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The Hidden Job Market versus the Traditional Job Market

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The traditional job market includes the want ads, employment agencies, headhunters, and college placement offices, as well as civil service exams. The hidden job market consists of applying directly to employers on one's own, as well as getting referrals from friends, relatives, and associates. Applying directly can include sending resumes, filling out application forms, and making appointments to meet the person with the power to hire.

Over the years, a number of studies have been conducted to determine the effectiveness of various job search methods. The first and most obvious thing the researches reveal is that no particular job hunting method is guaranteed to work for you personally. While 66% of all job seekers spent at least part of their time applying directly to employers, less than 48% of them found their job through that approach. Still, that approach had the highest effectiveness rate among all of the methods examined. By contrast, only 24% of those who responded to want ads and only 24% of those who used private employment agencies obtained jobs through those resources.

Applying Directly To Employers

Applying directly to employers includes any type of direct contact you make with an employer that is not done as a result of a want ad or referral from friends, relatives, associates, employment agencies, or headhunters. It does include applying through a resume, filling out an application form, walking in and speaking to someone in a personnel department, and talking to the person with power to hire, either by phone or face-to-face.

Approximately 66% of all job seekers apply directly to employers. Of those, about 48% find jobs using this method. It is the most frequently used and most effective job search method: more people get jobs through that method than any other.

Every job seeker should spend time applying directly to employers. Once you know what type of job you'll be looking for, you should identify 75-200 potential employers, determine who has the power to hire, and seek to meet those people. Even when you do not succeed in meeting the person with the power to hire, you will have had a higher quality contact than 95% of your competitors. Making direct contact with employers, along with associated activities such as researching companies at the library, will take up about 90% of your time. This approach is time-intensive, but it works.

Asking Friends and Relatives

Getting referrals from friends and relatives is the method that accounts for landing approximately 26% of all jobs. You'll notice that the effectiveness rate is not as high as the effectiveness rate for applying directly to employers. Nevertheless, the fact that so many people get jobs based on leads and referrals from others indicates that it is one of the methods that all job seekers should use,

One of the reasons that this method did not show a higher effectiveness rate is that job hunters often fail to use this method to their best advantage. They rarely contact people on a systematic basis, they tell only a few people that they are looking for a job, and they rarely follow up to tell their contacts how they're doing. Although talking to friends and relatives will take up a lot of time during the first couple weeks of your search; after that, you will only need to follow up with them periodically every few weeks.

Answering Want Ads

Everyone should look at the want ads. About 13% of all job seekers find a job through the want ads. This method has one of the higher effectiveness rates: of those responding to local ads, 24% find jobs through this method. Not surprisingly, responding to ads in nonlocal papers is considerably less successful. Answering ads placed in professional and trade journals has an effectiveness rate of only 7%, but this is one of the only avenues some people have for learning about out-of-state jobs in their profession. The number of jobs advertised in professional and trade journals are fairly small. Because people from all over the country respond to these ads, your success rate will probably be low.

Once you learn how to interpret the ads you can get through them fairly quickly. Most people find two or three ads to respond to on a weekly basis. Although we know that for the better jobs, 50-200 resumes are going to pour in, the time it takes to produce a customized cover letter, is probably worth the effort. Setting aside an hour or so on Sunday to write the letter will leave you free Monday through Friday to concentrate on other aspects of your job search.

Placing Ads in Newspapers and Trade Journals

Placing ads in local papers has a 13% success rate, while placing ads in professional and trade journals has a 7% success rate. Since the success rate of placing an ad is low, and you will have to pay for the ad, do it only if you feel you want to cover all of your bases. However, employers rarely look for such ads. If you do run an ad, you are likely to get far more calls from employment agency counselors and people touting multi-level selling opportunities than actual job offers.

Private Employment Agencies

There are many people who simply don't benefit from using employment agencies and headhunters. If you determine that such services are not appropriate for you, you will then be able to devote your time more effectively to other methods. Approximately 21% of job seekers use either employment agencies or headhunters, and about 24% of those folks, find their job through those resources. About 6% of all job seekers find their jobs through agencies. If you decide to utilize agencies or headhunters, however, contact them quickly, within the first two weeks of your search.

State Employment Services

About 5% of all job seekers find their jobs through state employment services. The effectiveness rate is fairly low-about 14% of those seeking jobs this way find their jobs through this method. But this service does have some advantages. For one thing, it's free. For another thing, one or two visits will be enough to determine whether it is a re source you should continue using. By merely stopping in twice a week, this resource may require only one to two hours of time.

School Placement Offices

Placement offices are used almost exclusively by graduating seniors, although they are usually available to alumni. The effectiveness rate of placement offices is fairly high. Of those who use placement offices, 21% find jobs through them. If you are a graduating senior, make every use you can of the placement office. Talk to counselors and ask them how you can take full advantage of their resources. If they offer interview coaching, or critiquing of videotaped interviews, make use of these services. They can give you considerable help as you prepare to interview with campus recruiters.

Civil Service Tests

Only 13% of those who seek jobs through civil service exams find jobs by using this method, probably because the exams are extremely competitive. Typically, in order to be eligible for interviews, you have to rank among the top ten on your scores. The manager will then hire someone from that group. So, even if you are number nine on the list, you could get hired if you interview effectively. Knowing people often helps in government hiring. But, as in all job finding, who you get to know is as important as who you already know. By being focused, you can identify those department managers within the government bodies which interest you and seek to meet them even when they don't have any openings. If you sell yourself, you'll be high on their list when an opening occurs.

Getting Referrals from Professors and Teachers

About 12% of those who seek referrals from professors and teachers get a job through this method. Because this method does not re quire a great deal of time, it is certainly worth using.

While you're in school, make a special effort to get to know some of your professors. Sit in the front of the class, get involved in class discussions, and take advantage of faculty office hours to meet personally with your instructors. It also helps to do "A" work; professors rarely remember B- or C students. While your typical history professor is not likely to have many contacts in private industry, he or she might surprise you. Chemistry teachers may have done consulting work for firms and will have former students who work for many different organizations. It doesn't take much time to talk with your professors, so give them a try.


About 7% of all job seekers find their jobs through many different techniques which are categorized as miscellaneous.

What Does It All Mean?

People use all of the methods described because they work-at least some of the time, for some of the people. Research shows that the more methods people use, the quicker they find jobs. As a rule, the qualities of the job you obtain, and the length of time it takes to obtain it, are directly related to the amount of time you spend on your search each week, the number of people you contact, the number of people you meet, the quality of your written documents, and the quality of your personal contacts.
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