How to Tap Into the Hidden Job Market

🚀 You can't afford to compete with everyone right now - Issue #159

Searching for a good job is never an easy task. Landing a great offer is even more challenging.

Guess what?

It’s about to get a lot harder.

The global pandemic is causing many companies to panic, or at least be more cautious with their hiring and spending. The list is growing of companies who are conducting layoffs to tighten their belts.

If you are looking for a new job right now, you may have already noticed that companies are slow to respond. Some of my clients have been told that the company froze hiring, and closed the open roles in the middle of their discussions with them.

Does the following sound familiar?

You apply for a job, send your resume, but you never hear back. You may even make it to the interview stage; it seems like it went well, and then — crickets.

You know that you have the skills to get in the door. But, for some reason, you stall out when it comes to getting the offer. It’s super frustrating, and you can’t help but wonder why.

If you’re hoping for extraordinary results, you need to stop using traditional job hunting methods. You will never find the best, hidden jobs if you do what everyone else does.

The traditional approach is flawed

Even in the best of times, a conventional job search is not the way to find the best roles.

Now? It’s a colossal mistake.

A few years ago, Suzie Welch interviewed Dick Costolo to discuss what it takes to get hired by one of the top companies in the world. She mentioned that Google receives over 1 million job applications each year. Most of those come from people who are contacting the company cold or applying online.

They have ~2,800 job openings in the U.S. right now. Guess how successful people are in landing one of those jobs using the “obvious process” when competing with millions of other candidates?

…that’s generally not how people get hired at Google, or Amazon, or any of the big tech companies. Nobody gets a job by clicking a button.” — Dick Costolo

Therein lies the biggest problem with following the rules. The system is designed to filter you out, not let you in.

This is what happens when there is a mismatch between supply and demand. You don’t even get a chance to get noticed or stand out.

The answer is to stop playing by the rules. Stop focusing on the posted jobs that everyone else is lining up for too. Instead, tap into the hidden job market.

For almost two decades during my corporate career in Silicon Valley at IBM, Apple, eBay, and Yahoo, I never followed the traditional approach.

I always had an internal champion who brought me in warm. Many of those jobs were “hidden.”

I still remember walking down a hallway at a conference to drop off some paperwork with my hiring manager at Apple. They were taking job applications from the people attending the conference — mostly grad students. The line stretched down the hall, with dozens and dozens of people waiting.

I walked past everyone.

People turned and looked at me, and some were upset that I was “jumping the queue.” What they didn’t realize was that I had already built the relationships and secured a job months ago. I didn’t need to wait and compete with them.

Don’t be one of those people standing in line.

Why are the best jobs hidden?

It may not seem fair, and it might make you angry, but almost 80% of jobs are never posted. That number climbs closer to 90% for senior-level positions.

The opportunities that are going to transform your career aren’t listed where everyone else is looking. The biggest jumps in my career came from roles no one else knew about.

“The competition for posted jobs is insane. ATSes do a horrendous job of selecting the best candidates, and — perhaps most important — the best jobs are almost never posted.” (source)

A company may decide not to post or advertise a job for a variety of reasons:

  • They’re trying to fill the role from within the company.

  • They want higher-quality talent referrals from their best employees.

  • The position isn’t posted yet, but it soon will be (e.g., when someone quits or is fired).

  • They don’t want to go through the lengthy traditional processes.

  • They don’t want to pay to advertise or post the job.

Or, a job may be hidden for the most invisible of reasons: it doesn’t even exist yet. This is the most challenging situation, but it’s also the most rewarding opportunity.

There are only two effective ways to get a hidden job:

  1. Be brought in by a champion who wants you for that job. You can make this happen using the passive and active strategies that I describe below.

  2. Or create your own job. You can do this when you’re great at creating opportunity, or when someone at the company wants you badly enough to design a role around you.

Passive strategy

When you’re not in a hurry to quit your job, and you just want to test the waters, you can adopt a somewhat passive approach that will potentially let a hidden job come to you.

Carefully let the best people in your network know that you are “in play.” Establish a few inside champions at companies of interest.

Why bother with finding an inside champion? Well…

  • One 2014 study found that 30%–50% of hires in the U.S. come from referrals.

  • 85% of critical jobs are filled via referrals or networking of some sort (source).

  • Referrals are 5X more likely to be hired than traditional applicants.

