How I tapped the hidden job market in regional Victoria

Despite the frenetic pace of the ‘silly season’, it’s also a time people find themselves slowing down. A socially enforced period of personal reflection (was the year “bad” or good”?), we begin to question how happy are we. Could we find a better salary elsewhere? And damn it, just how much ‘impact’ are we making, overall?

If you’re actively seeking a new job in the New Year, the temptation to scroll through online job boards is intense. So too, is firing off resumes to anything that sounds remotely aligned to what you’re SEEKing. After all, it’s a numbers game, right?

Mmmm, sort of. That is, if you like to play Russian roulette.

Good people don’t always get the good jobs

Recently I met an ambitious man who is moving into his final year at university. We connected at a leadership in event on the outskirts of Melbourne where I was lucky enough to speak to students of the graduating class. He is astute, multi-skilled and has high integrity.

Sounds like an ideal employee, right? So why is he still out of work?!

I’m not sure if the “War For Talent” (Greg Savage, can you clarify pls) is still a thing. But what I DO know is that good, fine and decent people are struggling finding work. It shouldn’t be that way, but it is.

I know this, because it used to be me, too.

In the months leading up to my career change (and “tree change”), I was tired and desperate. After dabbling in start-up for three years, I couldn’t find “proper” work, other than in hospitality. Maybe it was my engagement ring and the fact I was in my late-30’s. I did get a whole lot of “do you have / when are you guys having kids?”

I digress. After months and months of applying for jobs and getting knocked back I conceded that I may have to return to my original career, albeit at a much lower level. I spoke to some contacts and was referred to a junior level position.

It lasted about 6 weeks. Pretty humiliating stuff.

At that point, I realised that  (just about) everything I had been doing in my job search was HINDERING, not helping me. I decided to open my mind and consider everything in my highest good, even if it wasn’t what I had envisioned. I was even open to relocating.

Within a week, I was interviewing for a contract position at a regional local government, over 160 kms from home.

I had uncovered the opportunity through an old friend. They needed someone to cover 6 weeks in their communications unit and I was available. The only catch: I’d have to sleep on my friend’s lounge room floor. At the time, my partner and I were as close to broke as you can get without selling your house. He’d sustained a workplace accident and was unable to stand or walk for several weeks. There really was no other choice… with trepidation, I did it.

And, wow! I loved it!

My new boss was fantastic, my team members were caring and supportive. No rigid KPI’s, no unscheduled “performance discussions”. Best of all, I was using skills that I never dared dream I would use professionally. Six weeks at Mitchell Shire Council turned into 18 months. After a brief stint in their communications unit, I was invited to apply for a permanent role in their tourism and economic development department. Just like that, I discovered a career I didn’t know existed, but one that felt perfectly right. And I’d found it all not via a job board, but by being open to experience and through the relationships I took time to nurture.

Since then I’ve landed two further jobs in regional Victoria. The opportunity in the State is vast. I’ve travelled 30,000 kilometres this year, I’ve stopped in over 70 towns and spoken to 350 people. From Mallacoota to Mildura and back, I’ve seen the opportunity and potential for myself.

Seriously, what the HECK are we all doing in the city?!

Since being in the country, I’ve found my opportunities through the hidden market. The principles apply anywhere though, you don’t have to be “in the country”. Though they are especially powerful here, because relationships and networks are the foundation of EVERYTHING.

My second job (that I still have), is Electorate Officer for Steph Ryan, Deputy Leader of the Nationals Vic and Member for Euroa. I connected with Steph through an article I wrote about a rural road fatality. Within hours she responded. Within three months she contacted ME about a newly created position in her team.

My third job, the one that I am currently in, was not advertised either. About two months ago I contacted the Editor of the Seymour Telegraph (whom I knew), and asked if there was an opportunity to freelance. There wasn’t, but there was another part-time opportunity in the company. This one was in my town – just 5 minutes-walk from home. Two weeks later I found myself interviewing in Echuca with my now boss. I’ve never laughed so hard in a job interview and he offered it to me on the spot.

Vanessa’s tips for tapping the hidden job market in 2019 

  1. If you have decided that 2019 is your year for change, adventure, exploration and fun and are seeking a new job, do yourself a favour. Don’t get off the job boards, but use them as a guide. Take note of the kinds of jobs that are advertised in your industry and where they are based. See all of this as information, a road map, a trend. Use it as a guide. As many as 80% of jobs AREN’T advertised. Some aren’t even CREATED until the right people meet.

  2. Take note of the names of hiring managers (not recruiters / agencies) and come up with creative (but non-creepy) ways to reach out and introduce yourself. Google is your best friend! Think of yourself as a problem solver, not a potential employee. Everyone experiences pain to some degree and you have a particular set of skills that can help solve that pain. Write a letter (neat hand-written is ideal), together with your resume (typed).

  3. To get your name “out there”, why not start a blog? Develop a small media platform just as I have. Write, vlog or podcast about the kind of problems you solve and your take on the ideas and issues connected to your industry. Yes it takes time, but this is an investment worth making.

  4. Go to events and meet-ups that aren’t directly aligned with your industry, even job. Special interest groups are fantastic places, you can meet all kinds of people bush walking, at book clubs, philosophy dinners, even art classes. As someone once said to me, “go to the events where you’re the only “X” room”. Go to anywhere where you could stand out - in a positive way.

  5. From now on, you have a new mantra: people know people. If someone can’t help you, they may know someone who can. Don’t be afraid to ask after you’ve established trust and credibility.

  6. Melbourne feels like a big place, but in many ways it’s not. It sucks, but tapping the hidden market is medium to long-term game. While it’s unlikely that you’ll find a job tomorrow or even next week, you’re building a foundation that will last you YEARS. Remember that. Your 2023 self will thank you.

  7. Never hit someone straight up for a job, especially if you don’t know them (See 5). And especially DON’T write to someone cold via Linked In. Check out what other forms of social media they used from a professional standpoint. Instagram? Twitter? Facebook?

  8. Don’t be singled-minded about the sexy techs and global professional service firms. Why? Because everyone wants to work there. Take it from me, having worked for a couple, they’re not always “all that”. Some of the best and most rewarding I’ve had are at smaller, less ‘prestigious’ organisations.

  9. Seriously consider taking your career regional / rural. It’s a beaut way of life and there’s a talent shortage in many industries. Yes, that’s right, they want you. Especially in larger towns and cities like Ballarat, Geelong, Traralgon, Albury Wodonga, Bendigo, Mildura. Don’t discount the smaller towns, especially those within commuting distance of the larger centres. After all, you may just find yourself in a place like Heathcote. Which, in five years, I’m told could just be the next Castlemaine or Trentham.

    The day I opened my mind to regional Victoria, was the day my life changed. My career has catapulted and I’m now living a life I wanted, but never thought I could. Things aren’t perfect, but they are perfect for me. As my relationships deepen and my contribution to community increases, who know’s what 2019 may bring. I’m open.