Monday, 12 April 2021

How big is the hidden job market?

It has been said that only a small number of jobs are actually advertised (Asher, 2011; Figler, 1979; Hansen, 2008; Jackson & Mayleas, 1976; Levinson & Perry, 2005; Mathison & Finney, 2011; Perez & Ballinger, 2015). This is termed the "hidden job market" (different to the "hidden labor market" which refers to untaxed work; Alvarez-Parra & Sanchez, 2009).

The earliest authors I have found, Jackson and Mayleas (1976, p. 3; echoed by Jackson, 1977, p. 108), said: “It now is recognized that on any given day, only 10 to 15 percent of the available job openings are listed in the newspapers or with agencies. […Other] jobs are available but have not yet, or may never, flow through the corporate pipeline into the public job market. [They are] in the hidden job market […] where 85 to 90 percent of the job openings actually exist”.

Hidden roles are those where, when “someone quits, managers will first consider eliminating the job. If that is not feasible, they will look inside their organization to see if there is an employee they can promote into the role. If they can’t find anyone, they’ll likely ask their coworkers for referrals. If that doesn’t work, depending on the size of the company, they may run an ad through HR, or hire a headhunter. They may even run it on a job board or in the newspaper as a ‘company confidential’ box ad. Companies will contact a headhunter when secrecy is required because the recruiter can conduct a search without anyone ever knowing. In all cases, the job remains hidden to the outside world” (Levinson & Perry, 2005, p. 46). It appears that a significant majority of - ‘hidden’ - roles are obtained via networks, cold calling, and internal promotion.

Firstly, I take issue with applying to unnamed companies via a recruiter being termed a ‘hidden’ job market, as the roles are still advertised. Secondly, where do these numbers - ranges - for the hidden job market come from?

The percentage of hidden jobs seems to vary – 95%, 85%, 80%, 70%, 75% and 65% - but I have yet to discover any underlying research data to support the percentages or statistics. A WSJ post claimed that the figure of 70% of hidden jobs was “According to a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and Yale University report”, without providing the name or location of the report (Harden, 2016). Despite a number of searches, this report has proved elusive. Further, many of the ‘70% hidden job market’ articles track back to the Harden (2016) article, citing Harden as a secondary source. Earlier than Harden, Perez and Balling also state "70%" without support (2015, p. 29/199). Much earlier is an unevidenced claim for 75%: Figler states there "is a large hidden job market, Three-fourths of available jobs are hidden from public view. There are reasons for this, including, among others, the employer's unwillingness to advertise to the public at large, and the time lag between the start of the job vacancy and the moment it is announced" (1979, p. 113).

Asher states that “Only about one-third of open jobs are ever posted anywhere” (2011, p. 16); again, without citing evidence. Hansen (2013) said that a "survey of 181 search firms provides [...] insight into the value of a strong network. According to this survey, 63 percent of all executive job openings were filled with a candidate who was sourced through networking during the prior twelve months" (2008, p. 13), again, without citations. I was unable to find the survey Hansen usesOverall, the hidden job market appears to be smoke and mirrors, where each step assumed that expert sources knew their 'facts'.

After consulting a recruitment expert, Hansen reviews her views on the hidden job market. The expert advised that the 'hidden' market was a myth. Hansen (2017) seeks evidence for hidden jobs and finds none. Lou Adler writes that the hidden job market vanished with the internet (2007), but offers no evidence for that view - though I think I agree with him.

As a result, while 'it is said' that between 70% and 95% of jobs are found by means other than advertising, the statistics or research studies appear to be missing. The 'hidden job market' statistics lacks an evidence base.

I feel it is time for us to find some statistics or underpinning research: or to stop citing.



  • Adler, L. (2007). Hire with your head: Using performance-based hiring to build great teams (3rd ed.). John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
  • Alvarez-Parra, F., & Sanchez, J. M. (2009). Unemployment insurance with a hidden labor market. Journal of Monetary Economics, 56(7), 954-967.
  • Asher, D. (2011). Cracking the hidden job market: how to find opportunity in any economy. Ten Speed Press.
  • Figler, H. E. (1979). The Complete Job-search Handbook: All the skills you need to get any job and have a good time doing it. Holt, Rinehoit and Winston.
  • Hansen, K. (15 December 2017). Is the Hidden Job Market a Myth? An Investigative Report.
  • Hansen, K. (2008). A foot in the door: networking your way into the hidden job market (2nd ed.). Ten Speed Press.
  • Jackson, T., & Mayleas, D. (1976). The Hidden Job Market: A system to beat the system. Quadrangle/The New York Times Book Co.
  • Jackson, T. (1977). 28 Days to a Better Job: A day-by-day action approach that has helped thousands to find jobs they want. Hawthorn Books, Inc.
  • Levinson, J. C., & Perry, D. E. (2005). Guerrilla Marketing for Job Hunters: 400 Unconventional Tips, Tricks, and Tactics for Landing Your Dream Job. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 
  • Mathison, D., & Finney, M. L. (2011). Unlock the Hidden Job Market: 6 Steps to a Successful Job Search When Times Are Tough. Pearson Education, Inc. 
  • Perez, N. A., & Ballinger, N. (2015). The 20-Minute Networking Meeting: Learn to network; get a job (Graduate ed.). Career Innovations Press [ebook].

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