Does the ‘hidden’ job market exist?

The so-called ‘hidden’ job market has been part of the HR lexicon for as long as many of us can remember. It refers to job vacancies that are not publicly advertised and are filled via a range of others means, such as referrals, personal connections via professional networks, speculative applications, and, of course, executive search firms who pro-actively approach candidates that are ‘in’ rather than ‘on’ the market. But does the hidden job market really exist?

There is some debate around this, so let’s take a look at both sides of the debate.

Depending on which source you choose to go with, there is a plethora of surveys suggesting that the number of job vacancies never publicly advertised heavily outweighs those that are by a ratio of around 3:1.

There are a number of reasons for this, such as the desire among employers to keep the role confidential, a preference for an internal candidate, or simply a lack of time and resources to undertake a hiring campaign. Indeed, the majority of role that Maranello work on are highly confidential and only ever known by two parties – ourselves and our client.

In such circumstances, the only way an external candidate could get the opportunity to be in contention for these roles is if they made a direct approach to the company, via a personal connection and recommendation, or registering with a specialist recruiter for your specific sector such as Maranello. This can be the norm in certain industries, especially those that are niche whereby the ‘it’s who you know’ mantra is very much a factor within the organisation’s talent management strategy.

Then there are the skeptics who believe that the hidden market is simply a myth. This camp argues that the definition of what is and is not ‘advertised’ is largely skewed. Indeed, while the ‘for’ camp determines that most roles are never advertised their counterparts argue the contrary.

They point to the fact that the majority of roles actually are advertised, just not in the conventional sense such as on job boards, trade publications or newspapers. Posting a live position on the company website or sharing the details across its social media profiles is, the ‘for’ camp suggest, advertising.

There is evidence to support this argument. The US Bureau of Labor found that almost three-quarters (70 per cent) of all new hires made in 2020 were done through job postings, while just 12 per cent were made through referrals.

So, where does this leave us: does the hidden job market exist, and what is the advice for candidates who are open to new opportunities?

The answer to the first question is probably somewhere in between. Yes, many roles are advertised, and many are filled through personal connection and direct outreach. To say that the hidden job market doesn’t exist would be wrong, because it does. The only question is the proportion of roles it is responsible for filling as a whole.

For candidates, the advice is more straightforward: to secure the role you want it is important to utilise every tool in your armory, from mining personal networks and tapping into those of the executive search firms who operate in the same sector, to proactively reaching out to companies and scanning the job ads. It is about casting the net as far and wide as possible, regardless of whether it’s through the hidden job market or a more traditional route.

If you are a candidate who is considering your next career move, we would love to talk with you about your ambitions and see how we can help to take you from where you are now to where you ideal want to be. Get in touch today.


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