Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

The hidden job market in fact and hype

Posted in job search and career development by Timothy Platt on February 8, 2010

If you go to any of the major job search sites and enter a search query, chances are you will get a very long list of openings returned to you in the search results. If your search is very specialized or if you are restricting yourself geographically to an area with fewer jobs available you might get a lot smaller returns count but most searches seem to yield a flood of possibilities. You also have to assume that:

• Most of the businesses posting these jobs notices will be bombarded by floods of applicants for each and every position they have listed.
• True, many if not most of these replies will be inappropriate as the people submitting them do not meet the basic, core requirements for the job for at least one of the listed essentials.
• But your submission will be mixed in with a tremendous number of other applicants who meet the basic requirements too.

Some of these posted positions, and perhaps many of them in any given search query results listing are dead ends. Some of the reasons for that are:

• Postings showing may be out of date and the business may have already hired.
• The business may still be looking but its hiring manager may have rewritten the job description they are actually searching by without updating or correcting the description posted online on job search sites.
• There may be a freeze on hiring for that position, where it is left up and online because of neglect, or simply because the business wants to know what candidates it can chose from when ready to hire again.

These and similar reasons as to why a posting might not be productive, coupled with the shear volume of competition that any posting faces reduces the effectiveness of any jobs board oriented job search. I do not by any means recommend against using sites like or and I cite here an earlier posting on using these sites with The Many Faces of Job Search Sites. Nevertheless, other approaches are needed too, as this one by itself is not a high probability of success option for any one or even any group of jobs applied to, and certainly for the openly posted job market in a tight economy.

I have posted several times in this series and in the blog in general about the value and methods of online social networking, and both in business and in job search. That is definitely a way to find out about jobs and what is really out there, along with updates on hiring plans and schedules, job descriptions and applicant requirements and so on. Networking is also an effective way to get past gatekeepers to meet with the hiring managers who will make the ultimate hiring decisions. Insofar as this means accessing less publically available information to bring your search into focus, this connects strongly with the basic core notion of the hidden job market.

The term “hidden job market” is, however, used in a variety of ways and sometimes in a meaningful way and sometimes simply as a marketing term.

Realistically, if all the details are out there on the public job search sites and/or the hiring business’ web site, that job opening is not in the hidden job market. If any important details are unlisted, or incorrectly listed (e.g. for lack of accurate and timely updates, etc) that position is at least partly in the shadows and if the missing or inaccurate information is crucial for any successful candidate to know to have a chance at being hired that position is in the hidden job market.

Please note that I have expanded this term in a significant but crucial way. If a potential position is not publically posted anywhere at all it is most certainly in the hidden job market insofar as candidates are being sought and a real hiring desired. If the name and other details of that position are publically out there but in a way that would make it impossible for a candidate to succeed, at least strictly working from public, openly available information that job is still functionally in the hidden job market. After all, only candidates who have information that is not public can succeed in securing that job with a hire.

Whether you use the narrower and more traditional use of this term or the wider more inclusive definition I prefer, there are jobs out there that would fall into the hidden job market. If you know of one of these positions and the less public details of it, and you meet the requirements for it including interest and enthusiasm for taking and carrying out that job you are a viable candidate. You are also going to be competing in a much smaller candidate pool, and especially if you couple this knowledge with effective networking to the hiring manager. So there really is something positive to this topic, and in the potential that exploring and working the hidden job market can bring.

There is also a great deal of potential for hype and “hidden job market” can be and is used as a marketing gimmick by some. How can you tell if you are searching effectively in this arena or simply falling for hype? There is a certain moving target aspect to this but there are some points that come to mind that I would share with you here.

