Hidden jobs – what are they?

News article

Hidden jobs have been a hot button issue in conversations about job seeking for a long time. What are they actually and why are they hiding?

Most people only search for work using job ads. Sometimes it seems that there are not many jobs on offer, but what you see is not always the reality – the number of opportunities is actually much higher! The methods of recruitment are constantly changing and new career paths can be found in unexpected places once you know where to look.

Studies have shown that only one in four job seekers find employment via open job listings. This number is quite low considering that responding to public job advertisements is how people have usually sought employment. Hidden jobs have been a hot button issue in conversations about job seeking for a long time. People are interested in them, people look for them and people are employed in them. Others are hesitant and might even have some doubts about looking for hidden jobs.

A hidden job means an open position that has not been made public. It is a job that becomes a reality when the employer and the employee meet in the right place at the right time. Employers often look for employees silently through their networks, social media or with the help of a head-hunter, for example. Sometimes the employer is not even actively looking for a new professional, even if they could use one. The employee can make the employer notice that they need certain skills by marketing their expertise directly to employers that interest them.

According to professional recruiters, only 20-30 % of available jobs are made public. This view is also supported by a working life study conducted by the Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra that reached the conclusion that three out of four job positions are filled outside of public job advertisements. This means that up to 70-80 % of all available jobs are found outside of public channels!

Why do jobs hide?

Economic trends always impact the job market. During an economic downturn, the employer may not wish to spend a lot of time processing a large number of applications so they dive below the surface to recruit new professionals. On the other hand, general uncertainty on the job market can make the desired professionals stay in their current jobs and public job advertisements fail to inspire them to apply. During an upturn companies are often so busy that they cannot properly focus on recruitment. This also means that acquiring skillful labour is challenging. Sometimes companies avoid publicly listing a position on purpose. One reason to do this is to keep the company's future plans that are behind the recruitment drive a secret from their competitors.

Open job listings also result in expenses for the organisation and they are often arduous to process for the recruiter. The company will often be contacted by staffing service companies as well as applicants themselves. Only a portion of the applicants are suited for the job on offer, but the position may still receive hundreds of applications. Separating the wheat from the chaff takes a lot of time and is therefore very expensive. In these situations the recruiter may find it easier and quicker to find a reliable and committed employee through their own networks.

Sudden changes at workplaces can also create surprising expertise needs for employers. As a result of company acquisitions, significant growth of operations or personnel changes, the company may experience an expertise shortage that the employer could not have predicted. The employer may recognise that there is work that needs doing, but there might not be enough knowledge or time to define the need to a degree that would result even in a silent recruitment drive. The situations also come and go quite quickly. If a suitable professional were to offer their expertise at the right point in time, the employer may snatch that person up without even having thought about recruitment before that. However, this kind of luck only strikes on occasion and usually the work that needs doing is either done in-house or left undone.

How do you use your time when seeking a job?

Despite what we call them, hidden jobs may actually be an easier way to employment than open listings because there is less competition for them. Usually, job seekers spend a lot of time browsing and responding to public job listings. Recruiters, on the other hand, often utilise other means besides traditional job ads when looking for professionals. This results in a kind of problem on the job market where a large mass of qualified professionals moves in a different channel than the recruiters and they therefore miss each other. This is something an applicant should pay attention to! If most jobs are filled without public job listings, then it might be wise for you to spend most of your job seeking time looking for vacancies that are not public.

It is best to adopt a systematic approach when looking for hidden jobs. Before embarking on your job search, you should first sit down for a moment and go through your expertise: what can I do, what are my strengths and how do I present my expertise? Think about what you are looking for and what you want out of your workplace. Once you have laid this foundation, you should explore the different channels of hidden job seeking and choose the ones that are most natural for you and your field. These channels include social media, networks, recent news, making direct contact or attending recruitment events and training sessions, for example. One channel might be more effective for positions in the private sector while another might work better with public positions or positions in the third sector. For one job seeker the most natural thing could be to kick off a wide-ranging public job seeking campaign on social media while to someone else the mere idea of such a thing could be terrifying. So use your time efficiently by focusing on the channels and methods of hidden job seeking that are right for you.

Peek below the surface – over half of the jobs are there

There are many channels of job seeking. One of the most controversial aspects of job seeking is looking for hidden jobs; peeking below the surface and making use of one's networks and directly contacting places that have not yet made a position officially open.

Below are some common comments that TEK's career coaches hear with regard to hidden jobs. These will also provide you with tips to support your search for a hidden job.

1. "Hidden jobs are an urban legend. It's easy to tell someone to look for a hidden job when they have nothing else to offer."

To suggest that you start looking for hidden jobs does not mean that your situation is somehow hopeless. On the contrary: the more experienced a professional you are, the more likely you will find your next job through your own network. The Confederation of Finnish Industries (EK) conducts regular surveys on what recruitment channels its member companies use. According to the latest survey, recruitment from personal networks is viewed as one of the three most effective recruitment channels in such fields as the electronics and electric industries, mechanical and metal product industries, chemical industry, construction, finance and ICT services.

2. "Using one's networks is playing dirty. It is unethical scheming. Besides, I don't have much of a network to begin with."

All of us have our networks, and some are more extensive than others. Everyone operates within them in their own way. A network does not mean a secret society of any kind; it simply means those people that you interact with in some way. A well-functioning network is reciprocal – you do not simply give something of yourself to others, but you also receive information, experience, professional expertise, methods, perspectives, contacts and sometimes even insider information through the network. Why would networks be more useful for others than for you? If a new professional opportunity presents itself through one's activity within a network, the employer will be mainly pleased that the recruitment did not cost time or money. After all, it is for this reason that job openings are first advertised in-house. Approximately half of EK's member companies recruit employees who directly contact them and the same number of companies utilise networks in their recruitment.

3. "You can't do that! You don't simply talk to strangers without permission. By contacting an employer I might annoy them."

Showing initiative and courage is more often rewarded than punished. A modern company understands that talking to job seekers is part of an employer's job. Of course, the contact should be handled appropriately. Calling and asking about basic things or open vacancies without looking into the company or building a case for yourself is something that companies do not have time for. If you are interested in a company to such a degree that you offer them a well-prepared solution that meets their needs on your own initiative, you are far more likely to be invited back for further discussions. When you are operating within your networks in a professional capacity you might come across a representative of an interesting employer. If this happens, seize the opportunity and make contact!

4. "Seeking hidden jobs is difficult in practice. I don't have time for it as I need to prepare applications for public vacancies."

If you have public vacancies to apply for, good! However, they are bombarded with applicants. It is often said that hidden vacancies are more numerous than public ones, which is why you should divide your job seeking time between the different channels using the same ratio. As with all job seeking, you should not look for hidden jobs using the shotgun approach. When you have a certain field or interesting phenomenon in mind, you should absorb as much information about it as possible using informational interviews, meaning interviews or conversations with potential employers. This way your knowledge of hidden jobs increases and your networks grow.

5. "If they don't have open positions, why should I bother? A company will let people know when they want a new employee."

There are many reasons why employers might not make a vacancy public. Even though hidden job seeking might not always result in a new job quickly, at the very least it helps you to proactively build relationships for the future. Surely you have heard the expression: "chance favours the prepared mind"?

Read more on how to find hidden jobs here.