Unlock the Hidden Job Market to Boost Your Career Growth
You apply for a job, send your resume, but you never hear back. You may even make it to the interview stage, it seems like it went well, and then — crickets. You know that you have the skills to get in the door, but for some reason, you stall out when it comes to getting the offer. It’s super frustrating, and you can’t help but wonder why. If you’re hoping for extraordinary results, you need to stop using traditional job hunting methods. You will never find the best, hidden jobs if you do what everyone else does.
The flawed traditional approach Earlier this year, Suzie Welch interviewed Dick Costolo to talk about what it takes to get hired by one of the top companies. She mentioned that Google receives over 1 million job applications each year, and most of those come from people who are contacting the company cold or just applying online. With only ~975 job openings in the U.S., guess how successful those people are in landing one of them?
“…that’s generally not how people get hired at Google, or Amazon, or any of the big tech companies. Nobody gets a job by clicking a button.” — Dick Costolo
Therein lies the biggest problem with following the rules. The system is designed to filter you out, not let you in. That’s what happens when there is a supply and demand mismatch. You don’t even get a chance to get noticed or stand out. The answer is to stop playing by the rules. Stop focusing on the posted jobs that everyone else is lining up for too. Instead, tap into the hidden job market. For almost two decades during my corporate career in Silicon Valley at IBM, Apple Computer, eBay, and Yahoo, I never followed the traditional approach. I always had an internal champion who brought me in warm, and many of the jobs were “hidden.” I still remember walking down a hallway at a conference to drop off some paperwork needed by my hiring manager at Apple. They were taking job applications from the people attending the conference, mostly grad students. The line stretched all the way down the hall, with dozens and dozens of people waiting. I walked past everyone. People turned and looked at me, some clearly upset that I was “jumping the queue.” What they didn’t realize is that I already had built the relationships and secured a job months ago. I didn’t need to wait and compete with them. Don’t be one of those people standing in line.
Why are the best jobs hidden? Almost 80% of jobs are never posted, and that number climbs closer to 90% for more senior jobs. The opportunities that are going to transform your career aren’t going to be listed where everyone else is already looking. The biggest jumps in my career definitely came from roles no one else knew about.
“The competition for posted jobs is insane. ATSes do a horrendous job of selecting the best candidates, and–perhaps most important–the best jobs are almost never posted.” (source) A company may decide not to post or advertise a job for a variety of reasons:
They’re trying to fill the role from within the company.
They want higher-quality talent referrals from their best employees.
The position isn’t open yet, but it soon will be (e.g., when someone quits or is fired).
They don’t want to go through the lengthy traditional processes.
They don’t want to pay to advertise or post the job.
Or, a job may be hidden for the most invisible of reasons: it doesn’t even exist. This is the most challenging, but it’s also the most rewarding opportunity. There are only two effective ways to get a hidden job:
Be brought in by a champion who wants you for that hidden job. This can happen using both the passive or active strategies described below.
Or, create your own job. This can happen when you’re great at creating opportunity, or when someone at the company wants you badly enough to design a role around you.
Passive strategy When you’re not in a hurry to quit your job and you just want to test the waters, you can adopt a somewhat passive strategy that will potentially let a hidden job come to you. Carefully let the best people in your network know that you are in play. Why find a few champions who can bring you in?
One 2014 study found that 30%–50% of hires in the U.S. come from referrals
85% of critical jobs are filled via referrals or networking of some sort (source)
Referrals are 5X more likely to be hired than traditional applicants
Networking beats applying directly for a job by a factor of 3:1. (source)
I do say “carefully,” though, because you still want to be smart about where you end up working. You want a great opportunity, not just any job that anyone in your network tosses your direction. So, talk privately with people you respect and be clear about the types of opportunities you’re most interested in pursuing. These should also be people you trust, so that word of your job-seeking doesn’t come back to bite you. That’s why I don’t recommend broadcasting that you are looking for a job. I see this on social media all the time. Unfortunately, it gives the impression of desperation and incompetence. If people are shouting from the rooftops that they are looking for a new job, it’s pretty clear that they aren’t in high demand, and they don’t know how the real system works for finding the best jobs. A hidden job can also find you. I suppose this is the ultimate passive strategy. Recruiters even call these sorts of people “passive candidates” and they love them. This is how my first Tech startup job found me. I was employed and reasonably happy. Loved the job, the products, and the team, but I was starting a family and I sure could have used more money (who doesn’t want more money?). A friend who had worked with me before gave me a call. Unbeknownst to me, she had become my “inside champion” and told her big boss that I was the designer they needed. The process went quickly and smoothly, and he made me an offer the day I came in. It was a big jump from my current salary, and that was also when I discovered the power of job-hopping.
Active strategy A passive strategy is ok if you’re really not looking to move but will consider it if a great role just happens to come your way. But, it’s not the best approach for taking full control of your career and intentionally steering it in the direction that you ultimately want to go. If you have a clear vision for your career, you need to adopt an active strategy. Clearly define the role that you want. Know what you are worth and what you will accept. Package yourself up so that you can succinctly communicate why you are the best for the role. Once you’re ready with the story of who you are, it’s time to go hunting. Research the companies that will be a smart next move for your career. Find out what those companies value, where they are heading, and what changes are coming that make you invaluable. Create your top 10 list of companies to pursue. Next, work your network to find your inside champions. If you’ve been in the industry for a long time, you probably know someone at almost every company on your list. Or, you know someone who knows someone. Isn’t Linkedin amazing? Thanks to my network from IBM, Apple, eBay, and Yahoo, it seems like I know someone or I’m only one node away from the right person. Start having conversations with your champions. There may not always be an immediate role available, but now they will know what you are looking for and will keep you in mind. Plus, they’ll think of you when a great opportunity comes up that might even be at a completely different company. But, as I mentioned earlier, the best opportunities for your career growth will be the ones you create. This requires vigilance, diligence, and good timing. Look for signs that a company will soon need what you have to offer. This is how I landed a big stretch role in my career. Chaos presented an opportunity. I created a pitch that positioned me for the role, described how I would organize the team, and included strategy slides that showed where I wanted to take the product. I secured a meeting with the hiring manager, made the pitch, and landed the job. You can do this too. For example:
Perhaps that exciting startup you’ve been watching just closed a big round. They are going to be growing. They could use your leadership to help find great talent, scale the organization, and lead the team. Your champion is well-connected with one of the founders, so you ask for a warm intro.
You noticed that your target company has an opening for a role close to what you’re interested in doing, but not quite right. You rewrite the job description to better fit your ambitions and broker a pitch meeting with the hiring manager through your internal champion.
You hear through the grapevine that a VP at one of your target companies is getting ready to exit. You could wait until that actually happens and the job is posted, but then you’ll be competing with dozens of other candidates. Instead, you proactively reach out to your champion to let him or her know of your interest in that role.
What’s the worst thing that can happen? They might say, “No.” But, now they know how talented and ambitious you are. However, you may be surprised by how often you will get a “Yes.”
Find the side door to unlock your potential Don’t come through the public front door and get stuck at the top of the recruiting funnel with hundreds of other candidates. Find your internal champion and get brought in hot through the side door. The biggest jumps in your career are going to come from these hidden jobs. They are going to come from you seizing opportunities and intentionally taking your career down the path that you have planned out for the next 10–20 years. Don’t limit yourself to the obvious jobs that everyone else sees. Don’t let those obvious roles put you into a box. Create what you need to take yourself where you know you need to go.