The Hidden Job Market: The Myth, the Truth, the Buyao

The Hidden Job Market: The Myth, the Truth, the Buyao


“80% of all jobs in the job market are hidden” every career guide and expert seems to claim. The Hidden Job Market.  It’s real. And it’s out there, waiting for you to bootstrap into them when you’re not teaching English in South East Asia while learning a trade and teaching yourself some code.

What a bunch of buyao.  If my business cards was as believed in and passed around as often as this myth, I’d have a lot more people clamoring for my skills and I’d be able to pick and choose jobs in my leisure. And by leisure I mean underwear.

Still, in the year 2015, why do people still believe in this?  I imagine its the same reason that many job seeking myths get passed around: Much of our culture comes from above, the wealthy and the 1% have access to traditional and powerful media structures and outlets, so the people with money publish the truth they want and few question it, especially among my journalists, sad to say. Just as Peter Cappelli mentions in his book “Why Good People Can’t Get Jobs” [review to come; it’s a great read for an afternoon], the people with money make their voices heard and the big reasons why we don’t hear about the real state of the economy from average people is because:

  1. Those people don’t have many to pay pundits to squawk their opinions as fact (or dismiss facts as opinions)
  2. Those same people are too busy looking for work and trying to survive to complain openly (especially if it means being labeled with such specious marks as “not a team player” or “complainer,” even if those points are valid.  Look up Scientology’s love of the word “Suppressible” sometime.)
  3. Special: Career and life coaches mention it because it serves their own financial interest–just one more resume revision, one more month of meetings, it brings them more cash. It’s sad and harsh, but let’s be honest and admit that an amazing number of American business feed on false hope and despair. Cosmetics, anyone? As an aside, it appeals to the idea that that particular person is special and could get into an inside track that gives them the leg up when in reality, like most folks, the majority will fall along the bell curve.  In other words, it’s snake oil.
  4. Finally, it serves the American “blame the victim” narrative as well as the false narrative of…
  5. The “Skills Gap.” As Capelli mentions, and as I’ve experienced in the tech field, it’s primary purpose is to increase the “need” for foreign labor because if you want a living wage for your work and skill set, then you’re unqualified! No, seriously, try talking to someone in HR sometime.


So let’s carve this turkey apart, shall we?



The myth is that around 80% of jobs are hidden. They aren’t advertised, but they’re “out there” (like the truth in “The X-Files”).  They’re real jobs for real pay, they’re never advertised, but they are how they get the best ones.



Ok, this is really convoluted, but it’s what I see, read and hear often by career coaches, baby boomers and the hidden-job-market-myth believers are making several claims at once.  Let’s start with the first one.

80% of jobs are hidden. 80% of what? That’s ambiguous. I’m assuming it means all job openings, not all jobs in existence–that would mean that there are tons of “secret jobs” and not everyone is a CIA or NSA agent.  That’s just silly.

Now, this made perfect since back in the Ronald-Reagan-smoking and crack-voting 80’s, when one had to (gasp!) write a paper ad, hire an editor and have a colleague check your spelling, choose what newspapers, trade journals, alumni networks and other publications to put it in and hope for the best.  But, if you had a friend in the industry, you could save your boss or supervisor some trouble, introduce them to your friend and get wonderful brownie points or a promotion by helping your company shift a major core competency in time.  Not to mention saving money for the company, right?

Well, now all of that can be done in a few dozen clicks.  No sitting with magazine editors, no meeting with HR to specially choose the magic words, have another person spell check (MS Word does that with the F7 key) or even make any real effort.  Now every lazy manager (i.e. managers in general) can just toss together some word salad and plop it on Craigslist.  If it sees an HR person, it’s to maybe strike out words that might get them sued.  It’s easy, too easy, to create an online job posting and release the flood gate of resumes.  Which is why most articles on getting work now are about “Being likable” and “Making connections/having a friend” in the firm you want to work. ( Though how this is different than simply “being popular” is a mystery too me. I’d love to have someone explain how…seriously, replace network with the phrase “be popular” or some variant and tell me if it changes at all)


So no, 80% are not in some mystical hidden shangra-la market that will be magically opened by some combination of your bootstraps and whatever cash you pay to a career coach to guide you there.

The truth of the matter is that if anything, 80% or more (I’d say ~100%) of the jobs now exist in what would now be called a “gated community” or “gated job market.”  You have to know someone to get you in just to be considered (Again, “being popular” enough to be invited to the cool kid’s birthday party).   Which is incredibly classiest and ageist in the sense that one: It took many professionals years, YEARS, to build a network and expecting a fresh grad to have that is asinine and insane. Unless you actually expect that network to consist of under and unemployed people who also just graduated, with rare exceptions, to magically “you know, just get one.”


So what about the 20% of the “hidden job market”? (What most call the buyao layer) Well, let’s just acknowledge that 90% of stats are made up on the spot and recognize that this sort of thing–that jobs that are hidden–is, in fact, true for c-level type positions (CEO, CIO, CFO, CTO, etc.), but for the rest of us, it’s more like “being lucky” or “being popular”.  Most jobs are posted, but as Joseph Capelli mentions, there is no way to tell the real deal from red herrings, or if there really is a need for that position and the firm isn’t just farming to see what they can get away with paying as opposed to what they should.


A better metaphor would be a programming metaphor [in C++]:  Nowadays, your class data structure needs a proper getter function (bool: isFriend == true) in order to be allowed to to reach the iCanHazInterview function.  In the 80’s or 90’s, these used to be structs; All members were publicly available and accessible by all, but now are highly protected against a shadowy fear of “corruption” for even the most simple functions or orders.


Wow, that was a lot. I’d go back and edit it again, but the summary I have at the top does a good job. I’m just too do it again. I summed up everything well 6+ months ago when I first wrote this. I wrote it at a time when I was vexed by the utterly borked state of hiring in this country. And I get plenty of stuff to write about in the coming months.  And being in the last term of a new degree in Computer Information Sciences, I got enough on my plate.


Enjoy the sources and as usual, feel free to mail in all questions, comment and tomatoes.