• Do your due diligence as to the qualifications and value of service for any career development or job search consultant who advertises they will help you find and navigate the hidden job market.
• How do they do this?
• What industries and functional areas (e.g. Information Technology, or Marketing, or Finance, etc) do they have expertise and connections to?
• What is their geographic reach?
• Do they claim inside track insight and connections to any particular businesses, professional associations or organizations, trade groups or others? If so how do they verify that?
• What is their track record and how can you validate what they say? Can you for example, meet with one of their former clients to get feedback on their experience?
• What do they actually mean by the term “hidden job market?” Some businesses that claim that mostly look through the open postings with nothing particularly hidden included, either as to which jobs they help you find or what details they help you find about them.
• Do they help candidates network directly to hiring managers or do they simply offer jobs lists where you would still have to go through any open jobs market gatekeepers in place?
• How do they update and validate the information they share with you and how often?
• Do they give the same information on the same potential positions to other candidates, and if so, to how many?
• How current is their information and how actively and frequently do they update their database?
• What do they charge, and what levels and types of performance on their part and success on yours are their fees contingent on?

I noted in regards to Recruiters and Recruiting Services that there are several types of recruiters and that there are issues you should look for as positives, and as warning signs. The same applies here.

• What else does a business do that offers entry into the hidden job market? Do they offer general career search counseling and if so to what types of candidate?
• Do they focus on candidates looking for certain career levels and/or minimum salaries?
• Do their hidden job market claims as to reach, access and experience mesh with the range of candidates they work with in their career counseling service (e.g. for industries, functional areas, position and salary levels, geography and so on)?
• Do your due diligence before you invest in time, effort or money.

The hidden job market is real, and for a lot of reasons (e.g. sometimes a business needs to hire but does not want that publically know, at least for certain types of position at specific times.) Look into this as an area of potential value, but be sure you know what you are paying for if and as fees are involved. Your time and effort have value too, so count them as costs of search too in setting your priorities as to how much effort to focus here.

The next posting in this series will be on phone interviews.

3 Responses

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  1. LorenasList said, on February 10, 2010 at 10:12 am

    Great post! It’s good to see this coming from a Career Seeker’s peer vs. an organization. You are spot on and anyone seeking opportunities in this market has seen the game has changed and someone forgot to publish the “new rules”.

    Although recent conditions have posed challenges (I specifically work with 6 figure Corporate Career Seekers), they can be overcome.

    Thanks for your post!

    • Timothy Platt said, on February 10, 2010 at 11:41 am

      Thank you for your kind words and for picking up on a very important point in this – that the basic rules are changing. It could quite reasonably be argued that is happening for a variety of reasons but I would site two here – really two sides to the same coin.

      From the employee perspective: The concept of career is changing for the candidate and the individual employee, where each of us can now expect to have a series of both specific jobs and separate careers through the course of our professional lives. In this, as touched upon in other postings, we are all becoming consultants.
      From the employer perspective: Staffing is coming to be seen as a dynamic flow of employees with their particular skill sets coming in, staying and moving on to meet current and changing needs and priorities.

      Job descriptions change and sometimes a lot more rapidly than any online postings set can keep up with, and certainly where keeping these listings up to date is a low priority. The flood of applicants, appropriate and not helps to make this a low priority item on the HR and business-wide to do lists for its lack of productive efficiency. Individual employment is no longer seen as a long term relationship for employee or employer, though employers are probably quicker to note this. All of this feeds into expanding the hidden job market as they all contribute to employee churn – turnover, and to reduced public-facing information about the job market as it actually is. I will add that this increases the incidence of “narrow definition hidden job market” too, as well as expanding the hidden job market as more widely defined in the body of the posting.

      The basic point I am leading to here is that yes the rules are changing and they will continue to change even more. Thanks for a very helpful comment, as well as a very kind one for bringing up this detail as it is important.

  2. Joy Irish said, on February 21, 2010 at 4:30 pm

    Fantastic article. Keep publishing more imformative articles. Been keeping an eye on your web log for 7 days now and I should tell I am beginning to like your post. I desire to acknowledge how do I support to your web logs?

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