Contributing Blogger, American Physical Society
In A Busy Student’s Guide to Networking, I alluded to the hidden job market. Although I am not aware of a formal or exact definition for it, its meaning is just like it sounds – job openings or opportunities that are not advertised. Yep, that’s right; you’re not going to find it in the newspaper, on an online job board, or on a social networking site.
There are several explanations for why a job is not advertised—the hiring manager is too busy at the moment to deal with the recruiting and hiring process; the company wants to change a vacant position and is still deciding on the new direction; the company is really small and does not have the advertising budget to list the position; the list of reasons could go on and on. It may also be the case that the position does not currently exist (until you convince the hiring manager that such a position would greatly benefit the company).
No matter the reason(s) why a job is not advertised, there are a lot of advantages for job seekers to try to find these hidden positions. Here are a few:
• The economy is flooded with job seekers—most of whom are applying to any and every job that barely fits their interests and skills. With hundreds of resumes for every job listing, a hiring manager could easily overlook your resume and cover letter—no matter how well it was written or how perfect a fit you are for the position. When applying to a hidden position, you may be the only candidate or one of just a handful, so your chances of standing out are far greater than when applying for an advertised opening.
• If the position is undergoing re-evaluation (i.e., changing the job title and description) or no such position currently exists, you can often mold the job to your liking and skill set resulting in more satisfying and rewarding work.
• In the process of finding hidden positions, you will expand your network, and expanding your network is always helpful for advancing your career.
So, how do I know that such a market exists (after all, it is “hidden”)? Because I’ve been there and I’ve gotten jobs using the tactics I’m about to share with you. Read on to see how you, too, can find a job without applying to a single job posting.
Tactic #1: Know what you want to do or be specific with your skill set.
Students may be hesitant to say they are “skilled” in a certain area, but if you do not believe in what you can do, neither will the prospective employer. Ask yourself several questions to start your personal inventory:
• What duties do I perform well with little to no supervision?
• What have I trained other people to do?
• What strengths have past supervisors highlighted on my performance reviews?
• What do I enjoy?
Answering these questions will help you determine where you excel and how you can bring value to an employer.
Tactic #2: Start with a handful of targets, research them well, and find a way to start a conversation.
First, be specific when choosing your targets. We often make the mistake of casting a wide net when searching for jobs (especially when we start to feel desperate). Employers can easily recognize from your cover letter and resume that you are not searching in a specific market, so the strategy of casting a wide net is usually counterproductive.
Second, try to find what the employer needs. Ask yourself: Why would the employer want/need to hire me?
Tactic #3: Develop a pitch designed specifically for each target and find out who you should contact within the company.
Just as you would target your cover letter and resume, you need to target your pitch for each potential employer. It is essential at this stage to find the actual person* with the authority to make a decision about your employment or the ability to convince others of your necessity for the company.
*If information is not available online, don’t be afraid to call the company’s main phone line and ask who is in charge of your interest area.
Tactic #4: Listen as much as you talk and find ways to showcase your strengths and how you can benefit the company.
Unless the employer calls your meeting or phone call an “interview,” it is best to allow him/her to talk because you need to find out about the employer so you can make your case for why the company should hire you.
Penetrating the hidden job market using direct contact is definitely not for the timid and it can seem like a lot of work. My experience, however, is that it is actually less work in the long-run than applying solely to online job listings. So, whether you’re starting a new job search or you’re looking for ways to spice up your current search, try the tactics above for at least five employers—and don’t forget to report back to Scientista with the results!