The hidden job market can be defined as people getting jobs when those jobs have never been posted for employees or people outside the company to see. Some see that market as a myth; others effectively exploit it. Those that exploit it will note that it’s not a myth, thank-you-very-much.
Let’s say the hidden job market exists — how do you get into this market for a job?
To take advantage of the hidden job market, there are three pre-requisites. First, you need a good set of job skills for the work that you do. To qualify for any job, hidden or not, job skills are the currency of exchange between you and the employer — your job skills help the employer reach business goals and, in exchange, you have a job that pays you money and benefits.
The second pre-requisite you need is performance on the job. You meet your goals. Your work helps managers reach their business goals. You do all those things talked about in job descriptions — works in a fast-paced environment, plays well in the sandbox, works through difficult situations. You produce business results (yes, I said that again — meeting goals is critical).
Unless you have the job skills to do the work AND have the job performance to prove it, the hidden job market will continue hiding. Why? Because having job skills and good performance means you have a reputation of producing good work. Without this reputation for producing good work, it is difficult for people to think of you as a person to recommend for a position or to be thought of to be appointed to a position.
The final pre-requisite is having a business network. A business network is a group of people you associate and work with as part of your career. These could be people at your current place of work (especially if it is a large corporation) and from other companies or professional associations. You can have skills, perform at work, but without this business network, there would be few people to know about your work and how you could help others achieve business goals.
Once you have these pre-requisites, the key to accessing the hidden job market is working with your business network. You help people in your network when they need help, offer a safe place to vent, and help them connect with the people you know who could help them. Then, when you are looking for something new, you have trust built with people.
When it comes time for you to make a change, letting your business network know about what type of work you are looking to do starts a virtuous cycle. Your business network knows you have the skills and job performance. Plus they know that you can be counted on to help. While you may not be top-of-mind all the time, when a person in your network hears of a potential opening, you are likely to be recommended. All before anything is even posted.
I worked with a group of consultants on a project for a year. We all did pretty well. Then we all left for greener pastures. My pastures weren’t so green and during the tech bust in 2001, I got laid off and was looking for work.
On one of those layoff days, I got a phone call asking me to submit my resume and set up a time for phone interview. Those nice consultants were working at this company on a project and when a potential opening came up, they recommended me for the position. I got the interview and the job.
Or, take this example, where the decision makers were just thinking they needed some help in an area and this person was right there because she got her pre-requisites right and worked with her business network to let her intentions be known.
You can argue that the hidden job market is a myth or you can think it all as luck. But as one of my early managers noted with a sign on his desk:
Luck belongs to the good players