How Life Sciences Professionals Can Find Jobs in the ‘Hidden’ Job Market

Do you know about the hidden job market and how to tap into it to find jobs? For years, career gurus have claimed that 75-95% of job vacancies are “hidden” in that they are not advertised or publicized.

Do you know about the hidden job market and how to tap into it to find jobs? For years, career gurus have claimed that 75-95% of job vacancies are “hidden” in that they are not advertised or publicized. The 75-95% figures date back to the 1970s, and while no one really knows what proportion of the job market is “hidden” today, unpublicized vacancies do comprise a significant portion of the job market, including in life science. In fact, as Josse Thomas, Chris van Schravendijk, Lucia Smit and Luciano Saso wrote in 2016, in the drug discovery, development, and commercialization sector, “the vast majority of jobs are never advertised.”

The key to mining the unpublicized job market is networking. The only way a job seeker can find out about jobs that are not made public is through word-of-mouth. And it’s only through networking that job seekers can hear word-of-mouth news of unadvertised vacancies.

Let’s organize our exploration of the unpublicized job market based on types of unpublicized jobs:

Pipeline jobs: A pipeline job is a vacancy that an employer is in the process of creating but is not yet official. As many as 12-18 months can elapse between the time a manager realizes a need to hire a new employee and the time the opening is made public. The manager must identify budgetary funds for the job, get approvals, determine the skills needed to fill the job, develop a job description and more. Once the job is official, the hiring manager may ask around within the organization for referrals of qualified candidates and then internally post the job for about a week before making the vacancy public. If the hiring manager strikes out in finding someone inside the organization, he or she will try to attain referrals from known and trusted employees to locate the highest quality external candidates.

Many hiring managers prefer getting internal referrals because once they publicize the job, they know they will be inundated with resumes, many from unqualified candidates, and they will have to process those resumes.

The implication for the job seeker is that a strong, thriving network can alert you to pipeline jobs. If you are constantly adding contacts to your network, and telling members of your network what you’re looking for, sooner or later, you will likely encounter a network contact who responds with, “Oh, my company is planning to hire someone like you, but the job hasn’t been posted yet.” When that happens, you can ask your contact to refer you to the hiring manager, perhaps even deliver your resume personally to him or her. The beauty of this scenario is that if you make contact with the hiring manager while the job is still in the pipeline, you will have virtually no competition. Once the hiring manager starts asking for internal referrals – and especially when he or she posts the position to the public – competition will increase exponentially.

Hiring-freeze jobs: While many organizations enact hiring freezes in challenging times, vacancies will still crop up. Those openings become very much like pipeline jobs – they are real but cannot be filled until a future date. So, the response from your network contact might be: “Oh, someone like you just left our company and will need to be replaced – but there’s a hiring freeze in place.” Ask for an introduction to the hiring manager anyway, and you could be well positioned for the vacancy once the hiring freeze is lifted.

Cold-call jobs: One of the most time-honored, effective, but underused job-search methods consists of cold-contacting employers on an exploratory basis to see if they can use someone with your skills and background. You never know when this technique might result in encountering an employer with the perfect job in the pipeline.

Cold-calling cannot be willy-nilly, though. You’ll need to research employers that are a good fit for your skills and then leverage your network to obtain the names of the best people to contact. Our article Creating a Life Sciences Job Where None Exists describes how to take this technique to the next level by addressing specific employer needs.

Jobs filled through recruiters, headhunters, and search firms: Employers often hire outside firms to conduct confidential searches for people to fill vacancies, especially at higher levels. These jobs are publicized only to the entities hired to fill the openings. Although recruiters and search firms work for employers and not job-seekers, it makes sense to connect with those recruiters who specialize in life science. Working with recruiters is a nuanced endeavor, so it’s wise to read up on the technique.

Temporary/contract/freelance/consulting/project-based job: Increasingly, we live in a gig economy in which employers often turn to freelancers, independent contractors, and project-based consultants to meet short-term needs, and many do so without publicizing the need. Again, staying in close contact with your network can alert you to these opportunities.

Final Thoughts

The life sciences job seeker who incorporates hidden job market strategies (networking and directly approaching potential managers or supervisors), along with responding to advertised vacancies on job boards such as BioSpace, has the edge -- more opportunities and less competition.