Job market

Understanding the hidden job market

70% of all vacancies are never advertised, or so the story goes. This figure has been quoted for as long as I’ve worked in careers and I’m not sure anyone knows exactly where it comes from. boy_binoculars-190In many ways it doesn’t really matter whether it’s 7% or 70% as long as you factor this ‘hidden’ side of the job market into your job search strategy. If  you’re spending all your time on job portals (good as they are) you’re potentially missing out. By dedicating a small fraction of your time to unearthing unadvertised vacancies you may well find a wider range of opportunities than advertised vacancies alone. And this is even more true when you expand the parameters to include internships and other work placements.

Here’s an interesting anecdote: when the economy is thriving and employers are hiring like gangbusters  the hidden job market shrinks. What does this mean?  Well, in the current economic climate it means you need to look beyond the surface. Only the most determined, resourceful and proactive job-seeker will prevail.

Why don’t employers advertise their vacancies?

By far the majority of ‘hidden’ opportunities are concentrated within the SME sector, which to many students and graduate is equally hidden, despite accounting for 99% of all British businesses. SMEs – small or medium sized enterprises – employ fewer than 250 employees and don’t have the finances or infrastructure to compete with the big graduate recruiters, so they’re often invisible to graduates as a source of jobs or work placements. Understanding how  they operate will give you the ammo needed to tap into the sector and widen your job search.

They don’t need to

Organisations and sectors which have more interested people than the number of vacancies available can fill these pretty quickly from direct approaches, or internal networks. If you’re the lucky intern or work experience student who is doing a really impressive job, why would they bother to advertise when the time comes to fill a vacancy? They already have you, so no need to spend time and money on a recruitment campaign and selection process. It’s a win-win.

Limiting factors

These may include time or money. Many small organisations, across a range of sectors – media, charity, niche engineering firms – simply don’t have the resources – human or financial – required to process the volume of applications generated by job ads. Factor in the cost of ads and glossy recruitment campaigns, and they may just decide that an extra pair of hands is not worth the additional expense. But a direct approach from someone who understands the organisation, and can persuasively plead their case, may be viewed more positively. Some companies and organisations don’t know what they’re missing…..until you tell them!

How to find these ‘hidden’ opportunities

If employers sometimes have (or might create) vacancies which they are not advertising, what are the tips for finding and securing these opportunities?

Do your research

You’re more likely to be taken seriously if you understand what the organisation is doing, what differentiates it from similar organisations, and what jobs there are likely to be. Let’s say you want a newspaper internship (or work placement) in Oxford – if you don’t know what differentiates the Oxford Mail from the Oxford Times from the Oxford Journal and what implications this has for the people working there, then you’d better make sure you find out. Read widely and use all the information sources at your disposal – news articles, press releases, social media. Leave no stone unturned.

Tell people you’re looking (aka networking!)

You get a job by talking to people. Tell everyone and anyone who will listen what you’re looking for.  There may be some surprising connections, like the student who got her first political placement because her Mum belonged to the same social group as the MP’s secretary! Of course some people are blessed with better networks than others – but networks can be developed, and if you’re on the shy side, then take refuge in social networks to help you build confidence (and contacts). It’s important to get your LinkedIn profile up to scratch and use this vast professional network to identify possible leads and contacts.   Maybe you could set up an Informational interview – a great way to gain information, insight and intelligence. Give it a try.

Work out your strategy

Just as in the open job market, a targeted approach is more likely to bear fruit.  Don’t send out 100 generic CVs hoping to strike it lucky. Draw up a list of potential organisations and work out who is the best person to contact.  This is where LinkedIn come in to its own: use the company info to help you identify key personnel. It’s easier to ignore an email than it is a phone call, but you will need to be both confident and persistence if you decide to ring. Don’t stop at the HR or admin dept. if you can help it – they may not be in the best position to make or influence the decision.

Get your CV in order

Use your research to help structure and tailor your CV/cover letter/email. You’ll have to work just as hard with speculative applications – in some ways more so – because you need to present a compelling case. Why should employers spend time looking at your CV? What’s in it for them? If you’re not sure how or where to start, then come and have a chat with our job search advisers.

The 3 Ps

  • Be persuasive. You could have interests, skills or prior experience which may be really attractive to your target organisation –  it’s about finding the ‘hook’. Think of yourself as a product you need to sell. Make it hard for the employer to resist your approach.
  • Be persistent. If you get a clear ‘no’ it may be time to move on to the next organisation/company on your list. But you can convert a reluctant ‘maybe’ into a potential – or even definite – offer, with a good amount of time and effort. An email is easy to ignore, a phone call is harder – a second or third phone call or perhaps a visit shows that you’re really keen. And determined. I once met the director of an organisation in a popular sector who routinely ignored first requests for any kind of work experience – it was those who came back a second time that he knew were serious. He also told a story which demonstrates the value of persistence and persuasiveness. Someone with no experience kept getting in touch insisting that they had the skills for the job and begging for the chance to prove it.  The company arranged a short work trial, which turned into a permanent  job. His approach and self-belief were both vindicated.
  • Be philosophical. There are no guarantees your efforts will be rewarded but the worst that can happen is that  you hear ‘no’ when you’re hoping for  ‘yes’. Surely it’s worth the risk, when a good result could mean the start of your dream career?

4 thoughts on “Understanding the hidden job market

    • Thanks Wayne. I think it’s always tricky to quantify the extent of the hidden job market (I’m a bit dubious about the 80%+ claims!) but from a student/grad perspective the key thing is to understand that it *does* exist. Far too many students restrict their search to advertised opportunities and potentially miss out. In some cases I think this is an issue of confidence – not knowing how to navigate/enter the hidden job market – but just as frequently a sense that career success begins and ends with the milkround!

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