It is thought that in some sectors over half of jobs never get advertised externally; this is known as the hidden jobs market. Instead of recruiting people who respond to specific job ads, roles are filled by people who have approached the employer directly, who have been referred by others or who already work in the organisation.
The recruitment process is time consuming and costly, so it’s no wonder that employers sometimes tap into a pool of willing workers.
It’s important to note that the hidden jobs market is more common in the private sector, especially in very competitive industries, such as the media, but most public sector positions (those in the Civil Service, the NHS and so on) tend to be advertised formally. Small- to medium-sized employers may be more willing to accept speculative approaches than large organisations, and temporary and internship positions are often filled without advertising.
Now that you know what we mean by the hidden jobs market, here are six ways in which you can access it.
1. Ask your contacts to refer you
Spread the word wide that you are in the market for a job. Tell your friends, relatives, neighbours and any other contacts what sort of thing you are seeking. They may know of openings where they work or with their clients, suppliers or other connections they have.
Remember though, if someone is kind enough to recommend you, don’t let them down. Their reputation will be on the line if you are indifferent or unreliable, so it’s important to be professional and enthusiastic in any communications you have. They may ask you for more details, so be prepared to provide this information, possibly in the form of a CV.
2. Join relevant organisations
Find out whether there are any bodies you could join in the sector in which you’d like to work. Professional bodies and trade associations normally have various membership options, including for students. They may run virtual and face-to-face events, trade shows, conferences etc that could allow you to build up a valuable network of contacts who may be able to help you find appropriate work.
Networking is a two-way process, so make sure that you introduce other members to people you know who may be helpful to them. You can find relevant organisations online, such as on GOV.UK and through the Directory of the Professions.
3. Connect with former students
Colleges and universities usually have active alumni networks and these may allow you to reach out to former students who work for employers of interest to you. As they may have done the same course as you, former students will be in a good position to understand your background; they may be prepared to give you advice on how to access jobs in their line of work and let you know should a suitable position arise with their employer.
4. Make use of social media
Professional networking sites, such as LinkedIn, and other social media platforms are valuable when trying to access the hidden jobs market. Make sure that your profiles are up to date and professional; you should take as much care over these as you would your CV. Ensure that your skills are listed and that people know that you are open to being contacted about opportunities.
Make yourself visible by following relevant employers, linking with the right people, joining appropriate groups, and posting and sharing items of interest. You could also contact recruiters or key employees directly to find out whether there are any suitable opportunities.
5. Get a foot in the door
You can access the hidden jobs market from the inside in various ways. You could try to get a lower-level, part-time or temporary job with an employer of interest to you in the hope that if something more suitable comes up, you will be in a good position to apply. Time spent on a work placement, internship or volunteering (if appropriate) will also be useful for the same reason. The experience will develop your skills and give you a good understanding of the organisation.
Whilst working, on placement or volunteering, try to speak to colleagues in relevant departments. You can make connections formally or informally. If you are already employed, you need to be discreet and come over as being positive about developing yourself rather than negative about your current role.
6. Apply ‘on spec’
Making speculative applications, or applying ‘on spec’ as it is often known, involves contacting potential employers in the hope they have a suitable position available either immediately or in the future. Making a direct approach shows that you have initiative and enthusiasm to work for a particular employer. You’ll have to use your powers of persuasion and try to make your application stand out from the crowd.
Steps to take when applying on spec…
Make a list of potential employers
Well-targeted applications work better than casting your net too wide, so try to narrow it down to a handful of organisations. It may sound obvious, but before you launch into applying on spec, check whether the employers are already advertising suitable vacancies.
Do some detailed research
Examine the organisations’ websites and social media pages, and look out for media articles, press releases etc. Find out a bit about the history, size and structure of the organisation, what services they offer or goods they produce and any particular projects they are working on. What makes them stand out from the competition? What challenges do they face in the sector in which they operate? What plans do they have for the future?
Find out the name of the best person to contact
Addressing your application to a specific person is more likely to get results. Normally this would be the decision maker – perhaps the manager you would work for, or the human resources or recruitment manager. You might need to do a bit of detective work – look at previous job ads, social media profiles and websites.
Produce or update your CV
This should be tailored as far as possible to the sort of role you envisage becoming available with each employer. Make sure you list your contact details, experience, education, training, qualifications and skills. Write more about the things that are relevant and place these in a prominent position if possible.
Write a covering letter or email
This is your opportunity to pitch yourself to the employer in the hope that they will offer you an interview or keep your CV on file. Explain what sort of role you are seeking, why you want to work for this particular employer and what you can bring to the organisation. Don’t repeat everything in your CV, but pull out the things that are particularly pertinent.
Demonstrate that you’ve done your research; you could, for example, mention a project they have of interest to you. And don’t forget to say that you would welcome hearing from them should a position become available. A good example of an on spec covering letter can be found on the Prospects website. As with all applications, check your layout, spelling, punctuation and grammar, and ensure that your facts are correct and consistent.
Send your application
Normally you email or post your CV and covering letter, but in some cases (if you are looking for work in a shop, restaurant or hotel, for instance), you could hand your application in by hand. With the latter, make sure you look presentable, call in at a quiet time and give your CV and letter to an appropriate person.
Follow up your application
It’s common not to hear back from employers straight away. They may receive many applications, be away from their desk and/or are keeping your application to one side to discuss with someone else. But sometimes applications fall to the bottom of a pile.
If you haven’t heard anything after a few weeks, make contact. Ideally phone the organisation as emails are more easily ignored. Just say that you’re checking that your application has been received. You need to be persistent but not a pest, and prepared to remind them who you are and about your ambitions. It takes courage to telephone, so most employers will allow for nerves and respect your initiative.
A few last words of advice…
Be polite, considerate and professional in all your dealings with potential employers. Whether you’re talking to a receptionist on the phone or mixing with a group of people at an event, you will be making an impression, so make sure it’s a good one.
Don’t expect immediate results. It takes time to nurture a network of contacts and you can’t expect the perfect job to be available at the time you want it. The important thing is not to give up.
Look online for more information on the hidden jobs market, and for advice on networking and applying on spec. As a starting point, you can find advice on applying for jobs in general through:
- The National Careers Service (NCS) in England; you can watch a useful video on the hidden jobs market
- Careers Wales
- My World of Work for those in Scotland
- The Careers Service in Northern Ireland
Finally, accessing the hidden jobs market takes time and effort, but remember that, if done well, it should increase your chances of finding that perfect job.
Debbie Steel, January 2023
With a background working with apprentices and teaching in further education, Debbie was employed as an in-house careers author before establishing herself as a freelancer. As well as co-authoring numerous careers books, Debbie has produced resources and web content for a range of high-profile clients. She is an enthusiastic proponent of impartial and reliable careers information.