Careers Service


Find jobs for postgraduates which are not advertised

Accessing the hidden job market

There is no legal requirement to advertise jobs in the UK (contrary to some people's belief) - many jobs are filled without an advert ever being drafted.

Outside the UK: Whilst the advice on uncovering hidden jobs on this page is targeted primarily at the UK job market, much of it also holds true for jobs across the world. However, if you are targeting jobs in a country other than the UK, try Passport Career (an international job and career resource, licensed for use by current University of Manchester students and recent graduates - login required).

How do postgraduates find jobs?

A survey of 4885 UK postgraduates, 3-4 years after graduating, asked how they had found out about their current job:

  • Professional, work or educational contacts or networks - 24.3% of Masters and 33.2% of doctoral postgraduates (the highest proportion of all possible categories)
  • Personal contacts, including family, friends and social networks - 14.5% of Masters and 15.7% of doctoral postgraduates
  • Already/previously worked for the organisation - 22.1% Masters and 23.6% doctoral postgraduates
  • Recruitment agency - 15.2% Masters and 10.0% doctoral postgraduates
  • Newspaper/magazine (adverts or websites) - 23.6% of Masters and 19.9% of doctoral postgraduates

(Published by Vitae, 'What do researchers do?', 2010, NB multi-response answers allowed).

It is clear that postgraduates are finding work through contacts, through sideways moves with their current employer, and through agencies, in addition to trawling the adverts.

Useful links

Find a job using your contacts

You can use your contacts to:

1. Get the message out there that you are looking for a job

  • Tell everyone you know that you're looking for a job, and what sort of job you want. If someone you know hears about a job opportunity, this increases the chances that they will pass that information on to you.
  • Just because your friends aren't in the kind of jobs you want, they may know someone who is in your ideal job. Get them to spread the message and act as job search agents.
  • Try to be clear about what type of work you're looking for, why you're interested and what you've got to offer. If this is a bit fuzzy, look at our guide to 'How to reflect - make sense of what you've done' to sharpen up your message.
  • Doctoral researchers: If you're aiming at academia, make sure your supervisor and advisory team, plus your external examiner if already appointed, know what you want - academic networks are very powerful. If you're aiming outside academia tell any external funders/collaborators associated with your research group or even your School; they've already invested in researchers like you and may know of further opportunites.

2. Gather information and advice, preferably with a direct meeting

  • If you arrange to meet a contact directly, focus on asking for their advice. It is poor networking etiquette to turn up to a meeting with a contact and ask them for a job. Our guides 'How to network without hassling people' and 'How to find potential career contacts' have more practical help on this.

3. Send a direct speculative application

  • If you have been given a name of someone who may be in a position to recruit, you could cut to the chase and send them a targeted speculative application.
  • If you can target your application well, this may be the best approach. However, you can't really go back to asking for an 'advice and information' networking meeting if you've already submitted an application to the contact so think carefully about your strategy.

How to ...

  • Reflect - make sense of what you've done
  • Network without hassling people

Find an entry point - change roles later

Sometimes it's hard to get into your ideal role straightaway.

Competitive fields

  • If too many people are chasing competitive jobs, landing the ideal job can involve a lot of luck. Improve your chances of being in the right place at the right time by considering a lower level entry point in an organisation where you can make good contacts and shine in your job. This may be essential if you lack relevant work experience, whatever level qualification you have.

Tough job market

  • When jobs are tight, many employers won't commit to permanent jobs straight away. Consider temporary/contract posts, often through agencies. This may be your best bet for moving into a permanent job later ('temp to perm' is a standard recruitment strategy, which is why many good permanent jobs are never advertised).

Want to change fields?

  • For technically qualified postgrads who want to move away from the lab, it may be easier to first find a job using your technical skills, then after a year or two, move sideways with the same employer.
  • Employers are more likely to consider a career change from someone they know, who knows their organisation (and the right people) and who has already done a good job for them, rather than consider someone they've never seen who has no relevant experience. This is why many commercial roles, suitable for someone with a technical background, never get advertised.

Recruitment agencies in the UK

How do agencies work?

  • Recruitment agencies act on behalf of employers to fill jobs - they don't act on your behalf, looking for a job for you. As long as you recognise that, agencies can be a very useful tool in your job search.
  • A good recruitment consultant will build up a strong relationship with employers in a given field/location and will be able to advise you on the job market. They will be able to market you more effectively to suitable employers if they know and trust you.
  • However, some agencies are in the 'pile 'em high, sell 'em cheap' end of the market. Don't expect any personal service from a CV database or purely online jobs board.
  • Agencies get paid a fee by employers for finding the right person. Contrary to some popular myths, this does not come out of your potential salary! In the UK, it is illegal for agencies to charge you for finding work, though they may charge for other services such as writing CVs or interview coaching.
  • Some jobs being filled by agencies will be advertised, either in the press or on agencies' websites. They may mention the employer but it is also common for the employer to ask for their name to be omitted from any initial advert. Some jobs however, will never be advertised, particular when agencies are acting as 'headhunters', targeting suitable candidates directly. LinkedIn is increasingly being used as way of sourcing such candidates.

Where can agencies help?

  • Where you have relevant specialist skills, and preferably experience, which are in demand.
  • Where you are looking for temporary/contract work (though again, relevant experience may be required).
  • Where agencies have been retained to manage large scale recruitment activities for an employer, such as graduate recruitment. In this case, you will have to go through the agency, rather than deal with the employer directly.

Where are agencies less helpful?

  • Where you have little experience or few specialist skills to offer. Agencies generally need you to have a specific selling point to recommend you to an employer. This means they are often of limited use for entry-level posts or where you are trying to change fields.
  • Where employers have a ready supply of good candidates in-house or on file. Why would an employer pay an agency a fee to find someone they already know?

Useful links

Speculative applications

In the UK, it is often perfectly acceptable to send a speculative application - an unsolicited CV and covering letter - to a potential employer.

They can be particularly useful for postgraduates with specialist skills targeting smaller or highly technical employers. However, they will be not be accepted for graduate programmes where the employer expects you to follow a standard online application process.

In order to make a strong impact, your speculative application needs to:

  • Be clear about what you're asking for - what type of work are you looking for, are you prepared to consider temporary/contract work as well as (or instead of) permanent roles, when are you available?
  • State why you have sent your application to that specific employer - why do you want to do that type of work, why do you want to work for that employer?
  • Be sent to a named manager, (if possible). It may be more successful if sent to the manager of the department you would like to work for, rather than the HR manager. A line manager who is familiar with your specialist skills may have a clearer understanding of what you can offer.
  • Highlight specific skills which that department is likely to need.

General applications which are open (ie vague) about what you want to be considered for, offer a range of generic skills or little relevant experience, and those addressed just to HR will probably just been seen as those 'To the occupier' letters that you throw away, unopened.

How to ...

  • Write CVs and applications, as a postgraduate