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Why “Hack-a-Job” Will Become a New Job Hunting Strategy

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…. recognize this fundamental truth: careers are found in the hidden job market, jobs are filled in the public market.

Last year I wrote a post suggesting that there are two job markets – one hidden and one public. I also suggested that the best jobs are in the hidden market and these are the ones usually filled by passive candidates. However, active job seekers can find jobs in the hidden market if they ignore the apply button and enter through the back door. Hacking a job this way will result in a better job. This 2X2 job market and active/passive candidate concept is summarized in the following table.


To obtain better clarity around this dual job market, I’ve been working with a number of talent leaders around the world identifying the trends that represent how they’ll be finding people in the future. The big one: even if you’re perfectly qualified, the best an active job-seeker is likely to get is a lateral transfer. The more important one: there are ways to play the hiring game to win but the savvy job-seeker needs to know the evolving rules. Here’s what you need to know to hack-a-job:

  1. The accelerating use of predictive analytics. Companies are now starting to crunch everything they know about a person to better predict on-the-job-performance. Aside from skills, experiences and assessment tests, companies are looking at your rate of progression, your turnover rate, how you perform on their online games and the recommendations of people in their company you don’t even know you knew. On top of this, imagine your future profile consists of everything online about you, even including the stuff you forgot or didn’t even know existed. This all suggests that becoming a perfect fit will become even harder in the future, but it also suggests what you need to do today to become a perfect fit tomorrow.
  2. More high-tech and less high-touch. As companies hire tens of thousands of new employees each year, personal contact is becoming more transactional and less personal. (It reminds me of when I went to my draft physical as the Vietnam War was heating up.) One problem companies are trying to solve is weeding out the unqualified. This is a big time-waster for everyone, caused largely by job-seekers applying to jobs they’re not qualified to handle. Despite jobs being filled more efficiently, the best a good candidate can expect is a lateral transfer.
  3. Building pipelines of future draft choices for just-in-time hiring. Since 80-85% of the people companies actually do want to hire are not applying to jobs via a job board, companies are accelerating their passive candidate outreach programs. Some activities here include more pervasive employer branding, having their current employees staying more strongly connected to their (best) former co-workers, offering some of their former employees an opportunity to rejoin the company, and targeting “best in class” people and implementing a college-like long-term recruiting effort headed up by hiring managers to build and maintain the relationship. This is networking on steroids and must be at the core of every job-seeker’s efforts.
  4. The replacement of single job postings with job clusters. Think of a hub and spoke as a means to advertise jobs en masse with the hub being the job type and the spokes being the actual job. For example, rather than advertising individual software engineer jobs, it’s better to advertise a group of all related software positions. Then when candidates apply, have the “system” figure out which job is most suited to the applicant. Not only will these “hubs” be easier to find and more descriptive, candidates will more likely “queue-up” to learn about opportunities as they become available. This is actually a great trend and good for both companies and job-seekers alike. Job boards that charge per posting might resist the trend though.
  5. Integration of hiring with performance management and employee engagement. According to the Gallup Group, employee engagement in the U.S. is at a dismal 32%. Part of the reason is that candidates are being force-fitted into jobs with little insight into the actual job content. Using a performance-based job description describing actual job needs, it’s possible to link the hiring and performance management process into one seamless system. This will instantly improve assessment accuracy, quality of hire and employee engagement.

Hiring at scale requires companies to automate their processes to the degree possible, but there comes a point when this becomes counter-productive. This is at the intersection of the hidden and public job markets. It also represents the dividing line between how companies find and recruit active candidates and passive candidates. In the public job market candidates are automatically filtered out or in and put into predefined jobs. In the hidden market passive candidates are identified, wooed and recruited with jobs being adjusted to best fit their needs.

Since you’ll likely find a better job in the hidden job market, I’d suggest all job-seekers spend 80% of their time trying a few of these 15 hack-a-job ideas for getting an interview. Whether you are looking for a job or trying to fill one, recognize this fundamental truth: careers are found in the hidden job market, jobs are filled in the public market.


Lou Adler (@LouA) is the CEO of The Adler Group, a consulting and training firm helping companies implement Performance-based Hiring. He’s also a regular columnist for Inc. Magazine and BusinessInsider. His latest book, The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired (Workbench, 2013), provides hands-on advice for job-seekers, hiring managers and recruiters on how to find the best job and hire the best people. You can continue the conversation on LinkedIn’s Essential Guide for Hiring Discussion Group.