One of the biggest frustrations expressed by my job-seeking clients is how to convince employers to consider them for jobs for which their experience and skills are not a perfect match (“I know I don’t have every qualification listed on that job posting, but why can’t the employer just give me a chance? I learn quickly and am very motivated!”). Many talented candidates tell me that trying to match their background to the qualifications listed on jobs posted online is a very frustrating exercise, often resulting in them being either over- or under-qualified for most positions.
Employers also express such a frustration — saying that despite the high unemployment levels and the reports of many highly qualified candidates — they often struggle to fill their open positions with suitably qualified candidates. Last year, the Wall Street Journal reported that as many as 40% of the companies they surveyed struggle to fill positions with suitable candidates. One employer admitted that “In some cases, like an open administrative assistant position, many applicants are overqualified”, expressing reluctance to hire such candidates because he believes they “won’t like the job—at least for very long.”.
In a recent article, Lou Adler, a Headhunter and Author, argued that the job market is divided into two markets — one that is effective at building careers and filling job needs, and one that does not work at all. The ineffective market is the one job seekers often look at first — where jobs are posted and qualifications are listed. The effective job market — the one that works — is hidden. Hidden, but “in plain sight”, he says.
What is the Hidden Job Market?
Even in this age of the Internet, when posting jobs on a company website is easy and does not have to cost much, most meaningful career moves happen away from public sight, through what Adler describes as “internal moves and networking”. In fact, he suggests that most candidates (almost 60%) find work through networks and recommendations from people who know them.
This means that job seekers who spend all of their job search reading through online job postings, and submitting their carefully composed cover letters and suitably targeted resumes, are missing out on the most efficient and effective way of finding meaningful work: networking.
The fact is that many jobs become available and are quickly filled, even before getting to the stage of being described and posted online. So much so, that these jobs do not even get counted in unemployment figures (which often rely only on counting advertised positions).
Where are these “hidden” jobs?
The truth about the job market is that employers also prefer candidates who are highly motivated and have potential to contribute to their company in the long-term. The problem is, that unless a personal recommendation can be made about these qualities in a candidate, employers do not have any objective way to assess motivation and future potential. The best they can do is ask staff, colleagues or friends if they know someone who might be suitable, based on their past performance.
When a position becomes available in a company, employers tend to go through the following steps, according to Lou Adler:
They start by considering past and present employees. They may informally ask around, to find out if any staff would like to take on the new opportunity, or whether they can recommend someone who might be interested, using “general criteria”, which are not rigid, and may be even be adaptable to the candidate’s fit to the position. If this is unsuccessful, employers will begin to network and ask around for suggested candidates from people whom they trust, still being flexible in terms of the criteria and nature of the job, depending on the potential of the candidate.
Only if the networking is unsuccessful, hiring managers will feel obligated to prepare a formal job description and advertise the job. The process of detailing skills and qualifications forced employers into becoming less flexible in deciding who they will have to hire. It also makes the process cumbersome and expensive, for both the job seeker and the employer.
Most job seekers have already experienced this in their work history. When I survey my clients about their previous jobs, most have stories of finding jobs — often the best, and most important jobs in their work history — informally, or through someone they knew.
How to access the ‘Hidden Job Market’
Throughout this blog, we have shared ideas about ways of networking so that job seekers can become known by as many influential people as possible. These include volunteering, as well as using LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter to meet new potential employment contacts. I have also the 6 strategies for using social media effectively.
Most importantly, job seekers need to invest job search time to meet people and build trusting relationships which result in potential employers thinking of them when a job comes their way. This requires an investment of time and effort, and a rethinking of what many job seekers consider the usual ways of looking for work, to favour networking.