Is there really a hidden jobs market?

off market jobs 2021

I saw an old advert yesterday – it was a business from around 15 years ago who promised its clients access to a panacea of £six figure “Off Market” jobs`! . It was eventually sued many hundreds of times and was eventually shut down (No surprise there!)  But it got me thinking about the plethora of these so-called “off market jobs” experts, promising access to roles for a fee!  You can probably name a few yourselves, and if you’re unlucky, you may have handed over cash to them!

To dismiss the idea of “off market” jobs though, is to throw out the baby with the bathwater!   Many senior executives do access roles which never see the light of day, as they have access to lesser known channels that not all of us have.   But what if the access point to these givers of board seats was real and what if you could make contact without being “in the circle”?  That would be interesting, wouldn’t it?  Accessing private equity and venture capital firms, and perhaps the echelons of the larger accounting and legal conglomerates who are able to make introductions to founders and CEOs of exciting businesses.

Expanding the circle.

In 2021, the game has changed somewhat. These days, it’s more about finding the right hiring managers and recruiters early in the process, allowing you to make sure that you’re able to engage with the right people, before the listing goes to the job-boards (or even worse, to a recruiter who has 25,000 candidates and only one client willing to pay their fee!) Good luck with that!

The secret, though, is getting to the job owner early; effectively giving yourself a jumpstart on the competition. Some statistics in the UK suggest there are more than 400 people applying for every non-executive director job, and many, many more, if it’s a popular company, or potentially a Listed business.

But what about the good old CV? Well it’s bad news here, too, I’m afraid. ATS systems are rife and massively impact the chances of your expertise being read by a human! Whilst early contact will increase the likelihood of your CV being read, there is still the chance that it will be caught up in an ATS (Applicant Tracking System).  ATS are, simply put, software that uses an algorithm to read CVs and pull out those which contain the correct keywords and data eg. Qualifications, contact details etc.  This further compounds an already arduous task of finding board advisory roles. 

And CVs are no longer the only way to get noticed by companies. Businesses are now looking at informal networking sites/Twitter feeds/LinkedIn/Virtualnonexecs et al profiles to find the best candidates for their vacancy. By researching companies, people they employ, how they’re linked in with others, you are able to target the most important individuals, i.e fellow non-executive directors/board members. One should never underestimate the value of your peer group’s ability to make direct introductions to off market opportunities. Companies have one CEO but often they have multiple non-executive directors!

Here comes the “Iceberg” cliché!

I couldn’t resist the most clichéd of examples. Forgive me! Think about the board advisory job market as an iceberg with the opportunities being the small part of the iceberg sitting above the waterline.  What is actually lying under the surface are the 1000s and 1000s of opportunities, especially for board advisors and non-executives. These are the roles that never see job boards (or the dreaded ATS!)  These are the roles that are filled “off market” – by word of mouth and so on.

So how do you access this hidden job market?

You’re going to hate me for this but the answer is “There is no simple answer!”  What successful non-executives do, is they tend to network constantly.  It isn’t for everyone but networking is effective and not a two week process; it should be constant throughout your career and you should see everyone you meet as a potential introducer of opportunities, especially those second and third degree connections who know your reputation but not you, personally.

Does the “hidden job market” exist?  For sure.  Does the hidden job market become visible by paying unscrupulous companies who scrape jobs and present them to you, for a fee?  No.  The short answer to finding board opportunities “off market” is “Effort”.  You get out what you put in and if you are willing to network, build your public profile and help others achieve great things, your reputation will precede you, and the rest, as they say, is history!


Ian Wright is the founder and CEO of, the global, peer-2-peer non-executive director and board advisor community.

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