Young man asking mentor how to penetrate the hidden job market.

How to penetrate the hidden job market as a recent graduate

Figuring out how to penetrate the hidden job market is tough when you’re fresh out of college. You don’t have much of a network or that fabled “minimum 3 years of experience” that entry-level job postings seem to mention all the time. Figuring out how to get a job becomes pretty difficult as a result.

There is in fact a strategy you can follow to solve that dilemma involving recruiters and job boards, and this is how to round out that strategy.


Is the “hidden job market” still a thing?

“The hidden job market” has been a part of common job hunting wisdom since at least the 1980s. Everyone knows about it.

But is it still a thing?

Some experts don’t think so. While it could still apply for the most senior executive roles, most openings can be filled quickly and affordably with job boards. Keeping open positions hidden just doesn’t make sense economically, culturally, or technologically.

The entire concept of a hidden job market is a pre-Internet piece of folksy wisdom. Online job ads are the cheapest and fastest way to fill openings—and it’s been that way for 15-20 years. Keeping openings secret isn’t profitable.


Small infographic outlining that the job market isn't really "hidden" for most people, except executive leaders.


Remember that, because we need to talk about how to penetrate the hidden job market with a grain of salt.

The good news is that you probably aren’t missing out on open entry-level and mid-level positions. However, that means nobody else will miss out on them, either.

That’s where these job-hunting tactics come into play.


How to penetrate the hidden job market with recruiters

There’s a lot of misinformation about recruiters out there. I should know—I used to believe a lot of that misinformation myself.

You might have been approached by recruiters before and been left with a bad taste in your mouth. That’s a common experience. I get approached fairly regularly by recruiters who just want to fill a position and nothing more. They reach out with generic messages, clearly only having skimmed my profile, never bothering to say “hello” even if I accept their connection requests. One or two of them have even interviewed me for a client and never gotten back to me again, even when I followed up. 

Despite all that, good recruiters are worth their weight in gold.

That’s no joke. I was headhunted by a recruiter who was willing to hustle to grow her network. She found me on LinkedIn and, to her credit, she checked in on me every few months for a while to make sure the placement was a good fit.

Those kinds of recruiters can become an efficient way to penetrate the hidden job market because they do a lot of the heavy lifting on your behalf.

  • They can keep your resume on file for future opportunities.
  • They can refer you on the go while they network day in, day out.
  • They can offer tips about your resume, cover letter, and interviews.
  • They can give you the inside track on a given company’s culture.


Infographic show how to penetrate the hidden job market with recruiters in 4 key ways.


Start conversations without “wanting something” from others

This is the key to networking and knowing how to penetrate the hidden job market, which, as you’ve probably read, is super important for your long-term career development. You’ve also probably read that networking is “all about relationships.”

That’s true, but what does that even mean in practical terms?

Building relationships starts with learning about new people, lifting them up, and being helpful. Business relationships are better and more durable when people look forward to seeing each other, but they’re also utilitarian in nature. Professionals connect with each other where they can get or pass on value in some form, truth be told.

It’s a simple formula for success:

  1. Act pleasantly.
  2. Be helpful.
  3. Expect nothing back.


Penetrate the hidden job market with volunteer work

Don’t shy away from networking even if you’re a new graduate or you think you have “nothing to offer.” You can always help out at a charity or non-profit group to meet new people.

In fact, working together on a project or through regular touch points is a fantastic way to build your network. It’s not just about meeting as many people as possible—quite the opposite in fact. It’s about building strong connections, and they don’t get any stronger than when you actually work together for a common cause or project.

Even better: you’ll gain work experience that you can add to your resume with a handful of people who might be willing to write a testimonial for you on LinkedIn. That’s how to penetrate the hidden job market with real, substantial relationships.


3 core benefits of volunteering to penetrate the hidden job market.


Keep up correspondence with your network

It’s easy to make acquaintances that you tap when you need them, but it takes a considerable amount of dedication to stay in orbit with dozens of people every year. Don’t wave it away, though. According to LinkedIn, 70% of people hired in 2016 had a connection at their new place of work in 2016.

I know. It sounds exhausting.

It will exhaust you if you try to get everyone’s attention all the time, too. You can’t make a part-time job out of it… but you can definitely dedicate a small chunk of time every month to reach out to 5-10 people in your network just to check in on them.

The secret to maintaining your network isn’t to become everyone’s best friend. You just want to let them know that they’re in your thoughts and that you’re looking out for them. You can do that by sending them some relevant news articles (one on one—no mass emails) and recommending stuff to them every once in a while.

It’s a low-effort way to keep the value in your network so that you don’t need to rebuild connections constantly.


Have honest career conversations when the time is right

This is what you came for! Figuring out how to penetrate the hidden job market as a recent graduate usually comes down to networking (in part), but the key is to withhold the ask until the relationship ticks a few boxes:

  1. You’ve known each other for several months at the very least.
  2. You’ve done one or two useful things for the other person earlier (not just last week).
  3. Your ask is specific to the connection, like an introduction to a specific person at a specific company.


Three prerequisites to check before asking a favor from a connection.


It’s ironic because relationships are about more than ticking boxes, I know! Pay attention to these “requirements” to keep yourself from imposing on others before they’re ready to help you out.

Pay attention to point #3 as well: it’s totally okay to ask for help and favors here and there! Just make sure your requests are specific, simple, and relevant. Don’t just tell people, “so I’m looking for job— can you keep an eye out? Thanks.” They will keep an eye out, but they’re not likely to come across opportunities passively.

That’s why a lot of networking favors don’t yield results.

Instead, think about how your contact can help you clear specific hurdles in your job search. Specific requests stick in people’s minds instead of just being filed away passively at the back of their minds.

These kinds of specific requests get the most mileage:

  • Can they introduce you to anyone at a specific company that interests you?
  • Can they give you the inside scoop at a company where they used to work (that interests you)?
  • If they’re in your industry, can they give you resume pointers or a cover letter review?
  • Does this person’s company have a need for a freelancer or a consultant?

Specific requests come with clear limits. Contacts know exactly what kind of effort and time commitment will go into doing a favor with you, so they can accept or pass right then and there. You won’t be left wondering if your network will or won’t come through for you.


This is how to penetrate the hidden job market as a graduate with few other advantages available. Use your networking strategy to acquire legitimate work experience at the same time and you’ll be in excellent shape to find your next job.

Andrew Webb

Andrew Webb

Andrew Webb is on a mission to show liberal arts graduates how to land jobs and build careers. He turned a history degree into a fulfilling career in digital marketing and UX, then founded Employed Historian to show others how to do it for themselves, too.

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