How to succeed in the hidden job market

When you’re a student looking to start your career, you receive a ton of advice. Your friends, your classmates, your teachers, your parents – everyone has an opinion on what you should do and they’re not afraid to share it with you. Most of their advice is well-intended, but not really valuable. It’s often a collection of general guidelines and cliché tips. I have trouble counting the number of times that I’ve heard people say things such as ‘just be yourself’ or ‘follow your passion’. One piece of advice I’ve heard countless times without really understanding what it meant is to ‘network’. Everyone agrees that networking is important, but nobody can explain exactly why that’s the case, or how you should get started networking. In fact, I myself disregarded this advice for a long time.


Until I read Steve Dalton’s “The 2-hour job search”.


Dalton cuts through the noise and gives tactical advice and concrete tasks that are immediately actionable. He explains the importance of networking like nobody else.


This changed things for me.


If you have been following the news, you know that companies worldwide have decreased the number of job offerings drastically because of the covid pandemic. Many students have reacted to this by taking on a victim position. How could someone expect them to find a job in these difficult times? After all, everyone knows that there are no jobs to be found!


That might be true for the normal job market. But it isn’t for the hidden job market.


Never heard of it? Allow me to explain. Although the term ‘hidden job market’ might invoke images of some underground black market, it’s far from shady. Instead, think of it like this: advertising job postings isn’t easy for a company. First of all, it can cost a lot of time and even money to come up with a good vacancy, post it online, advertise it, and hope it attracts the right candidates. If the posting is successful, the company often receives tens or maybe hundreds of applicants. Then, the company has to go through the painstakingly long process of weeding out the bad candidates. Afterward, they have to select the best candidate out of the remaining pool of applicants, which is extremely difficult – something I’ve written extensively about in this article. It’s quite a daunting task. All publicly advertised job postings constitute the normal job market.


If you take into account that the vast majority of recruiters are satisficers, not maximizers, you understand just how inefficient this process can be.


Companies want to spend as little time and effort as possible to find a candidate who’s clearly good enough. However, they are often not willing to go the extra mile to find the single most perfect candidate on the face of the Earth. The return on that investment is simply too low.


That’s why they love to skip the normal job market and use the hidden job market instead. In fact, it has been estimated that the hidden job market accounts for as much as 70% of jobs! That proportion has probably increased even further during the covid pandemic, and it’s definitely even higher for more senior positions.


Often, when a company knows it wants to recruit a new employee, it won’t advertise that job posting just yet. First, it looks around in its network. This is the hidden job market, consisting of jobs that need to be filled, but that are not publicly advertised (yet). Perhaps the hiring manager knows someone who would be a great fit. Maybe an internal referral would be perfect. In contrast to the normal job market, where jobs are filled by using job postings, in the hidden job market jobs are filled by networking. This has obvious benefits for the company because it enables them to find a candidate who’s good enough without having to go through the annoying process of job postings. However, it also has a great benefit for you as a candidate.


On the hidden job market, competition is much, much lower. That means your odds of being invited to interviews and actually getting a job are much higher.


However, to be successful in the hidden job market, you have to network. You have to get to know the people who can put you into contact with hiring managers. You have to build relationships with people who will invite you to interviews. The people who will think of you next time they need to fill a job. And how do you build those relationships?


By talking to people! A face-to-face human conversation is the starting point for every professional relationship you can have. That’s why it is incredibly important for you to learn how to initiate these conversations. And this is exactly where the usual advice falls short because nobody ever explains how you ask people for a conversation. In his book, Steve Dalton teaches you how to use 5-point emails to invite possible networking partners to a conversation. I will explain his process (with some minor edits) to you now.


First, sit down and compile a list of 20 to 30 companies where you could see yourself work. Don’t think about the reason you want to work there just yet. Just get the companies out of your head and onto the paper. Don’t edit, don’t hold back – the key is to do this quickly and without overthinking. Once you have completed your list, write down one or two reasons per company why you think you would possibly like to work there. After you have done that, you move on to the next step: finding people inside those companies you can talk to.


To do this, open up LinkedIn and search for relevant people (you can specify that you’re looking for people in the search ribbon) by using the search criteria “[Company name] + [Region] + [2nd connection]”. LinkedIn will give you a list of all the people who satisfy those criteria. Look at their job titles and try to find someone who is either one or two levels above yourself in the typical company hierarchy. They are probably a great starting point to talk to. Ideally, you also want to have something in common with this person. For example, you both went to the same university, you both worked at the same company, or you’re both from the same geographic region. If you can’t find anyone with whom you have something in common, disregard this and move on. Next, install the Google Chrome extension Skrapp. Skrapp allows you to find the work email address of anyone you find on LinkedIn. Skrapp doesn’t always give you the correct address – but it’s right surprisingly often.


What you want to do now is send them a so-called 5-point email. A 5-point email follows a very specific template, which has been refined and proven to work. It goes like this:


“Dear John [their name],


My name is Twan [your name] and I am an RSM MBA student [your connection to them, i.e. you are both RSM graduates]. May I ask you a few questions about your experience in Amazon’s sustainability team [your specific interest, i.e. you might want to work in Amazon’s sustainability team]? I’m trying to learn more about sustainability roles in e-commerce [your general interest], and I would really appreciate your help.

Could we have a short conversation in person or by phone?


I look forward to hearing from you.



[add a link to your LinkedIn profile]” 


This is the template and you should ONLY change their name, your name, your connection to them, your specific interest in them, and your general interest in their industry. Don’t change anything else. This template works for a few reasons. First, it’s short, which encourages people to read and reply. Second, you don’t mention any job posting, which would cause them to refer you to HR. Third, you state your connection to them, which makes them more likely to want to help you. Fourth, you show both a specific interest in their role and a general interest in their industry, so it’s clear that you want to speak specifically to them, but you don’t give off the impression that you are desperate for a role at their company. Fifth, you end the email with a specific, concrete question they can reply ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to.


You will find that a surprisingly large number of people are willing to help you. If they are open to having a conversation with you, you should schedule it as soon as possible. During the conversation, your goal is to first position them as an expert and then slowly convert them to a mentor by following the TIARA-framework. I’ll explain that in the following article. Alternatively, you could read Dalton’s “The 2-hour job search”.


For now, get started on your list. Identify 20 to 30 companies you would want to work for, find a good contact person inside each of those, and send them a 5-point email. As Dalton puts it: you want to be good enough quickly instead of perfect slowly. Networking is the only way to succeed in the hidden job market, and what matters most is that you get started. Don’t get bogged down in the details. Take action today and you will reap the rewards tomorrow. Good luck!