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How to be noticed in the hidden job market

Oct 27, 2017 by Lucy Singleton

Not so long ago you would scour the Saturday paper for job ads or phone your favourite recruiter when you started to think about looking. But technology changed everything.

The emergence of sophisticated online job boards, with alerts and global reach has meant that the volume of applications for the average role has increased to hundreds or thousands. The people screening them are forced to spend only seconds reviewing each application as they plough through the pile trying to make a quality shortlist. And if that's not hard enough, the best candidate probably isn't even looking and therefore didn't apply!

It's a long and complicated process to recruit and on-board a new team member, and it often doesn't work out. The Harvard Business Review estimates that around 80% of employee turnover is down to poor hiring decisions.

Companies are scrambling to remove risk and complexity from the hiring process. For agencies, like Government, who have policies requiring them to advertise roles, this means the application process is extremely detailed with pitch documents or selection criteria. But for many other businesses the solution, increasingly, is to find good people through their specialist networks.

It's estimated that >50% of jobs are now in the "Hidden" job market, which means they are never advertised.

By playing it like this they are reducing the focus from a high volume of applications to a more specific search with a higher chance of peer endorsement. So where are they looking? Here's a few ideas

  • Personal networks
  • Talent Pipelines & Employee Referral Programmes
  • Specialist Recruiters
  • LinkedIn
  • Industry Forums
  • Their own website

So how do you get on their radar?

1. Get your 'personal brand' in order

The most important thing to do first is to work out what you want to be "found for" and set about building your credibility.

On one hand it's simple things like sorting out your LinkedIn and your resume to contain the right keywords and communicate the right messages about what makes you stand out. The keywords will impact search and are critical if someone is looking for your skill-set. It's also important to have an up-to-date resume ready so that if someone wants to talk to you about an opportunity you can respond quickly.

Remember you won't even know who's checking you out on LinkedIn, or why, so this one is critical whether you are actively looking or not. There's a whole world of LinkedIn for another post, but in short it's important to be approachable, be strategic in your messaging, have a good pic and set the right tone. Take time on the content, the keywords, expand your connections and get recommendations.

On a deeper level it's also about walking the talk. Make sure that the things you are known for in your current or past roles are what you want them to be.

Your personal brand is essentially your reputation and the only way to control it is to really focus on consistently demonstrating the behaviours you want to be known for. So if you want to be known as someone who's good with people and calm under pressure, one tantrum could spoil everything.

2. Work out a shortlist of 'dream jobs/ potential employers' and go direct

It's can be a win-win scenario for companies when the right person really wants to work for them. But make sure you make a good impression and respect their time. Sometimes it's a slow burn and takes years, other times they might just be looking for someone like you right now.

There's a few ways to find out; you can work on building a relationship through your network- inviting a key person for a coffee, picking their brain. Other times it could be simply a confident letter of introduction. Just make sure it's not just about you, but about what you can do for them.

Here's a few ideas:

  • Check out company websites for vacancies
  • Use your network to find people who work there and let them know you're interested & why
  • Contact the Talent Manager or Head of Department directly.

3. Talk to specialist recruiters

They often know of jobs coming up, or skillsets that are in demand in a particular company. For example some IT or technical skills are so hard to find that companies will interview people whether they have a role or not.

Again as above, make sure that your resume and LinkedIn are in good shape before engaging a recruiter so you don't get lost on their database. They can also give good advice about the specialist segment you work in and current market conditions.

4. Participate in industry forums & make meaningful connections

You don't need to publish content per se but you should follow your areas of interest and make regular intelligent comments on posts that you find engaging. Technical people also often attend meet-ups or events like hackathons.

Identify key people to follow and approach them directly via LinkedIn with a personalised message asking to connect. This could be an industry thought leader, a leader of a company in the field or simply someone you admire.

A word of warning, your online reputation is hard to delete so be measured in the way you interact.

Build your network, both digital and in person

It's not everyone's cup of tea but it's important to get yourself out there.

  • Accept invitations to events, meet new people and be sure to engage in good conversation about professional subjects as well as small talk. Try to make a good impression as someone who's approachable, friendly and genuinely interesting in your field.
  • Build your LinkedIn connections - don't just aim to have a large number of random connections but build them within your industry or specialisation. Search the connections of peers or colleagues for people you recognise and invite them to connect. Don't just send a generic invitation, put some thought into it to make it more meaningful.
  • Invite people for coffee, ask if they would mind you picking their brain on the company they work for or some other relevant experience they have. Remember to respect their time and keep it punchy.
  • Leverage your network: if it's appropriate to broadcast your job search, do it. Examples could be the end of a contract role, being made redundant or a company sale. You can talk to external agency partners or colleagues to let people know you are looking and see what comes of it. Again be ready to tell them what you are looking for and make sure you are positive when talking about past roles.

The hidden job market is a complicated web but can result in really successful hiring. The way you navigate it is very personal but it's important to 'put yourself out there' in a way you are comfortable with. It's also critical to present yourself to market in the right way.

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