Opening the door to the hidden jobs market

Written by
Steve Nicholls

30 Nov 2016

30 Nov 2016 • by Steve Nicholls

Most HR executives will have heard of the ‘hidden jobs market’ (the ‘sexier’ name for the unadvertised jobs market). 

As a career coach, I believe the term is in danger of becoming a cliché, but if you’re looking for your next role, or working with staff who might be departing, I would urge you to re-balance the job search approach so that the hidden jobs market is factored in properly.

As an element of Executive Connexion’s coaching approach we focus on the hidden jobs market extensively, but clients often find it tough to re-focus their job search efforts in this area – despite the potential benefits. 

As part of independent research we commissioned into the senior-level job market, to gain insight into how it works from a candidate and recruiter’s perspective, we found that more than 70% of roles are unadvertised but only 30% of potential candidates approached their job search by tapping into the hidden jobs market. Why? I think it’s because an advertised role ‘seems’ more tangible, whereas the hidden jobs arena seems vague and difficult to tap into – which, of course it is, but it’s worth the effort.

Three steps to accessing the hidden jobs market:

1. Identify and connect with the key players in your sector

I’m referring to LinkedIn and other social media platforms when I say “connect”. Show recruiters you’re up-to-date and ‘tech savvy’ by using online networking tools effectively.

You might be surprised how many recruiters and senior executives are using Twitter. I would suggest you begin by creating a private Twitter list of recruiters. This is an excellent way to collect specific users in one place, making it easier to listen to and engage with recruiters (and cancel out the rest of the noise on Twitter).

Most importantly, ensure you have a disciplined, ongoing, daily connection strategy for LinkedIn. This means connecting with relevant recruiters (the ones who deal at your level and sector) and then engaging in a dialogue, not necessarily just pushing your CV to them straight away. Taking a moment to understand the recruiter and engage in a dialogue can pay off. Yes, this whole ‘engagement process’ is still a numbers game to some degree (you cannot expect to call two new contacts a week and have something major happen as a result, though there are always exceptions), but demonstrating you’re prepared to pick up the phone is something recruiters actually like. 

Further extend your networks by asking your contacts “who else should I be talking to?” which will lead to new introductions. Always remember the networking rule of thumb: give value to receive value. You should aim to continue this process of networking throughout your whole career, whether you are engaged in an active job search or not.

There is a caveat with the approach I suggest here. The recruitment industry only deals with a relatively small percentage of roles compared to the whole market; only 10-20% of all roles are filled via recruiters. Therefore, navigating the hidden jobs market is not just about connecting with recruiters, which brings me to my second piece of advice.

2. Nuture your peer network

This goes beyond recruiters and key players to include second degree connections, and leaders in companies you would like to work for. When you have a call with us, you’ll notice we regularly connect our clients to people who might add value to their job search. Often, these people aren’t recruiters or headhunters, but your peers. With the majority of jobs coming via second-level contacts or as a result of a direct approach to a company, nurturing and growing your peer network is a valuable element in the executive-level job search.

Taking the time to build relationships with recruiters, headhunters, peers and other key players in your industry can have surprising results. 

These people will often know where the next job vacancy will arise (particularly the executive recruiters and head hunters placing the current post holders in new roles). They can introduce you to relevant contacts, advise you on company culture, and provide valuable support and guidance in your job search – all while building your reputation and raising your profile. 

So where do you start? You get among people, connect and start conversations.

Use LinkedIn groups and other social media platforms to connect with these people and do so with a win-win mindset: aim to give value and support as well as receive it. People like to be helpful and proactively seeking referrals is a powerful strategy. 

Ask your contacts for introductions to specific people who might be in a position to help progress your job search. Direct company approaches work well for some people so don't underestimate this style of speculative application. Remember to record, track and follow up on your conversations. You may want to use a spreadsheet, LinkedIn's own ‘reminder’ system, or a customer relationship management system for this.

While proactivity is key, there are other important issues around accessing the hidden jobs market which you may not yet have perfected. If you’re thinking “I’m already networking and engaging in discussions and I’m not achieving the results I want”, perhaps my final point is where you need to focus your efforts.

3. Establish a credible and consistent personal brand

How you package and present yourself as a senior-level candidate is an important factor in today's competitive executive jobs market. In fact, much of the initial work we do to support our clients in accessing the hidden jobs market revolves around establishing a credible personal brand. There’s little point in having a CV or LinkedIn profile that doesn’t accurately reflect your value and using these to help market yourself to the recruitment industry. 

Get those elements right first (and others such as interview skills and understanding how the jobs market works) and then move on to active connecting with recruiters and head hunters. Remember, recruiters will research you by looking you up on social media. You need to make sure your brand and value proposition represents you, across all platforms, in a way you are proud of. Focus on what those key players need to see to get the right impression. Have a clear message about who you are and what you have to offer, and that will drive your value upwards and ‘raise your stock’, so to speak.

Establish yourself as a thought leader in your field. Consider a few topics in which you specialise and think about how can you use your know-how to provide value for others. How can you reach your target audience and answer their biggest questions?

Focus on being useful. Imagine what a difference demonstrating your expertise and value in your field will make in terms of attracting the attention of executive head hunters and recruiters. It’s a well-known truism that thought leaders tend to be the most successful individuals in their industry.

•    Steve Nicholls is a career coach and managing director of Executive Connexions. For further information, visit:  

•    A free copy of Executive Connexions’ report giving findings of our recruitment research is available, along with a further report providing further guidance on accessing the hidden jobs market.