Peeling back the curtain on the hidden job market

Jan 19, 2023 - updated Aug 10, 2023

5 mins

Peeling back the curtain on the hidden job market
Sydney Pereira

Sydney Pereira is a writer and journalist based in New York City,

Across the US, this past November saw almost 10.5 million job openings. Unemployment has plateaued between 3.5% and 3.7% since March 2022, and the Great Resignation is far from over, with more than 4 million people quitting their jobs every month. Despite broad layoffs within tech and a number of other industries, job turnover activity remains high.

With the job market hot, leveling up your job-hunting skills to find an even better career path can help you land a job more aligned with your needs and wants than you could have imagined. But what if there was an alternative route to finding a job? One that’s more exclusive, less crowded? This type of job market exists, and it’s called the hidden job market. The phenomenon is far from new, but what exactly is it? To put it briefly, some employers may be tapping into their networks to find candidates, and you should be doing the same to find unlisted job opportunities and keep you front-of-mind for hiring managers and recruiters.

But according to recruiters, the hidden job market isn’t as secretive as it sounds. If you peel back the proverbial curtain, recruiters and employers are just hoping to find a variety of qualified candidates to make sure they’re doing due diligence in the hiring process.

What is the hidden job market?

The term is used to describe an informal job market of job openings that are not posted publicly online. It’s one avenue that employers may take to look for qualified job candidates according to Dana Siomkos, the founder and CEO of the boutique recruiting firm You & Them, based in New York City.

This approach could look like employers seeking referrals from their current employees in a company-wide email, leveraging recruiters who work with candidates with particular skills and expertise, or tapping into other networks. Sometimes, it’s via conferences or associations within a specific industry, or simply word of mouth. This can vary depending on the industry and skills required for the position. “The name implies that it’s secret or manipulative,” Siomkos says. But, “hiring is a multi-pronged approach. You can’t rely on one method alone to source candidates.”

Breaking it down

Siomkos, who has over a decade of in-house client service experience prior to launching her own recruiting firm, says when her company recruits for a role, recruiters will post the job listing, reach out to potential candidates on LinkedIn, tap into their existing network, and ask for referrals. “Posting a job to the website is not any more or less authentic than asking a friend or a colleague for a referral. It’s just simply a different method,” she says.

Darnell Gilet, a New York City-based talent acquisition leader with in-house experience at major companies like Twitter, the NBA, and Discovery, added that a majority of roles are going to be publicly posted, at least for a period of time. “For me, [in] pretty much 100% of the roles, we are going to post the job for a certain amount of days,” Gilet explains.

The variety of sources beyond a job listing to find candidates who may want to apply is a part of attracting the best candidates possible. “What you’re doing is trying to get a certain number of people through the interview process to make sure that you’ve gone through a proper recruiting process to ensure that you’re getting enough quality candidates for hiring managers to make an assessment,”_ he says.

A few caveats

Gilet emphasizes that in his experience, it’s pretty rare for a job to not be posted online. The employer wants to draw in quality applications, and a part of that process is posting it far and wide.But, Gilet notes that contractor roles and executive positions may be found more informally. “Contractor opportunities are not always posted on company websites because many contractors don’t work directly for the company,”_ Gilet states. This is where recruiters step in, since recruiting agencies are often tasked with filling contract roles.

Executive-level positions may involve additional recruiting without public listings due to the sensitivity of a senior leadership change. Additionally, perhaps a managerial role may be available to internal employees only to create a pathway for career advancement within the organization. “Industry really matters in terms of the vitality of this hidden job market,” says Gilet. “But most of the large companies that exist, it’s a portfolio of places where you’re going to get your candidates from.”

Money talk

Finding a new role through informal routes doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t get to see a salary range. Various salary transparency laws in New York City and around the US require public job listings to include a pay range. But the growing norm, regardless of the law shift, is to be upfront about pay from the start.

“We found that it’s really kind of a relief to get the financial conversation out of the way and just not waste people’s time with jobs that are either over or under where they want to be,” Siomkos admits. “The new law has normalized talking about money sooner and more matter of factly.” Gilet says recruiters are refreshed by the transparency: “It makes it easier for the candidates to believe what you’re saying when I’m talking about compensation.”

While some have suggested the hidden job market could help companies avoid pay transparency laws, so far, the most common loophole companies have taken is posting wide salary ranges, according to Andrea Johnson, the state policy director at the National Women’s Law Center. “We’re seeing some knee-jerk reactions from some employers,”_ Johnson says. But, “the large majority are complying with these laws.”

And there’s not much incentive to avoid the laws, anyway, according to Johnson. Pay transparency helps the employer avoid wasting time interviewing candidates who won’t take the position due to the salary, in addition to incentivizing organizations to review compensation internally and boosting worker loyalty and productivity.

Transparency can also help close the gender and racial wage gap. A February 2022 study in the journal Nature Human Behaviour evaluated data from 100,000 professionals in academia over 20 years and found that increased transparency closed wage gaps between men and women by as much as 50%. “Women and their families literally cannot afford to wait any longer for the wage gap to close. These laws are long overdue,” Johnson explains.


Whether you’re just kick-starting your job search this new year or you’ve been on the hunt for some time, a better understanding of the informal job market and what to expect regarding pay transparency can help. Here are some key takeaways when considering your approach to the job hunt:

  • The hidden job market is when employers leverage connections, referrals, and industry networks to find qualified candidates, but, ultimately, most jobs are likely to be listed online for at least some period of time.
  • Recruiters say the intention of this informal market isn’t to exclude workers. Rather, it’s a multi-pronged approach at drawing in qualified applicants.
  • Finding gigs through your networks doesn’t mean pay transparency is off the table. Being up front about pay is becoming the norm for hiring managers and recruiters—a relief for all involved to avoid wasting time.
  • Pay transparency is beneficial not only to you, the job seeker. It also helps companies boost employee loyalty and productivity and close gender and racial wage gaps.

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