This is why companies like Apple hide their coolest jobs from you, and what to do about it

As any job-seekers suspect, it’s no secret that many job listings are secret. In fact, the majority of American job ads exist in a shadow world where few people ever get to see them. Some job analysts even estimate that as many as 80% of jobs go unpublicized.

Even worse? It’s not an inefficiency in the job market. Some of America’s biggest and best companies hide their best jobs from you on purpose.

On Friday, ZDNet cybersecurity reporter Zack Whittaker found this out for himself. Using a traffic analyzer, Whittaker said he was monitoring iPhone app data when he noticed that some of the data was connecting to one, repeated web address. Curious, Whittaker typed the URL into a browser, and found something unexpected —a job listing.

“Hey there! You found us,” the listing begins. “We are looking for talented engineer to develop a critical infrastructure component.”

Once Whitaker found it, Apple took the job listing underground again. The website announcing the Apple engineer job has since been pulled and now leads to a error page. You can see an archived version of the ad here.

Although Whittaker maintains that “there was little proficiency needed to find the page,” you do need technical expertise beyond Googling to find the ad. It take active curiosity of Apple’s inner workings to find the listing.

Importantly, that curiosity is what companies are looking for. Companies don’t want a huge volume of applicants. For employers who hide jobs like this, it’s a way of weeding out passive job applicants mass-emailing their resume. If a job seeker finds the unpublicized job listing on the company’s servers, it demonstrates that they’re actively engaged and curious about what the company is doing.

Companies don’t want to know what seats you’ve sat in and what titles you have held. They want to know what kind of problems you can solve for them.

Finding a hidden job listing shows that you’re actively curious

This is not the first time that a tech giant has hidden job listings. In 2015, Max Rosett wrote about how he typed coding terms into Google’s search browser and one of the search results asked if he was “up for a challenge?” Rosett was. Over the course of several weeks, he completed a series of puzzles and problems that eventually led to a job offer, which he accepted. Rosett was a fan of the unusual job hunt, calling it a “brilliant recruiting tactic…they made me feel important while doing so,” Rosett wrote.

Puzzles aren’t the greatest recruiting strategy

While most people can see the appeal of a scavenger hunt, it’s a deeply flawed idea that the best candidates are mystical magi searching for hidden mysteries, and who will swoop in with a wand to fix all a company’s problems.

For instance, Google made a name for itself in the engineering world with its famous mind-bending puzzles that few people could solve. The only problem? The company eventually admitted the puzzles were a total waste of time.

Who gets left out of hidden job listings

It’s not just hidden listings. Companies create different kinds of social puzzles to limit candidate pools: elaborate tryouts, multiple interviews, and infamously, crazy interview questions that purport to expose your very soul.

The secret that many companies know: It’s all haphazard. Finding good candidates is often a matter of chance, and running candidates through elaborate hoops only gives managers the illusion of control over a process that’s as bewildering to them as it is to you.

As a result, hiding a job listing may not actually find the best people, any more than IQ tests or SAT scores do. People may be good at certain kinds of tests — or at trawling the internet — but that doesn’t make them great workers or teammates.

Even more worrisome is that clever little job-hiding tactics designed as “in-jokes” for a few people could leave out great candidates. If you’re a boss and you rely on word-of-mouth to find your next hire, you are limiting your candidates to only the people you know and the people your friends know.  The best candidate is not always the son of an acquaintance or the friend of a friend.

That echo chamber is why critics of unpublicized hiring note that it prevents inclusive, diverse hiring practices that lead to better products and better teams.

“Job descriptions matter. Start with having one that’s publicly available,” Stacy-Marie Ishmael wrote in a Medium post that criticized the practice of unpublished job listings. “There’s an insidious practice of folks simply emailing their contacts and saying, ‘we’re hiring for X, know anyone?’ and never posting a job description.”

In the case of the Apple engineer job, the listing was public, just hidden. It was publicly accessibly to anyone who had the curiosity to look through Apple’s servers. In this case, if you had the time to browse through a server like it was a treasure hunt, you were actually rewarded for your time and effort with a potential job.

The most amazing part of all this is that if companies want the best candidates, there’s a well-established way to do it: write good job descriptions. Most job-seekers only scan a job listing for 49.7 seconds before deciding they won’t be a good fit. Many women, in particular, shy away from job listings that emphasize aggressive words. Rather than puzzles and games, perhaps the best way to get good candidates is to tell them exactly what the job entails, and save everyone involved a lot of time.

So what can job candidates actually do? Here’s a quick list.

  1. Forget about searching for hidden job listings. You have better things to do with your time.
  2. Strengthen your career network so you can hear about jobs that come up by word of mouth
  3. Don’t apply for jobs as a numbers game. Think carefully about why a certain company or job is the right one for you, and concentrate your energy on making your case. If you don’t hear back, see if you know anyone at the company who can put in a word for you. (See tip number 2)
  4. Always demonstrate curiosity about your work. At industry events or conferences, ask questions and find out what the next big thing is. You’ll develop a great reputation that will make companies want you, and you’ll be able to sustain impressive conversations in an interview.
  5. Follow up after you meet someone cool at a networking event. Don’t just ask to pick someone’s brain in an email, be specific about what you’re trying to get out of an interaction. An informational interview? A job? Say that. Being succinct and direct works better than soul-baring, rambling emails.
  6. Tell everyone you know that you’re looking for a job. People can’t give you advice or tips unless they know that you’re looking. As one Ladders reader advised about job hunting after layoffs, “Call everyone. You never know who has a good contact, who has admired your work from afar.”