It's all about 'finding Stacy.' Who's she? Read on.

By Leslie Stevens-Huffman | December 2007

Historically, the hidden job market has referred to openings that weren't advertised to the general job-seeking public. A more modern definition broadens the scope to include pro-active hires and "internal" job openings. While some of these jobs are posted, what determines whether they're part of the hidden job market is whether the successful candidate had the inside track for the job.

"Recent research shows that the hidden job market is alive and well," says Don Asher, public speaker and author of Who Gets Promoted, Who Doesn't and Why: 10 Things You'd Better Do If You Want to Get Ahead.

In a 2006 survey examining the sources of hiring within corporations, the consulting firm CareerXroads found nearly 34 percent of open positions were filled internally. Just over 25 percent of the remaining open jobs were filled by employee referrals. Add in the fact that just over 5 percent were filled by re-hires. Total it up and you'll see candidates without an inside track are in heavy competition for the remaining slots.

"I refer to this phenomenon as the 'Stacy factor,'" says Asher. "There's an open position in a company and 10,000 resumes are placed into an electronic funnel. After being sorted, four resumes fall out of the system and land on the boss's desk for review. Then, in walks Stacy, who says to her boss, 'Here's a friend of mine. I think he'd be great for the job.' With that, Stacy hands the boss her friend's resume. Now, who do you think has the inside track for that job?" The moral of the story, Asher says: You need to find Stacy.

Here's how you can find and exploit the hidden job market:

Make a short list of companies where you want to work: Take into account the technology, the work environment, the location, and make certain there's some variety in your selections, so you increase your chances of success.

Research each company: Look at the company's Web site, search social networking sites and talk to friends and neighbors to find a contact within the company - or someone who can refer you to a contact. Says Asher: "A couple of things that I recommend for IT professionals, if you're uncomfortable calling, use e-mail. If you call, say something like, 'I understand that your company is looking for a systems engineer. Who would I speak with about that?'"

Find connectors: Don't think networking is only successful when it's conducted with high powered individuals. Anyone can help you find the hidden job market. "Connectors are boundary spanners. You've got to open up your mind about who can give you a tip," says Asher. "I've had clients hear about opportunities from cab drivers and hairdressers."

Don't look for openings. Look for information: "People who seek information will get a job much faster than people who are looking for jobs," says Asher. "Ask who in the organization would know about the company's software development projects as a way to get your first name and an introduction."

Let them know you exist: Make a phone call and introduce yourself to the hiring manager. "I don't recommend sending a resume, I recommend thinking of yourself as a business," says Denise Bissonnette, author and corporate trainer with the training and consulting firm Diversity World in Santa Cruz, Calif. "Submit a business proposal describing the value you can bring to the company. If you send a resume, you're applying for a job. You want to discuss your business proposal with them."

We're not hiring: It's a fallacy when you're told the company isn't hiring. Companies are always hiring - even when there's lay-offs going on. "I think when you hear 'we're not hiring now,' that's great news because it means you've just found the hidden job market," says Bissonnette.

The Advantages  

Once you've found the hidden job market, there's less competition and far less rejection. On average you'll be competing with fewer than 10 people for a position as opposed to hundreds - or even thousands - of candidates. If the hiring manager knows who you are, you instantly gain the inside track.

"I think candidates delude themselves into believing they were rejected for a position because they weren't a perfect fit," says Asher. "In reality, if you're part of the hidden job market, all you have to be is likeable and skilled to get the job."

Leslie Stevens-Huffman is a freelance writer based in Irvine, Calif. who has more than 20 years experience in the staffing industry.