  • Networking beats applying directly for a job by a factor of 3:1. (source).

I do say carefully, though, because you still want to be smart about where you end up working. You want a great opportunity, not just any job that anyone in your network tosses in your direction.

So, talk privately with people you respect and be clear about the types of opportunities you’re most interested in pursuing. These should also be people you trust, so that word of your job-seeking doesn’t come back to bite you.

That’s why I don’t recommend broadcasting that you are looking for a job. I see this on social media all the time. Unfortunately, it gives the impression of desperation and incompetence.

If people are shouting from the rooftops that they are looking for a new job, it’s pretty clear that they aren’t in high demand. This also means that they don’t know how the real system works for finding the best jobs.

A hidden job can also find you. This is the ultimate passive strategy and one that I often refer to as becoming an “opportunity magnet.” Recruiters call these people “passive candidates,” and they love them.

That is how my first Tech startup job found me. I was employed and reasonably happy. I loved my job, the products, and the team.

But, I was starting a family and concerned that my salary wouldn’t be enough. Who doesn’t want better compensation?

A friend who had worked with me before gave me a call. Unbeknownst to me, she had become my “inside champion” and told her boss that I was the designer they needed.

The process went quickly and smoothly, and he made me an offer the day I came in. It was a significant bump in salary plus startup stock options. That was when I discovered the power of job-hopping.

Active strategy

A passive strategy is OK if you’re not seriously looking to move on, but will consider it if a great role just happens to come your way. But, it’s not the best approach for taking full control of your career and intentionally steering it in the direction that you ultimately want to go.

If you have a clear vision for your career, you need to adopt an active strategy. Clearly define the role that you want.

Know what you are worth and what you will accept. Package yourself up so that you can succinctly communicate why you are the best for the role.

Once you’re ready with the story of who you are, it’s time to go hunting. Research the companies that will be a smart next move for your career.

Find out what those companies value, where they are heading, and what changes are coming that make you invaluable. Create your top 10 list to pursue.

Next, work your network to find your inside champions. If you’ve been in the industry for a long time, you probably know someone at almost every company on your list.

If not, you probably know someone who knows someone. Isn’t LinkedIn fantastic?

Thanks to my network from IBM, Apple, eBay, and Yahoo, it seems like I know someone at almost every company in the Valley. Or, I’m only one connection away from the right person.

Start having conversations with your champions. There may not always be a role available, but now they will know what you are looking for and will keep you in mind. Plus, they’ll think of you when a great opportunity comes up that might be at a completely different company.

However, as I mentioned earlier, the best opportunities for your career growth will be the ones you create. This requires vigilance, diligence, and good timing. Look for signs that a company will soon need what you have to offer.

That is how I landed a stretch role in my career. Chaos presented an opportunity. I created a pitch that positioned me for a potential role, described how I would organize the team, and included strategy slides that showed where I wanted to take the product.

I secured a meeting with the hiring manager, made the pitch, and landed the job. You can do this too.

For example:

  • Perhaps that exciting startup you’ve been watching just closed a big round. They are going to be growing. They could use your leadership to help find great talent, scale the organization, and lead the team. Your champion is well-connected with one of the founders, so you ask for a warm intro.

  • You noticed that your target company has an opening for a role close to what you’re interested in doing, but not quite right. You rewrite the job description to better fit your ambitions and broker a pitch meeting with the hiring manager through your internal champion.

  • You hear through the grapevine that a VP at one of your target companies is getting ready to exit. You could wait until that happens, and the job is posted, but then you’ll be competing with dozens of other candidates. Instead, you proactively reach out to your champion to let him or her know of your interest in that role.

What’s the worst thing that can happen?

They might say, “No.” But, now they know how talented and ambitious you are.

However, you may be surprised by how often you will get a “Yes.”

Use the hidden job market to unlock your potential

Don’t come in through the public front door and get stuck at the top of the recruiting funnel with hundreds of other candidates. Find your internal champion and get brought in hot through a “side entrance.”

The most significant growth in your career is going to come from these hidden jobs. It is going to happen when you seize opportunities instead of letting them slip away.

You must intentionally take your career down the path that you have planned out for the next 10–20 years.

Don’t limit yourself to the obvious jobs that everyone else sees. Don’t let cookie-cutter roles put you into a box.

Create what you need to take yourself where you know you need to go.

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