Five Ways Inside the 'Hidden Job Market'

hidden job marketAs college graduation nears, the Internet is probably the first place you're going to look for work, search for online job postings and blast your resume into cyberspace. Big mistake. In this job market, when you're competing with dozens, even hundreds, of people, you have to do something different to catch an employer's eye.

More than half of all jobs are filled before they ever make it to online job boards. And in a tough economy, when supply exceeds demand, more jobs go to those with an inside connection, says Donald Asher, a career coach and author of the new book, Cracking the Hidden Job Market."Say you're a hiring manager, and you have 600 resumes piled on your desk from people you don't know," Asher says. "Then your door opens and a co-worker walks in with resume in hand, saying, 'I know someone who's interested in applying, and I can vouch for her.' Guess whose resume will make it to the top of the pile? Companies hire the people who come with referrals."

Becoming an insider in the hidden job market takes a little research, some creativity and lots of initiative. Here are five ways to score with your future employer.

1. Do Your research

While not all businesses are hiring at once, every industry is. Your goal is to find out what companies in your target industry need to hire, even before they've put job descriptions together, says Susan Joyce, editor of career-counseling website "Look at business publications like Fortune and Forbes, which publishes their annual lists of the largest employers nationwide."

Also look at local business publications to find businesses closer to home. For example, the Business Journals, which publishes in 41 regions nationwide, runs a list of Top 25 businesses in an industry every week, from ad agencies to accounting firms. "Think of these lists as catalogs of potential employers," says Joyce.

2. Cast a Giant Net

Your close friends won't get you a job. It's friends of friends, acquaintances and even strangers who will tell you something you don't already know. "Your uncle's accountant's tennis partner has the tip that leads you to your next job," says Asher. "So ask everyone you run into about the type of job you're looking for." Virtual and brick-and-mortar social groups also are helpful in putting you face-to-face with potential employers and co-workers, such as your college's alumni association and career center. "They're good at helping you stay up-to-date with what's happening in your desired profession," says Joyce.

3. Be Specific

The more vague you are about what job you're looking for, the more likely the person you're talking to about it will brush you off. "But the more specific you are, the more they'll try to help you," says Asher. Don't say you're looking for something in advertising. Say, "I'm looking for an opportunity to do copywriting or work on a consumer-products account." Then that person will think about who they know is a copywriter or works at an ad agency. Instead of saying "financial services," say "cost accountant." You'll be more likely to get a response like, "I think Barbara three floors down from me handles that. Here is her contact info."

And when you contact that person, be specific about what you can offer the company. How? Start by looking for a problem to solve, instead of just looking for a job, says Lindsay Olson, a public-relations recruiter and job-search blogger at

"Identify the skills you want to use in your next job, and outline your accomplishments," she says. "Pay attention to what you have to offer and you'll have more control over your job search."

Then you can craft a cover letter and resume that show potential employers how you can solve their problems and meet their needs.

4. Become an Expert

Yes, it's hard to say you're an expert with just four years of college classes under your belt, but there are multiple ways to show how quick you learn and how interested you are in a specific industry or profession. Keeping a blog is a tried-and-true way to show your knowledge. Same with posting public -- and relevant -- comments on blogs and news sites. Or build an expert list of books or items on, writing detailed reviews. "These are easy ways to build your credibility and create your personal brand," says Joyce.

5. And Yes, Use the Internet

Social media is becoming more relevant in a job search. But while the jury is still out on Facebook and Twitter, experts agree that LinkedIn is a good way to get in touch with employers, so set up an account there ASAP. But don't be passive about your search. "Setting up your profile is just the beginning," says Olson. "To get the most benefit, you have to be proactive, reach out to others, and continuously build your network."

She recommends doing tasks like personalizing your invitations you send to new connections; searching your college and social networks to see if former classmates work at places you want to be at; participating in LinkedIn Groups; and updating your status often in order to stay on your connections' minds.

But overall, talking to computers doesn't count. It's getting in touch with the people who make decisions that does.

Most importantly, persistence is key, says Asher. "In social etiquette, calling someone over and over is called stalking, but in business, it's called being serious."
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