When I was a kid, we took a field trip to the planetarium every year, and our teacher would tell us: “The stars shine all the time, you just can’t see them during the day because the sun is out.”
Cut to 30 years later and that’s how I explain the hidden job market to my coaching clients: It’s always there, but you won’t always see it. (Which is infuriating, I know, when you’re job hunting and not seeing any results.)
Why is that?
Sometimes, broadcasting “We’re hiring!” across the web is a bad idea. Employers may need to keep their hiring process under wraps (for example, to protect stock prices or discreetly find a replacement for an underperforming team member). There’s also the chance that a need emerges overnight and a company quickly fills the position with whomever they’re already connected to.
The hush-hush factors vary, but you can count on one thing across the board: It’s your reputation and relationships that get you in the door. Your credentials and application—no matter how stunning—won’t be enough on their own.
Want in? Here's how:
It’s true: It’s not a fast process. So if you need a job yesterday, you probably don’t want to count on this as your number one to land a new gig.
I suggest setting aside three months to give yourself enough time to research your dream companies, polish up your personal brand, and network like nobody’s networked before. Before you slam your computer shut at the sight of three months, know that’s the time frame if you’re starting at square one (say, if you’re changing careers and have no contacts in your desired industry).
The fact that you’re even reading about the hidden job market makes me think one of two things: Either you’re over the formal application process, or you’re a passive candidate who likes the idea of having awesome, unposted opportunities find you. And a lot of what you’ll be doing over the next several weeks (like ramping up your networking efforts) directly supports other job-hunting or career-boosting activities, so none of that time is going to waste.
And, if you’ve already done the legwork to build a strong personal brand and establish solid relationships at your dream company, you can shave time off of that estimate.
If You Prefer to Network In Person
It’s not enough to attend a few more conferences or take a few people out for coffee and hope the impression you made was well-timed. And that’s good news if you hate the traditional networking anyhow.
Instead, you have to build value-heavy connections.
And you’ll need to do it strategically.
Start here: Figure out who the decision makers are at your target companies and how to draw the straightest line possible between you and them. For example, you can research the department head on your dream team (use LinkedIn!) and show up to an industry event they’ve posted they’ll be attending, armed with a plan around what you’ll say.
You’ll want to find a natural way to initiate conversation, something as simple as, “So, what brought you here today?” or “I totally agree with [what they said] on [panel].” Next, you’ll usually be able to work in what brought you there pretty naturally (this is where your elevator speech comes in handy!). It might sound something like this:
“Well, I’m a [your job title] and I’m very interested in companies that [describe their company and its needs], so I attend these sort of events to learn more about them.”
Boom. You’ve started building a valuable relationship—one based on how you can help the leader you’ve just met solve their biggest problems. And that’s the key to positioning yourself to hear about an upcoming opening on their team in the future.
If You Prefer to Network From Your Couch
Your personal brand is on point and your LinkedIn profile is, to quote Beyonce, flawless. That stuff matters—a lot—but if you’re like most people, there’s one sneaky little branding boost that’ll really make the difference when it comes to hidden jobs.
Spoiler: It’s in your emails.
You don’t want to pair an offline job search with emails full of lines borrowed from your cover letter. Step out of your comfort zone and craft original, personal messages. To quote myself, from an article I wrote on non-traditional applications, say this:
When I heard that BitPay was having trouble finding product-market fit, I knew wanted to get involved as soon as possible.
ChangeTip faced a similar challenge last March, so I helped the team there create a strategic buyer list and led introductions that secured the company a $12M acquisition offer by the end of February.
If your customer base is still an area where you’re looking to grow, I’d to love to chat and explore more about how I might be able to help your team.
It’s a way to discuss your abilities without flat-out asking if a specific position is available, which can open you up to opportunities you might not have otherwise heard of.
Of course, you don’t have to swear allegiance to networking in person or online, and follow only one of these strategies. In fact, they complement each other really well, and can move you even closer to finding that new job.
If you’ve ever wondered how some people seem to know about opportunities that’ve never been posted, now you know their secret. The hidden job market isn’t actually hidden at all. With a little strategy persistence, it can be right at your fingertips.
Photo of person walking on phone courtesy of Paul Bradbury/Getty Images.