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Networking 101: Welcome to the “Hidden” Job Market!

Networking is Notworking! - Bumper Sticker

Most people I know, and clients I have worked with, would rather lick sand than network- even the extroverts! (An exception is the client I had who appeared in my office one day and, throwing her arms in the air, yelled, “Oh, Bud! Just thought I’d stop in and tell you that I know if I keep doing this I’ll get a great job! But I’ll miss talking toall these wonderful people!”)

But while most people hate the thought, almost everyone knows they’ll have to network to get hired. Why?Because most jobs are never advertised. Welcome to the “hidden job market!”


Now there is great controversy over what the actual percentage might be. Is it 80% (apparently, the Wall Street Journal printed an article in 2013 using that number)? Is it 40%? Was it 80% 20 years ago, but much lower now? I don’t believe anyone can truly accurately calculate that percentage. If they’re “hidden” how can you calculate them? I have read anywhere from 38% to 85% of jobs are never advertised. My own belief, based on my experience, is that the actual number is closer to the lower part of that range- about a half.

There is also great discussion over what the “hidden job market” should be called. Is it hidden? Is it unpublished? Is it unadvertised? At least one writer goes completely over the edge, sarcastically wondering why employers would hide a vacancy.

Who cares?

Most of the arguments miss the point. The simple fact is that most jobs aren’t advertised because they aren’t jobs! They are problems. And they will remain problems until the right person walks in, and then they will become jobs. But they will never be vacancies, and therefore, will never be advertised. In large companies and the government, they may be advertised, but often they are by no means vacancies! The hiring manager already knows exactly who will get that job.

So, the “real” number is pretty much irrelevant. The likelihood is that, if you want to get a job, networking will be a substantial part of the campaign.

So, why do people hate it so much?

Two reasons, one cultural, one strategic/tactical.

Our culture is based on the pioneer spirit- independence, direct action, ask no one for help. “I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul.” (“Invictus,”by William Ernest Henley) But networking requires that you ask other people for help. So, when you have to network you feel small and weak.

Get over it. The truth is that we all need help from time to time. It is the wise person who asks for it, the fool who goes it alone. A significant reason people lose jobs is that, in over their heads, they don’t ask for help because they’re afraid they’ll appear weak. Better to appear temporarily weak than permanently incompetent!

On to tactics. Here is how we network in America:

I come to you and say, “My hat’s in the ring. I’m looking for a job. I’d appreciate you keeping your ears open. If you hear of anything good that would be of interest to me, I’d sure like to hear about it. I’ve put together a resume, I’d appreciate it if you would give it to anyone who might be interested.” 

You say, “Why don’t you talk to my friend Bob. I think he might have a problem.” So, I do, and Bob hires me. Hooray!

But I don’t work out, so Bob fires me. Now, that’s certainly a problem for me. Is it a problem for you?

You bet. Bob is going to blame someone. He has two people to pick from, himself and you. Who do you think is going to take the hit?

The problem here is that I am asking you to put your reputation and a trusted and/or reporting relationship at risk for me. Human nature dictates that you will be unwilling to do that. What you will do is say, “Oh, absolutely. You’ll be the first to know of anything I hear about!” This is code for, “I will never be caught alone in the same room with you again!”

Is it any wonder that this strategy—trying to get other people to do your job search for you—doesn’t work? And the more desperate you become, the worse it works! Pretty soon people will run screaming from you, or talk to you as though you have a terminal illness!

Clearly, this is not the way to do things. In another post, we’ll talk about networking effectively.