The Hidden Job Market

In the past two weeks, I have been offered jobs as a barback (or bartender) at an English pub, a nude dancer in a gay club, an exotic dancer in an “international male revue,” and a manager-in-training for a large retail apparel store doing $2 billion a year.

And I didn’t apply to a single one of them.

There’s a lot of talk about the “hidden job market” – how 80 percent of new available positions in any large metro area are never advertised. I always thought this statistic was a little far-fetched – until recently.

I learned of these jobs through the often-championed “networking” – from friends, ex-coworkers, classmates and friends. All through business school, people have been telling me, it’s not so much what I know but who I know that will land me the really good jobs. Well, I finally believe them.

In none of these cases did any of these offers require me to sit at a computer and browse job postings, open a newspaper, or even think about my resume. I just talked to people I knew.

To anyone looking to generate job opportunities from your existing co-workers, here’s a two-part tip: 1) associate with the most excellent employees in your professional environment, and 2) become their best friend. Do not maintain a “strictly professional” relationship – “strictly professional” relationships are what will keep you scanning the classifieds well into your 40s. Make an impact, and leave that impression indelibly stamped on your coworkers. Go out drinking with them. Many times.

About my background and employability: I am 23 years old, with two terms left before graduation. I will finish with a BS in business administration and a minor in psychology. My GPA is an even, steady 3.5. My resume, when I do submit it somewhere, lists no more than three jobs related to the job I am applying to (out of a total pool of about nine), and a customized objective that describes succinctly what I hope to accomplish in the position I am applying for. I do this because I have been on the other side of the hiring table several times, and I know what sort of resumes catch my eye – those that are short, relevant and to the point. I think my resume format works pretty well, and I think I interview pretty well – but the resume and the interview have now been relegated to secondary props that help guarantee a job, where the primary deciding factor is who I know and how strong their recommendation for me is.

Now, about the job offers. I am a guy who prides himself on having relatively diverse work experience. I have done everything from painting houses to nightclub security and management, with a detour through law clerking and a healthy helping of office assistant type jobs thrown in. But even the diversity of my experience didn’t really prepare me for the range of work that was recently thrown my way with these four jobs.

At first, I laughed off the offers of any sort of exotic dancing – I thought all male dancers had to be built like bodybuilders with killer tans and perfect teeth. As it turns out, I was wrong. Even imperfect bodies like mine can rake in cash, tax-free, on a nightly basis with little effort.

Bartending or barbacking follow in the same vein – the promise of daily cash, tax-free (sort of) for a simple, uncomplicated effort. The worst I’d deal with is drunk people breaking glasses and the OLCC snooping over my shoulder and, of course, giving up my weekend nights.

Working retail – well, retail is retail, right? Although this particular company seems to offer rapid advancement, competitive wages and decent health care benefits upon promotion.

As a cash-hungry college student with rather expensive tastes, I am always looking to pick up extra cash. Selling old books at Powell’s, CDs at Everyday Music, and everything else at pawn shops, Craigslist or eBay, can net some serious cash. When considering job offers, though, I caution against simply going for the job that seems the most lucrative (which would have been my first mistake). A job offer is a multipart package that should be weighed and calculated carefully, with special attention to not only direct compensation and benefits, but what the position will do to your employability (a big consideration when thinking of stripping for extra cash), your fit with the corporate or business culture and values, and potential relationships with coworkers, some of whom may be ex-coworkers from previous jobs – a phenomenon I’ve encountered several times in my employment career.

I still believe that the best jobs for college grads and career-oriented older workers alike remain the jobs that will be the greatest fit with their own personal values and beliefs. For example, a 35-year-old engineer who cares deeply about environmental policy would probably be happier taking a job with a firm like Patagonia than making a much fatter salary doing oil exploration for Aramco.

Keep in mind that recent research by global equity strategists have shown that above a certain amount of annual income (usually cited as $30-44,000), subjective happiness does not improve with a commensurate increase in salary. Any money made above that number is gravy and will not contribute to greater happiness once the basics of Maslow’s hierarchy have been met.

So, upon extensive reflection, I’ve decided that instead of jumping into a job as an exotic dancer, I’d write this article instead – which will make me almost no money, but is more in line with my values. Even though I look great in a G-string.