Busting the “80% of All Jobs are Hidden” Myth
“Unpublicized” is a Much More Accurate Term
And the number is smaller than you think. Or been told.
As the world (well, the 99% of it that does not include the wealthy) tries to dig out of the morass called the “post recession,” job seekers are blindly following the “sage” advice to ferret out the 80% of jobs that are apparently “hidden” according to many “experts.” They seemingly believe without question the vast majority of websites and career books that spout this grossly inaccurate number.
Unfortunately, that advice is as old and relevant as paper résumés.
Indeed, that number might be true for CEOs or CFOs who get hired at least in part with the help of their reputations. However, many of those executive jobs are filled via referrals and highly paid retained recruiters who work via referrals — the “who knows you” factor — not by informational interviews or schmoozing. On the lower rungs, it’s probably closer to 20 percent, not 80. So why the myth?
One of my favorite TV shows is MythBusters. As someone who thinks scientifically, I don’t mind having my beliefs shattered by logic and reality. So, although I was a little surprised, I was not disbelieving when I came across an article on Quintessential Careers, within which Katherine Hansen burst the 80% “common knowledge” balloon:
I was shocked to read a 2009 statement by a respected consultant, someone who knows the world of hiring extensively, having worked with hundreds employers, that the hidden job market is one of the biggest myths of job-hunting; that, in fact, it doesn’t exist: ‘Maybe a few thousand out of 20 million jobs are unpublished, and they are primarily at or near the C-level,’ said Gerry Crispin, who with partner Mark Mehler, operates CareerXroads which consults with corporations in career planning and placement, contract recruiting, executive search, recruitment advertising, and human resource management.
So, why is it that, wherever job seekers “in transition” look (don’t you just love that politically correct term for “out of work,” by the way?), they see that 80% figure? Or others ranging from 75% to even 95%? Perhaps because:
- it’s just old information that keeps getting repeated ad nauseam; the “world is flat” syndrome
- some folks have a vested interest in spreading the myth.
Let’s examine the question from the point of view of an employer. Why would a company keep a job opening secret? Short answer: in most cases it wouldn’t because it wants to be able to find the cream of the crop. Successful businesses do not restrict options. Also, the longer the role remains unfilled, the less money the company will make, or the more stretched and ineffective existing staff will become.
This is how it has worked inside every progressive company I’ve worked in, either early on as a front line employee or in senior management:
- The need for a new person is fleshed out and justified, sometimes over months. The proposal is then discussed at senior levels, and then budgeted as part of the “head count” process. Then, it’s approved or not.
- Once approved, “who do you know?” within the office commences, as its simply cheaper to work through a referral than pay for advertising or an expensive recruiter. And, if referred by an “A” employee, chances are the person he or she refers will also be an “A.”
- Word spreads throughout the company, and often employees are given monetary incentives to generate interest outside the company (this usually occurs for positions at lower levels on the career ladder); these external job seekers sometimes (but not always) are allowed to bypass the dreaded “cold-call” on-line HR black hole, errrr, submission system.
This worked for me when I incorporated Canadian operations into the Atlanta head office. I saw the need for a Canadian to fill the role, as there are cultural issues across borders. There was also a lack of information about how Canadians think and make buying decisions — and what they expect — amongst the US-based staff. Many US companies do not realize that Canada cannot be marketed to as a 51st state. I spread the word throughout my expat community, and even to my contacts at the Atlanta Canadian Consulate. The employee hired — a recent graduate from a local university, and Canadian — came from those efforts, didn’t cost us a dime to source, and was an excellent hire. However, this was the exception, not the rule.
At senior management or C-Level, finding people is largely like sales at professional service firms (lawyers, architects, engineers): word of mouth via the hiring manager’s network before anything is advertised or sent to a recruiter.
Only after an ideal candidate is not found this way is something advertised, except at companies or organizations where it is company policy to post all positions. However, many positions are posted when a candidate has already been identified just to enable the company to report that it abided by its policy, or in the case of the public sector, regulations. For example, if Uncle Sam posts a job for a week or 10 days, forget it: somebody has already been promised the job.
