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Finding a job from the hidden job market

Aim of this page

It can sometimes seem that if you have a criminal record, your job opportunities become very limited. Job sites don’t always have roles that fit your skills and qualifications and you may be loath to use recruitment agencies because you’re worried about who they will disclose your criminal record to.

The aim of this page is to highlight how there are jobs out there, but they’re not necessarily always advertised; these are often referred to as the hidden job market.

Why is this important?

Many employers, especially smaller companies, prefer not to advertise their jobs. Advertising can be expensive and time consuming with no guarantee that they’ll always be able to recruit the right person.

If you’re looking for a job then it’s important to know how you can access these hidden jobs and how you go about approaching employers that don’t want you to complete an application form or hand over a CV.

What is the hidden job market?

The hidden job market consists of opportunities that are not publicised, for example one’s that you won’t come across in newspapers, recruitment agencies or the job centre. Most ‘hidden’ jobs are in small and medium sized enterprises (businesses that employer fewer than 250 people).

If you feel that you’re not being invited to interviews when you’re applying for jobs using application forms or CV’s or, you’re getting interviews but they never progress to a job, then the hidden job market may help you to find other opportunities.

What benefits are there of exploring the hidden job market?

As these types of vacancies are not widely publicised, you’ll generally find that you’ll face less competition for any job that you apply for. In addition, you’ll be able to make your job searches far more specific and targeted.

You might also find that, because of the size and nature of the roles, they might be less likely to ask about criminal records or do criminal record checks.

How do you access the hidden job market?

It’s thought that approximately 80% of all jobs are never advertised. They are created for people who come to the employer’s attention either from referrals from other reliable and respected employees or associates or by direct contact from an individual.

Some of the ways of accessing the hidden job market are:


You’re probably already skilled in networking without realising it. The term can be off-putting but networking basically involves getting in touch with your personal and professional contacts, informing them that you’re looking for work and asking them to point you in the direction of anybody they know that may be able to help you.

Cold calling

Cold calling is generally seen as harder than networking as it means contacting an employer without any referral or connection. You should take time to research any company you’re contacting and try to identify the person within the organisation that may have a suitable vacancy. You may find that you’ll get a significant number of rejections but you may find that some organisations will be happy to keep your CV on file for at least six months.

Using social media

Recruiters often search LinkedIn to look for candidates for their unadvertised jobs. It’s a good idea therefore to set up a recruiter-friendly LinkedIn profile with details of your particular skills set and experience. In addition to this, there are hundreds of professional networking groups on LinkedIn which you may want to join. You could mention in your introduction that you’re looking for work so that other members can get in touch if they have a suitable opportunity.

Twitter can be an excellent source of jobs. They’re not advertised in a conventional way but a quick search can show tweets between job seekers and recruiters. It’s easy to join Twitter and start following potential employers and their recruiters. You can make a direct contact with other subscribers so you can tweet an HR manager of an organisation to ask whether they have any suitable vacancies. You won’t always get a response, but Twitter is a friendly platform.

Get alerts straight to your inbox

Try using Google Alerts to get regular email notifications of events that may lead to a job opportunity.

Attend trade fairs and conferences

You’ll often find that these types of events gather the main employers in your field in one location. Events are usually advertised in newspapers or online. When you attend, make sure that you take plenty of copies of your CV with you which you can hand out to prospective employers.

How do you get started?

Before you start networking or cold calling, you need to make sure that you’re properly prepared. This might include some, or all, of the following:

  • Make a list of at least five skills that you’re good at and that you enjoy. For each of these, think about how you can explain or demonstrate the skill – remember you’re going to need to stand out from the crowd!
  • Consider some of the difficult questions that an employer may ask you about your criminal record and put together some answers to them.
  • Identify two areas that you’d be interested in working in – for example construction, hospitality etc.
  • Identify your preferred jobs within these areas – for example roofer, bricklayer, receptionist etc.
  • Develop some telephone scripts to use when (a) you’re finding out information from the employer about a specific job and (b) marketing yourself to an employer. Practice your script with somebody you trust to give you constructive feedback.

  • Make a list of people within your own network. This could be family, friends, people from your gym etc – anybody that you think might be able to give you a lead.
  • Put together a list of ten employers that you are going to cold call – this could be companies that you know or those you’ve found from the internet or newspapers.

At this stage, you’ll need to give some thought to how you’re going to get in contact with the employers. This could include:

  • A CV and speculative letter – If there are gaps in your CV then a skills-based CV will usually work better than a qualification or chronological CV. Make sure that your letter and CV do not highlight anything that will raise concerns with an employer, for example don’t provide details of your criminal record or state that you’ve spent time in prison.
  • A personal visit – This can work extremely well but you need to ensure that you:
    1. Have details of a named person to speak to, this could be somebody in HR or the head of a specific department.
    2. Are ready to hand over your CV and letter.
    3. Have your answers ready to any potentially difficult questions that you might be asked about your criminal record or gaps in your CV.
    4. Ready to highlight your skills and experiences.
  • Telephone calls – Cold calling somebody can be difficult, and you may find it easier to do a ‘research call’ first. Research calls will help you to identify any particular skills or knowledge that the employer is looking for and will help you to tailor your CV and letter to match their criteria. It may help you to increase your confidence for when you need to make ‘marketing’ calls.


The do’s and don’ts of speculative job applications

If you find a job being advertised by a company but it’s not right for you, there’s no harm in getting in touch with a copy of your letter and CV.

Whilst it’s okay to send in a speculative application on the back of another role, we’d advise against sending one if you’ve already applied for a role with the company. The company could still have your details and, if you’re right for the job, they might have already put you in the ‘maybe’ pile. However, if they’ve already decided that you’re not the right fit, then another application isn’t going to get you any further.

It’s important to be polite and personable in all contacts and correspondence.

When you’re applying for a job, it’s essential that you include some kind of covering letter or email to explain why you’re sending your CV. Explain the reason for the speculative application and why you’d be a good fit for their company. If you don’t send some kind of covering letter there’s a good chance that your application will end up in the bin or the ‘deleted items’ folder.

Make sure you provide your contact details and explain what your current work situation is. This is something that potential employers will want to know so, providing it in the covering letter will save time.

Be careful not to come across as too pushy. You want to show that you’re enthusiastic to work for the company but you don’t want to be seen as desperate or arrogant. Instead of finishing your letter with “I can’t wait to meet you to discuss my new role at your company” you could try something like “I’d be excited to discuss any potential future opportunities at your company”.

Once you’ve submitted your application, it’s a good idea to follow up a few days later to check that it’s been received.

Discuss this with others

Read and share your experience on our online forum.

Key sections include:

Below you will find links to useful websites relating to this page. More specific details (including addresses and telephone numbers) of some of the organisations listed below can be found here.

More information

  1. For practical information – More information can be found on our looking for (and keeping) employment and volunteering.
  2. To read personal stories – You can read stories about this posted on theRecord, our online magazine under the category seeking work.
  3. To discuss this with others – Read and share your experience on our online forum.
  4. Questions – If you have any questions about this, you can contact our helpline.

Get involved

Help us to add value to this information. You can:

  1. Comment on this page below
  2. Send your feedback directly to us
  3. Discuss your views and experiences with others on our online forum
  4. Share your personal story by contributing to our online magazine, theRecord.







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Photo of Head of Advice, Debbie Sadler
Debbie Sadler
Head of Advice

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