when they need it.

If you continue networking and demonstrating your service orientation, and if you stay focused on uncovering and meeting employers’ needs, you’ll always have access into the hidden job market – which is where the best opportunities are!

About the Author:
Ford R. Myers is an award-winning career coach, speaker and author of the best-seller, Get The Job You Want, Even When No One’s Hiring. Ford’s firm helps clients take charge of their careers, create the work they love, and earn what they deserve! He has held senior consulting positions at three of the nation’s largest career service firms. Ford’s articles have appeared in thousands of publications and web sites, and he has been interviewed on every major television and radio network. Ford has also conducted presentations at hundreds of companies, associations and universities. Learn more at


FORD R. MYERS is an award-winning, nationally-known Career Coach, best-selling author and speaker. He is the President of Career Potential, LLC, a premier provider of career success services. Through powerful individual, corporate and government career programs, Ford has helped thousands of clients take charge of their careers, create the work they love, and earn what they deserve!

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