Is There Really A Hidden Job Market?

By Gerald Walsh ©

The short answer is: Yes! Simply put, it is all those jobs (or potential jobs) that have yet to be publicized. It contains:

  • Jobs that are still in the planning stages;
  • Jobs that will arise due to corporate reorganization or restructuring;
  • Jobs that will open up due to retirements, resignations, promotions, or transfers;
  • Jobs that arise because someone has been dismissed suddenly;
  • Jobs that will arise due to expansion plans or acquisitions;
  • Jobs that have been sent to a search firm but have yet to “hit the street”;
  • Jobs that are intended to be advertised in the future; and
  • Jobs that will never be advertised because the employer prefers to hire by word of mouth.

No one knows exactly how large the “hidden job market” is but most career experts suggest it is large: some say it is around 40% of total job vacancies; others estimate it as high as 80%. No matter if it’s at the lower or higher end of the range, it is a big number and you should focus a lot of your time and attention trying to tap it.

The reason there is such a large hidden job market is that most employers, all things being equal, still prefer to hire someone who is known to them, even tangentially. If you are an employer and an employee, supplier, customer or close friend recommends someone to you, you will view this as less risky than hiring a complete stranger. And frankly, no matter what you say, business is still about people. Whether it is selling or hiring, it doesn’t matter. People prefer to do business with people they know and like.

And there’s another benefit to the employer: if they can successfully hire this way, they avoid the hassle of advertising the job, handling telephone inquiries, screening resumes, and interviewing dozens of candidates.

That is why you must access your connections to tap the hidden job market. The law of probability says that the more people you connect with, the more career opportunities you will see. For that reason alone, you should do everything you can to build your personal connections and increase the number of people who might be willing to help you in your search efforts.

Remember, you have two levels of personal connections:

Level 1 connections are those people you have a close connection with and see frequently. This list includes family members, friends, friends of friends, friends of your parents, parents of your children’s friends, relatives, neighbours, former classmates, club members, lawyer, doctor, dentist, accountant, realtor, banker, financial advisor, insurance agent, health club members, alumni, church members and service club members.

Level 2 connections are those people you would describe more as work-related colleagues and associates including past employers, clients, suppliers, community leaders, co-workers (current and former) old professors, coaches and business leaders.

It won’t take you long to come up with a great list of names. And you will find that the stronger (and bigger) your list gets, the more valuable it becomes and the faster it grows.

A final word of advice: You still have to be good at what you do.

That’s because if a personal connection – even your favourite cousin – is recommending you for a job in their company or another company, they are putting their own personal reputation at risk. By helping you and passing your name along to someone else, they are in fact saying you are a good person and capable of doing the job. If you get hired and somehow screw up down the road, they will look bad and their own reputation will be damaged.

So, remember, just because you know somebody, it doesn’t mean they will automatically go to bat for you. You may have to convince them that you can do a good job. That will reduce the perceived risk for them and hopefully convince them to recommend you for the job.


Gerald Walsh is an executive recruiter, career coach, public speaker and writer. During a 25+ year career, he has interviewed more than 10,000 job candidates, completed hundreds of successful searches for a range of organizations and guided many individuals – from young professionals to senior executives – to successful career change. He is the author of “PINNACLE: How to Land the Right Job and Find Fulfillment in Your Career.” You can follow Gerry on Twitter @@Gerald_Walsh and LinkedIn