The “80% hidden” job market may have been the reality. 10 or 20 years ago. When there was only Monster or printed newspaper / trade magazine advertisements, no company websites, no job posting aggregators like Simply Hired or Indeed, no recruiters Tweeting, nor trade association websites with their own niche job boards.
As Hansen points out, there are only a few instances today where the “hidden / unpublicized” argument may hold some water:
- The employer needs to confidentially replace a non-performer. However, these are usually handled by an outside retained recruiter who can keep things confidential.
- The employer at a public company fears news of significant hiring will hurt stock prices; again, this is handled confidentially by a retained recruiter and is exclusively at C-Level or close to it.
- The employer does not want to reveal future plans to competitors and others, and publicizing openings could expose those plans; again, senior level.
- The employer wants to get referrals before or instead of publicizing the vacancy and being inundated with resumes from unqualified candidates; usually, the employer is HR resource-constrained.
- The employer hires a search firm or recruiter to conduct a confidential search; retained recruiters will fill jobs at senior levels, while contingency recruiters are often not so, ahem, confidential nor picky.
- The employer uses social media such as Twitter or other non-traditional advertising means to find candidates; but usually, these jobs are usually posted on the company site, anyway, so are not “hidden.”
- The employer may be very small and does not have the funds to advertise the opening.
- Human error; the employer simply fails to publicize it (e.g., lack or time, forgetfulness or a simply awful web site).
- The opening exists, but there’s a hiring freeze, so the job cannot yet be publicized.
Or, perhaps, a company is biased to hiring only people who are already gainfully employed and are not looking, so engages a retained recruiter.
So, does that add up to 80%, or even 50%? No. It’s closer to 38% according to Hansen’s report, and that’s on the high end. The more junior the position, the more that percentage drops. Just as we found out in the last US Presidential election and the related statistical reporting, numbers don’t lie, but anecdotal evidence presented by “experts” often does. As anyone who has worked with even basic statistics will tell you, painting everything with the same brush is folly, but that’s what is occurring. Each profession, industry, geographic location, seniority, etc., will have vastly different percentages tied to them. Some jobs might be almost all unpublicized, but others might be advertised all the time. For example, a call center will be advertising for low-paid customer service reps due to the revolving door. The call center director position might be publicized only on the company website and the aggregators that scan the web. The CEO’s position may not be published anywhere. The latter might be said, too, for highly-skilled or specialized positions that internal recruiters fill by stealing employees from other companies and/or don’t want to receive many unqualified resumes to sort through.
So, who’s winning with the repeated utterances of this myth? Book authors and unscrupulous (or ignorant) job coaches or other third parties who get paid by the job seeker. Certainly not the one looking for a job. If someone wants your money and part of the sales pitch includes these ridiculous numbers, you may want to think twice about getting out your wallet.
I’m not saying “don’t try to ferret these jobs out.” I am saying to take bad advice like this with a grain of salt. People I know who were not on the executive floor got “hidden” jobs by super-networking and becoming involved in groups like trade associations where they became well-known as subject matter experts. One of my previous jobs materialized after performing a change management study for a non-profit after I was found on LinkedIn by the executive assistant to the CEO. Others did so via establishing robust web and social media presences. They strove to become known quantities. However, others have done all this and came up dry in this economy.
If it’s 38% or less, then should job seekers be firing 80% of their arrows at it? Not likely. It is a tool, but just as with investing and establishing a balanced portfolio, or a marketer implementing an integrated marketing strategy to maximize sales, finding the right mix is the only way to a payoff. Filling 80% of your days with informational interviews, as some folks do based upon the fictional “80% hidden” factor, rather than taking a balanced approach, may be ill-advised. If you’re a senior-level executive, sure, put more networking into it than the entry-level staffer might. But, whether entry-level or C-Level, don’t blow most of your personal and time resources or monetary budget on a myth.
Oh, and by the way, if you ever see me walking to my car during a downpour, it’s because the MythBusters proved you get wetter by running. Almost twice as much, actually. It’s true, but it defies “common knowledge.”