How to find 'hidden' job vacancies

Research shows many jobs are never advertised externally - here's how to find them anyway


Businessman searching  office buildings with binoculars.

Good jobs aren't easy to find. A survey from the Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR) last year found that there were an average of 85 applications for every graduate job advertised. At the other end of the scale, even apprenticeships are receiving 11 applications per place, says the National Apprenticeship Service.

It is possible, though, to search for a job without having to face these odds - by looking for positions that haven't been advertised externally in the first place.

Many employers, especially in popular fields like the media, see no need to spend good money on advertising vacancies when they already have large numbers of CVs on file or know they can fill them through word of mouth.

It's not clear exactly how many jobs remain unadvertised. Research in the US has shown that there are many more new hires per year than posted vacancies, indicating that as many as 70 to 80 percent of positions aren't advertised to the public. Clearly, that's going to improve the odds - if you know how to tap that hidden job market. We look at some of the best techniques.

Ask around
This may not be the easiest thing to do if you're already in a job and your employer doesn't know that you're planning to leave. But if it's at all possible, one of the most straightforward ways to find out about unadvertised jobs is simply to ask around.

Your best bet, of course, will be former colleagues, clients, suppliers and the like. But don't neglect friends in completely different fields, including your Facebook friends: you never know who they may know.

Use social media
If you have a strong profile on a social media site such as LinkedIn, there's a chance that employers will approach you. In a recent survey from Kelly Services, 11 percent of UK respondents said they'd found a job through social media; and 38 percent of these said they'd been approached directly in this way by a an in-house recruiter or agency.

To attract attention, you need to put yourself in the position of the recruiter, and ask yourself how they'd conduct their search. Create a professional, up-to-date profile, and make sure you include plenty of the specific, skills-related keywords that employers might be using.

It's also worth joining LinkedIn professional groups and forums. Let it be known that you're looking for a job, and try and participate regularly and constructively so that potential employers can see your worth.

And don't discount Twitter: employers will frequently tweet vacancies long before they get round to advertising them formally. Try following recruitment managers at the companies that interest you - or even (very politely) tweeting them directly.

Internal jobs boards
The one place that employers can advertise jobs without incurring costs is on their own internal careers board - just Google 'name of company' plus 'careers'. If your dream job is likely to be found at a large organisation - and if there aren't too many target companies on your list - this can be a very productive technique.

Write spec letters
Be warned: doing this badly will be a complete waste of time. Companies are routinely deluged with vague approaches from people that have nothing very obvious to offer.

To be in with a chance means doing your research. Target companies that are likely to have a need for your particular skills, and read their press releases and blogs, as well as any relevant trade magazines. If you discover that a company is planning an expansion, that it's won a major contract or the like, explain just how you can help.

Get out and about
Tramping the halls at trade shows and conferences can be one of the best ways to find unadvertised jobs. The chances are that such events will be packed with potential employers, and there's nothing like a face-to-face chat when it comes to impressing them.

Don't discount university careers fairs, even if it's a while since you left. Many are quite happy to welcome graduates as well as current students - and the chances are that you'll be more memorable, more experienced and more interesting than the undergraduate competition.

Check out professional organisations
If there's any sort of professional body for your chosen career, it can be well worth joining - if you haven't already. Many have their own career forums, which can be an excellent place to ask questions and display your expertise. Often, membership is free or discounted for recent graduates.

Set up email alerts
Using Google Alerts, it's possible to get relevant information sent straight to your inbox. Setting up a search for 'retail, jobs, Manchester', for example, will tip you off if a new supermarket is in the offing.

Another excellent service is, which allows users to search thousands of websites for jobs - not just those advertised externally, but those posted on internal company careers boards too. Again, it's possible to set up a system of automatic alerts - so that those jobs come to you.