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Find a Job in the 'Hidden' Job Market

Try these clever techniques to locate unadvertised positions that need to be filled

By Sheryl Nance-Nash | February 10, 2012

No question, it’s tough to find a job today, especially if you’re over 40. But one little-known way to improve your odds is by looking for work in the “hidden” job market – those positions that aren’t widely advertised but are waiting to be filled. Go this route and sometimes a job will find you.

Just ask Eric Simonsen. For two years, he relied on online job boards to look for work and consistently struck out. Then, he switched tactics, primarily using LinkedIn, the social network for business. Within three months, Simonsen, of Eagle Mountain, Utah, was hired as an operations supervisor at a health care insurer.

“I put a lot of effort into my LinkedIn profile, so when employers were searching for employees, I came up at the top,” Simonsen says. “I was contacted directly by a recruiter at a company that was hiring and asked if I was interested in the position.”

In today’s job market, unadvertised opportunities like the one Simonsen snagged are growing. “The best jobs are never advertised, in fact, they usually don’t exist until the right person shows up and the job is created for them,” says Janet White, author of Secrets of the Hidden Job Market: Change Your Thinking to Get the Job of Your Dreams.

The hidden job pool is bigger than in the past because employers are overwhelmed by the hundreds or thousands of replies to their postings. “Many will try to find people through their networks to avoid being buried by incoming resumés,” explains Roberta Chinsky Matuson, author of Suddenly in Charge: Managing Up, Managing Down, Succeeding All Around.

Some career experts believe the hidden job market is especially large for lucrative positions. Although 300,000 jobs paying over six figures were filled recently, only about 20 percent of them were advertised on major job boards, says Mary Elizabeth Bradford, author of The Hidden Job Market: Guide for the Perplexed.

Here’s what you need to know to tap the hidden job market:

Keep your eyes on companies that are growing

Firms that are expanding, merging, acquiring others, rolling out new products and services or moving should be prime targets for job-seekers, Bradford says. One way to spot such businesses is by subscribing to the free HiddenJobsApp.com. It tracks companies that are growing and hiring by sifting through articles about them and public announcements.

One caveat: Some of HiddenJobsApp’s unadvertised goodies might not materialize soon. When Robin Ryan, author Over 40 & You’re Hired!, followed the app’s links to Florida, she got a link to a news article about Planet Hollywood expanding, but those jobs will most likely be added over three years.

Make yourself a wish list of the companies you want to pursue. Then, become a Web detective to search for news about them. Manta.com is good for researching small companies and ZoomInfo.com for larger ones.

At regional niche sites, like expansionmanagement.com/statespotlights.asp, you can select a state to read articles about local business expansions and relocations. Your county or state Economic Development Commission may also have information on companies moving to your area or growing.

Another suggestion: Set up a Google Alert for names of particular companies or industries. Then you’ll start receiving emails when they’re in the news.

Convince a firm to create a position for you

Martin Focazio, a strategist for a digital media agency in Conshohoken, Pa., who has never been unemployed, found his most recent job when his former company and new company were competing for a piece of business.

After the competitor lost out, Focazio took it upon himself to tell the company how much they needed him. “Competitors are potential employers,” he says. “I told this one how I could help them if I was there.” He got a similar salary and reduced his commute by 50 percent. Although initially hired as an account director, Focazio was soon bumped up to strategist.

Find good recruiters and staffing agencies

Companies often use these types of firms when they don’t have the in-house staff to find people or are struggling to locate a particular candidate. So look for ones that specialize in your field and let them know you’re available.

Recruiters and staffing agencies may have exclusive arrangements with companies delegating them to be on the lookout for prospects meeting certain criteria. In some cases, employers turn to them to save themselves the time and money of advertising jobs.

Thomas DeLaine Jr., 54, of Melbourne, Fla., spent $9,000 developing resumés and seven months applying for jobs online and at job fairs before he was hired as an IT security governance analyst last year. “I went to a staffing agency and they had an exclusive contract with JetBlue,” he says. “The job I got wasn’t advertised on the JetBlue website or anywhere.”

Broaden your network

Getting that hidden job is also about who you know, and who you know, knows. If you want to be referred to a hidden vacancy, it helps to talk with current employees, says Katherine Hansen, associate publisher and creative director of Quintessential Careers, a career development site.

“I encourage people to accept LinkedIn invitations from everyone, including people they don’t know,” Chinsky Matuson says. “Joining groups on LinkedIn is also a great way to connect to people who may refer you to others for work.”

Remember: One benefit of being older is having a larger network than younger job applicants, so be sure to use it to your advantage.