Is the “hidden job market” a real thing?

hidden job market

You’ve probably seen or heard the term “hidden job market” at some point. It gets used a lot, but you might be wondering what it truly means—and it doesn’t help that there’s no official or standard definition.

The lack of an official definition means that various sources have different explanations—sometimes misleading. Then, there’s people who try to debunk the concept using a straw man argument, perhaps because they have their own understanding of what the term means, while others mean something different when they say “hidden job market.”

However, the truth is that there ARE some scenarios where an upcoming job opportunity might be considered hidden in some way.

One of the most well-known situations is executive search; for a senior executive role, it might not be posted publicly because a retained executive search firm will be hand-picking the best candidates.

However, there are also other situations in which a job might not be posted, usually because the role in question isn’t yet open and it’s too early for it to be posted. It will be posted at a later date, but by the time it’s posted, the decision maker might already have a couple candidates in mind. And in some rare cases, the decision maker might not want to deal with the time and hassle of fielding an influx of applications.

In this article, I’ll explore examples that don’t involve executive search firms.

Example A – Upcoming departure

The SVP is disappointed that her VP Operations for a major facility hasn’t been able to turn around the under-performing site. If things don’t change soon, the SVP will be will be looking for a replacement.

If the SVP meets anyone interesting at an industry conference this year, she might keep that person in mind for when the time comes to hire a replacement. At that point, the job will be posted (per company policy), but she might have already decided she wants to invite this person to an interview if he is interested, meaning he’s already one big step ahead of the herd of 100+ applicants who will likely apply.

This isn’t just a stroke of good luck for this potential candidate. He made the wise choice to attend the conference; he pushed himself out of his comfort zone and schmoozed with lots of strangers at the conference; he bravely asked many of them if it would be possible to keep in touch afterwards; and he followed up with LinkedIn connection requests and thoughtful notes sent via LinkedIn or email to continue the relationship. Having the right connections isn’t about luck—it’s about strategy and execution.

Example B – Upcoming expansion

The company’s Head of Sales for the Americas knows the company will be launching a new division next year. When the time comes, he’s going to need a VP of Sales to build and lead a brand new sales team for the new division. He might try to promote from within, but he’s open to considering external candidates—especially since existing internal talent lacks experience with the product the new division will be selling.

While playing golf with a former colleague, the Head of Sales asks his former colleague if he knows any sales leaders who have experience with this type of product. This leads to a warm introduction to a potential candidate long before the job is ever posted–and he ends up hiring her.

Once again, although this might sound like good “luck” for this candidate, the reality is that she was very strategic about maintaining relationships with her former bosses, coworkers, and classmates—resulting in her being top-of-mind when the golf buddy was asked if he had any recommendations.

Example C – Small business

The owner of a small business currently has 16 employees and several part-time contractors. He knows he could use one more FTE, but he’s hesitant to advertise the position. The last time he advertised an opening, he was besieged with candidates who weren’t a good fit. As a small business owner wearing multiple hats, it was a stressful experience since he’s too small to have an HR department. In the end, he hired someone who was referred by one of his employees.

After hearing that an outstanding manager at one of his vendors is being laid off due to a merger, he’s intrigued by the opportunity to snag a top-notch leader he already knows, likes, and trusts. He takes a look at her LinkedIn profile, and it’s filled with content that demonstrates her expertise in the industry and passion for her work. He requests her resume, invites her to an interview, and ultimately extends a job offer–all without ever posting an opening.


Bear in mind that the examples above are merely examples—there are many similar instances that my clients have encountered. To increase your chances of having these types of “hidden” opportunities, make sure that human-to-human interaction is a component of your job search strategy.

The human interaction could include keeping in touch with professional and social connections, getting introductions, being involved in a professional association, attending local events, going to conferences, doing speaking engagements, and similar types of activities.

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