To some, the “hidden job market” may be old news, but you would be surprised at how many job seekers have never heard of it. The hidden job market accounts for a significant percentage of all jobs that are filled! Some sources have claimed this to be as high as 80% of all opportunities.

It may be easier for job seekers to search for opportunities within the electronic and written media but they may be missing the best jobs potentially available to them by not effectively utilizing non media sources for job opportunities.

Typically, employers use several methods to find candidates when they have a position to fill. Some are visible to job seekers and some are not.

Positions visible to outside job seekers include:

  1. Ads posted on the company Web site.
  2. Ads posted on the job boards.
  3. Ads placed in a daily newspaper, trade magazine, employment paper, etc.

Not all positions are visible to external job seekers. Employers often use non advertising methods to find candidates, including:

  1. Reviewing internal talent enabling them to hire from within the organization.
  2. Mining the company database for suitable resumés.
  3. Getting referrals from existing employees.
  4. Engaging a recruiter who will search on behalf of the employer. If the recruiter posts an ad it will generally avoid stating the name of the employer.

What, then, can a job seeker do to uncover these hidden job opportunities not immediately visible or apparent in the employment media?

Rather than only seeking a job by responding to ads and/or blindly sending off resumes to employers, we are recommending a much more personal approach generally referred to as “networking”. Here are some tips on how this should be done in order for you to tap the hidden job market:

1. Your first step is to assemble a list of people with whom you can talk.

This list should include anyone with whom you have any connection which will enable you to initiate a conversation.

Your list should include friends, acquaintances, neighbors, relatives, past employers, past supervisors, colleagues, subordinates, clients, customers, suppliers to your past company, church members, past or current classmates, college alumni, teachers, club members, and association colleagues.

Start by creating a first draft of a list and then keep it going as you recall contacts you can include. A good tip is to look at old business cards and email correspondence.

2. Get out and network! Make yourself visible.

People on your list are critical to your task of finding work. However, you should be prepared to talk to anyone whom you believe can assist you in finding out where the job you are looking for may be.

The key is to get the momentum going – pick up the phone or meet with people face to face and seek out tips, leads, referrals and suggestions they may have of job openings.

If you are not comfortable doing this, you will have to psych yourself up by recognizing that you are going to need to do this to have an effective job search campaign.

Keep a good record of what you learn and from whom (try an excel spreadsheet).

3. Research potential employers.

Conduct research on potential employers. You will find that researching several companies in the same industry is easier than jumping around without focus.

Read annual reports, use ZoomInfo, Hoovers, Sedar (securities related information for Canadian public companies), EDGAR (securities related information for US public companies), and the vast list of available sources on the internet. This will enable you to become quite knowledgeable and understand company strengths and challenges.

What you learn from your research will help you position your resume, cover letter and any dialogue to address any specific needs potential employers may have that you can address.

Use the information you have researched to sell yourself.

4. Employ effective self-marketing! Ask yourself the question, “Why should this employer hire me?”

You want to be able to tell your target employer something that is a motivator to them to consider hiring you.

Be specific and creative when you list all relevant experience, training and skills that will be of interest to them.

Make sure your resume spells out your key selling points so that the employer is left with little doubt that you are a very good fit for the organization. Think in terms of anything that makes you stand out or unique. Try to develop a USP (unique selling proposition).

Even if the employer does not have a job available immediately, if you have impressed them, they will likely keep your resume on file for future openings.

5. Zero in on the right target.

You will be compiling numerous names as a result of your research and networking. Before you send off a resume to an individual responsible for hiring, you must validate that the information you have – name, position, and address – is correct by contacting the company. There is no point sending out documents hoping to impress the recipient with a name incorrectly spelled or an incorrect title  If the address is incorrect, you will miss your intended target altogether.

If you don’t know of a specific contact at the target company, call and ask for someone by title. Your tonality and friendliness will be very important here in terms of your ability to get accurate information from people at reception or from administrative support staff. Be friendly, not pushy. For example you might say, “Good Morning, I need to write a letter to your head of marketing. Would you please provide me his or her name?”

If you can’t think of anyone at all, ask for the President or General Manager – explaining that you would like to write the person who runs the company or the division. It’s unlikely you’ll be put through, but the admin person you are speaking with should point you in the right direction.

The next step is to send a personalized cover letter and resume targeted to the company based on your research findings. State exactly what kind of job you’re looking for. Saying that you are looking for any appropriate position will be ineffective; you will not come across as a good candidate.

At the end of your letter, thank the target for reviewing your resume and let the individual you are writing know that you will be following up with a call within 2 days. Ensure that you are working with a manageable number of letters/resumes – manageable in terms of knowing you will have the time to properly follow up.

6. Remain positive, be politely persistent and strive to overcome the roadblocks including gatekeepers, voicemail and objections.

Call your target and do not allow the “brush off” from a gatekeeper to deter you from the task at hand.

Your mandate is to reach the individual you have sent your resume to. If you choose to take the more difficult road and contact your target before you send a resume through (not recommended unless timing is critical and you know that the target will want to meet with you) you must prevail and find a way to accomplish your objective.

Reaching a line manager or key decision maker is often a daunting task for a job seeker. There is no magic formula for getting your resume into your target’s hands and connecting on the phone is usually more difficult. The answer is persistence – it requires an understanding that line managers are very busy and an ability on your part to deal effectively with delays; even a sense of rejection. If you are well off enough to send a package by courier and assuming that you have something of value to offer the company in question, you may find that you will break through sooner as a result of your more intrusive approach.

Getting Around Gatekeepers:

If you cannot successfully elicit the assistance of the gatekeeper (secretaries, receptionists, admin support staff) in connecting you to the decision maker, get around them by calling until you reach the decision maker directly. You can also try calling very early (8:00 AM to 8:30 AM) or after 5:00 PM or at lunch time (12:00 Noon to 1:00 PM) and be sure to call at every day or at least once every second day.

Harnessing Voicemail:

It often seems that voicemail was designed specifically to install a shield between the target and the job seeker.  Voice mail does not have to be the bane of the job seeker’s life. Turn a negative into a positive. Leave a brief message with the specifics of why you’re calling and your contact information. End the call by saying that you’ll call back and when. By the time you reach your target live they will understand the reason for your call.

Dealing with Objections:

Remain focused. When you reach the decision maker, you may be able to get to the point quickly and effectively and if your comments are on the mark in terms of addressing a need in the company you may succeed in obtaining an interview.

On the other hand, you may be met with a series of objections such as “We’re not hiring” or “I’m too busy right now, please call back”. Reassuring the decision maker that you will only take a moment of his/her time will be helpful followed by quickly stating your reason for calling and indicating the benefit you bring to the company. Perhaps your forte is in sales at a time when sales in the company might be better, or, perhaps you have a reputation as a top project manager and systems implementation in the company is in a shambles. Regardless of your background, you must be able to connect with the decision maker and demonstrate the relevancy of your call.

Success in Tapping the Hidden Job Market:

Your ability to reach a number of decision makers on a repeated basis along with your ability to demonstrate your value or relevancy to the company will correlate directly with the number of interviews you generate and ultimately a new job.