How to work the hidden job market

By Melany Hallam

The hidden job market isn’t an employer conspiracy to keep you unemployed. It’s just the reality of how companies hire employees – and that is as efficiently as possible.

Anyone who has had to hire someone knows that it can be an exhausting and expensive process, so it makes sense to find ways to make it easier and cheaper. This could mean that the hiring manager will interview only people recommended by a trusted friend or colleague, or they may just go through the resumes that they already have on file.

This is what happened to me when I was hired for my first job in Powell River. I had moved here with my partner when he started a new job. My own job search didn’t begin until after we arrived. I was on EI (called “unemployment insurance” back then) and one of the requirements was to show that you’d applied for a certain number of jobs each month. So I dutifully researched potential employers in town, wrote persuasive cover letters, attached resumes and then sent them off.

Nothing happened – at first.

Then one day a friendly-sounding person called and asked me to apply for a job that was being posted at a local educational institution. According to the rules of the institution they could only hire someone who had specifically applied for the vacant position. But that didn’t mean that they couldn’t encourage likely candidates to apply. What this meant for me was that I had already been pre-screened and I knew they had decided that I might be a good fit for the job. Bonus! What this meant for the employer was that they could afford to advertise the position for a shorter time period and interview fewer (and more qualified) people.

I didn’t deliberately plan to go after the mythical hidden job market, but I supposed that’s how it played out. It’s true that the position was still advertised, but it was in the middle of a beautiful Powell River summer and it was likely that I wouldn’t have seen the ad at all if the hiring committee hadn’t called me.

In fact, up to 80% of available job are never advertised, according to many employment advisors’ websites. And there’s a lot of advice out there on how to find these jobs that are “hidden”. What all that advice really boils down to is networking. This means that you should be:

  • Asking friends and family for help. They can pass along job leads and let their own networks know that you’re looking for work.
  • Attending job fairs (Career Link will be holding a Job Fair at the Powell River Recreation Complex on Tuesday, April 17th from 11:30am-1:30pm!) conferences, chamber of commerce events.
  • Conducting informational interviews with people whose careers you admire, or with someone working at your dream job or company.
  • Getting out more. Someone you meet at a local sporting event, your cousin’s baby shower or a neighbourhood pot luck might just have a connection to your dream job. You may get insider information on everything from new companies which haven’t even begun hiring yet, to people just about to leave a job you would love to have.
  • Defining your goals and strengths. Work on describing how you can be an asset to potential employers. Practice talking about your goals and strengths in elevator speech format – short and sweet.
  • Strengthening your social profiles. Make sure your work-related profiles (LinkedIn, Alignable) include all of your latest skills and experience, and make sure your social profiles (Facebook, Instagram) DON’T include anything compromising.
  • Contacting employers of interest to you. Find out who does the hiring and send them your information.
  • Subscribing to online news alerts. You can follow favourite companies on LinkedIn or subscribe to Google Alerts to find out about any big changes at a company that might mean they’re hiring.
  • Volunteering at companies of interest to you.

The key To networking successfully is to ask. No one will know what you’re looking for if you don’t tell them very clearly and ask for their help.

That reminds me of a sign I saw once on the door of a college co-op jobs coordinator:

“If you don’t ask, I can’t say ‘YES’.”


For further reading on the hidden job market:

Career Link’s 5th Annual Job Fair 

Tuesday, April 17th from 11:30am-1:30pm 
Powell River Recreation Complex
FREE Employer Registration starts soon.
Contact Rob Hughes for more info.

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