Friday, March 20, 2009

The Myth of the Hidden Job Market

Depending on who you decide to trust, either 20% of jobs never posted (Seneca) or 80% of jobs are never posted (Career Intelligence). With a statistical gap that large, it seems to me that we are better off just assuming that neither are correct... other than the fact that there are jobs that are not advertised. Although we have no clue about the exact percentage, it would seem that there are SOME jobs that are not advertised and perhaps there are some strategies that would help erstwhile jobseekers as they careen through the chaos of job hunting.

Why does it matter?
One reader commented on my post on INTENSITY OF FOCUS a couple of days ago,
I like what you have to say about job searching, especially as it reinforces for me that it's not silly to only apply for jobs that I actually want ... But I do find it a bit frustrating to hear things like, don't look where you're "supposed" to look, because I don't know where the other places are or how to look there.
Also, what about all those job listings that exhort applicants, in all caps, not to call please? Should one call anyway?
Allow me to do a Zen commando thing for a moment. If we have are convinced that there is a single path that we are supposed to take, we will take it and do only those things we are supposed to do and look only where we are supposed to look. Doing this, we will find only those things we are supposed to find. The person who understands that supposed to is an illusion will look in places that he/she is not expected to and will find things he/she is not expected to find. There are no hidden jobs. There are unexpected jobs.

Several years ago, a young scientist came to my office. He was winding down six years of graduate study during which he had amassed prodigious skill working as a molecular biologist with proteins. When asked about his future, he said he'd really like to work in vaccine development, but lamented his lack of experience. As we began to talk about his specific job search, he showed me the labs to which he was applying and I commented that none of them did anything that was remotely connected to vaccine development. His response, "Well, I've never done vaccine work, so I figured that I should just stick to the labs that might need my kind of training." I asked him where he would want to work in if he didn't have to stick to labs that needed his kind of training. He named a medical research center on the East Coast, but quickly added that they would never take him.

We surfed out on to the website and began looking in places we weren't supposed to be looking. Suddenly he said, "I know her. I went to school with her." As it turns out, a former classmate was a scientist in one the labs in the Center. She was not doing vaccine work, but she was there. I tasked him to contact her and get information about how she had landed there and when he came back two weeks later he told me that he had spoken with here and had sent her his CV. At this point, he became a bit glum and said, "She was gonna give it to the guy in Infectious Disease that does the vaccine work and he hasn't called, so I guess he is not interested." While he was wallowing in his self-pity, I quietly went to the website and got the guy's number and at some point mid-wallow, I asked, "So. Do you wanna talk to him?"

Long story, short. We did call and the guy did not have room for him, but thought someone else might. He put the phone down (not on Hold... he put the sucker down and you could hear postdocs laughing and talking in the background) and apparently walked down the hall to talk to the "other guy" who not only had a place, but was specifically looking for someone who knew protein translation and synthesis. Boy meets lab. Boy marries lab. Boy becomes vaccine researcher.

What is YOUR Supposed To?
Finding unexpected jobs is all about finding your "supposed to" and stepping outside of it.

The Specific Requirement Supposed To. For the last twenty-plus years I have watched people develop "kitchen sink" job descriptions. Those are the ones that include every possible skill under the sun that might be used in commission of the job. (One of my favorites was a job description at a sister university for a management position that included: Squat=Occasionally. Bend=Frequently. I envision an interview in which a seasoned manager in his/her mid-forties is asked to squat and bend for the selection committee and then the committee members would hold up scorecards like they do for Olympic diving competitions.) Applicants will invariably read the 22 item requirement list and say, "I can't apply because there are two things on the list I have never done."

The 3-5 Years Experience Supposed To. If you are a 21 y/o recent college grad and you have never had a full time job please do not run off and apply for jobs that require 10-12 years of experience. If, however, you are finishing college and worked full time and part time for three or four years while in school, you might think seriously about positions that request 3-5 years of experience. I don't think three years of part time work is the equivalent of 3-5 years of experience, but with the right sort of experience showing advancement and progressive responsibility, you might fit the bill. I would let the hiring manager make the decision. I have hired people who have had years of experience only to find out that the experience had not prepared them for the position that I was trying to fill. Ultimately, if you decide not to apply for a job because you have two, instead of three, years of experience, you are turning down a job that you have not been offered.

The They Don't Have Any Openings Supposed To. Back in the day, we used to say, "If you are only looking in the newspaper, you will never find a job." These days we say, "If you are only looking at the newspaper and online job boards, you will never find a job." You at some point, you have to go directly to company websites and bricks and mortar buildings. Several years ago, I visited an organization's website and saw that they were seeking a part-time personal counselor and a part-time career counselor. It took me about two days to find out who the hiring manager actually was and made direct contact. I told him that I would be able to do both jobs and could save them a significant amount of money in benefits and administrative time and even submitted a written plan showing how both positions could (and should) be combined. I got an offer for a pretty cool job that did not exist that I got to create myself.

The I'm Just Using My Network Supposed To. To go Zen again, you have to master the art of finding without searching. My very first part time job in California came about when I was at a party with friend. One of his friends worked at a local men's store and at some point during the evening, I said I was looking for a seasonal job. About three days later, I hear, "Hey, Dude!" and looked up to see the partygoer and an older guy. We stopped and chatted and he asked me to have lunch with them. During lunch, he remembered I was looking for a job and turned the older guy and said, "Lee, when are we gonna hire our Christmas staff." Lee said that even though they had not posted the jobs yet, he'd hire me right then, if I wanted to start before Thanksgiving and I started two days later. Now, I realize that a Christmas job is not a career position, but the concept is the same.

Part of the problem about constantly being on the prowl is that we forget what people actually want in a co-worker... somebody they enjoy being around for eight hours a day. One of the things we tell students in interview skills training is, "Employers do not interview you to see if you can do the job in question. They already know that from your resume, application, and references. They interview you to make sure that they can sit with you eight hours a day five days a week." If you make every social gathering an opportunity to recite your 30-seconf elevator speech or whine about your fruitless job search or talk about all the interviews that you have had, you will quickly find a large empty space around you at parties. It's okay to mention that you are looking for a job. It is okay to answer a question or two about your job search, but keep it low profile. Ask people what THEY do. Ask what they like and dislike about their jobs. Ask how they found their jobs. But don't ask, even jokingly, if they know anybody who is hiring. If they like you and feel confident about your abilities, they will let you know about openings that exist.

Thinking outside the supposed to.
I believe this brings us to that final question:
"What about all those job listings that exhort applicants, in all caps, not to call please? Should one call anyway?"
I refuse to give a definitive answer on this one, but here's my sketchy advice. If you have a genuine question to ask, then call. If your idea is that by calling you might be able to exert some Svengali-like influence over the hiring process, then don't call. Thinking outside of the supposed to does not include willy-nilly ignoring others' wishes, it is about stepping outside of our typical habits and finding unexpected opportunities.


  1. Hi Darryl,

    I believe with the upcoming Career Fair in April a lot of students will be wondering how to network with the company representatives. What advice would you give students who need jobs and internships but are not network savvy? Also, what should students assess about themselves before going to this Career Fair? I personally feel that alot of students try to learn alot from the Career Center but many end up with no internships or jobs. What do you think those students lack that you can address in your blog?

    Basically, how can students make the April Career Fair a success for themselves?



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