Unlocking the Hidden Job Market

The “hidden job market” refers to the significant number of job openings that are filled without ever being advertised.

It’s difficult to estimate the size of this market, although it’s probably nowhere near as high as the oft-quoted figure of 80% that has been thrown around since the 1980s.

The fact is that private-sector employers have no legal requirement to advertise every job vacancy. Unadvertised hiring can take place anywhere – at the gym, at a family barbeque, at a ball game. Often, it’s simply a case of a jobseeker being in the right place, at the right time.

There are plenty of reasons why employees use the hidden job market rather than advertising a position. Perhaps they want to avoid expensive and lengthy open application processes. If a company is trying to keep something quiet (such as opening a new branch), they may not want to give away any hints to their competitors. And most employees will look internally first before reaching out to the external market.

Of course, there are strong arguments against using the hidden job market to fill open positions. Standardized recruitment processes are fairer, reduce bias, and lead to better hiring outcomes through a rigorous, thorough, and competitive assessment.

But rather than arguing against the hidden job market (which isn’t going away anytime soon), let’s explore some of the ways jobseekers can gain access to unadvertised roles. 


Networking is undeniably the most effective way to access the hidden job market. Without a network, you simply won’t hear about opportunities, let alone meet decision-makers who could offer you a job.

LinkedIn is important, but don’t rely on it as your sole network. Consider attending in-person professional networking events such as career fairs, alumni networking groups, industry-specific events, and events run by your target employers.

Then there’s non-professional networking. I mentioned above that you may encounter your next role anywhere and anytime, but this takes a willingness to get out of the house, meet people, and let them know you’re available for work.  

Remember that networking is about more than a one-off connection request online or collecting business cards in person. Nurture your network by checking in with people and looking for opportunities to help others by making introductions.

Referral programs

Companies love referral programs. They save recruiting costs, while jobseekers who are referred are four times more likely to get hired. When referral bonuses are offered, employees have a vested interest in recommending excellent candidates.

Jobseekers can tap into referral programs by getting in touch with people they know at target employers and letting them know that, should an opportunity arise, they’d like to be referred. The great thing about this approach is that it means anyone in your network – not just people in senior roles – could potentially be the person who opens the door to a new role.

Build relationships with recruiters

Recruiters, as a rule, deal with two main pools of candidates: active and passive. The second group is made up of professionals who aren’t necessarily looking for a job but are open to being headhunted for an opportunity which may or may not be advertised.

How do you become a passive candidate? Build and maintain relationships with recruiters in your field. Catch up for a coffee, let them know how you’re going in your current role and share your career aspirations. The recruiter may not have an opportunity for you immediately, but if something comes up in the near future, you will be top of mind.

Be alert for opportunities in your own organization

Some organizations make a point of being as transparent as possible about internal hiring; they announce open positions and encourage competition among workers in order to choose the best-possible talent for the role. But I’ve worked in many places where positions are filled quietly – someone is tapped on the shoulder, has a brief meeting with their supervisors, and the first the rest of the team hears of it is when the promotion is announced at the next meeting.

Keep your eyes and ears open for internal opportunities. Keep track of staff movements: if someone senior is leaving, it could mean that a whole chain of people move one rung up the ladder. Importantly, let your manager know that you’re open to new opportunities and show them that you’re able to take on more responsibility.

Social media

No doubt you’ve heard this advice before: make sure you have an up-to-date and optimized LinkedIn profile, because you never know who may be checking you out online. Stay on potential employers’ radars by regularly sharing or creating useful content, but be careful to avoid crossing the line into the realm of social media pest.  

Again, the key is to be in the right place at the right time. An employer may come across a post you’ve written on a particular topic just as they’ve realized they need to recruit someone in that area. If they dig a little deeper and see you’ve got the right level of experience and are currently available to work, they may just reach out for a meeting.