I think we should have a contest for the job search term most likely to terrify new job seekers, and I think the winner would be “Hidden Job Market.”

Say these words to a new college graduate or high school student looking for his/her first summer job, and watch their eyes widen in horror.

“You’re telling me that 80% of the job market is HIDDEN? Like, on purpose?

Most Jobs Will Never Be Advertised

I understand their fear. It is pretty upsetting to learn that most of the jobs out there will never be advertised; they’ll only be offered to a select few people. This means that if you only apply to jobs that are advertised, you’re competing with a LOT more people for only 20% of available jobs. It’s incredibly de-motivating to learn that information for the first time.

In fact, sometimes I choose not to use this term at all when talking with students because, really, the big scary Hidden Job Market is all about who you know, which is another way of saying it’s all about networking.

I’ll break it down for you.

 Informational Interviewing

Once you figure out what kind of job you want, start with who you know, and find someone who is doing that job. That might be your parents, aunts and uncles, friend’s or boyfriend’s parents, people at your church, your child’s friend’s parents, your teachers, someone on your softball team, etc. You’re not asking them for a job, you’re asking them about their job. People love to talk about themselves, and more often than not, they are flattered when someone, especially a student, wants to know how they got where they are. This is the first step in building your professional network, which brings me to the next step.

Work Your Network

Informational interviewing is one way to start building your professional network. Other ways include building relationships with your teachers, fellow students, and simply maintaining the friendships you have, especially with the friends in “the biz,” whatever your “biz” is. If you have built relationships based on trust and have helped more than you asked for help, your network will be happy to put the word out when they discover you are looking for a job. But they can’t do that if they don’t know you’re looking. So let them know!

Work Your Social Network

Here’s where you utilize LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, your own personal website or blog, etc. If you don’t have robust connections on your social network already, start with LinkedIn. Your social network is a lot like your face-to-face network. You need to have built relationships based on trust by connecting online with people you have met in person, or who you have something obvious in common with. You need to be ready to help more than you have been helped. If you’ve done that/are doing that, your social network will also be happy to put the word out when they discover you are looking for a job. So let them know!

Tapping into the Hidden Job Market is Organic

The process of tapping into the Hidden Job Market is not linear. It’s organic, based on trust, and about maintaining a solid reputation. You work your way through the three steps above continuously and do so with integrity (in simpler terms, treat people how you’d like to be treated). Start asking questions about how people got the jobs they have, and you’ll hear some great stories.

The most important thing to remember is that there really is no Hidden Job Market that you need some kind of treasure map and secret decoder ring to find (although that would be pretty cool). Build your network, work your network, and the Hidden Job Market will find you!

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