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April 2, 2023

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Cold Calling 101

In this section:

Cold Calls

Smart job seekers know that they don’t know everything, or everyone. As your networking progresses, contacts will recommend that you call others who may be able to help your search. That’s right: cold calls. They’re not called “cold” for nothing – the thought of calling a stranger sends chills down the spine of many people, women especially.

Your initial goal in a cold call is to keep the other person on the phone, so the first few moments are crucial. And even more crucial is your attitude about the calling itself. Good salespeople know that every call can’t be a winner, so take it in stride when you speak to unhelpful, or even rude, people.

Have clear and realistic goals in your mind of what you hope to accomplish from a cold call. Are you seeking advice about where to look next in your search, an informational interview or more contact names? Don’t call without a very specific goal in mind. Most people are happy to answer a few questions from a genuine, polite person, but only if the questions are direct and appropriate.

Perfecting Your Phone Personality

Before you dial, do your homework. Know as much as you can before you cold call anyone you plan to ask for an informational interview, networking contact, or general advice and information. Write down all of this information and have the paper in front you when calling. Don’t leave anything to chance. Make sure you know:

  • The name (and pronunciation) of the person you are calling and their title. Don’t you hang up the phone when a telemarketer pronounces your name incorrectly?
  • The correct name and acronym of the company – you’ll have to refer to it in the call, so don’t make a mistake.
  • A focused description of the job or situation you’re seeking
  • Any current news in your industry or at the company of the person you’re calling.

Be Polished

  • Write a script if you’re nervous. Tailor it to your personality and to the company you are approaching. Keep it short. Your speech should included less than 30 seconds to introduce yourself and get them excited to hear more about you, and subsequently just a few minutes to let him or her get to know the real you. Nobody has the time or interest to listen to your life story over the phone.
  • Practice, practice, practice. Use a friend to play the employer. Repeat your script until you have it down pat. Record it, review it and improve it.

Anatomy of a Cold Call

  • Refer to the person by their formal name. Use “Mr.” or “Ms.” rather than a first name.
  • Introduce yourself using your full name and immediately drop the name of the person who referred you. “Hello, my name is Lara Hall and Tory Johnson recommended that I call you.”
  • Always say “please” and “thank you”, especially at the end of the call thanking the interviewer for his or her time.
  • Never keep a potential employer waiting. If you have call waiting on your phone, disable it before calling. Don’t run to answer the door or put the phone down while conversing with an interviewer.
  • If you’ve left a phone number on an answering machine or voice mail, be prepared to talk when the call is returned. If that’s impossible, be prepared to politely suggest another time for calling.
  • Listen for signals. If the person you’re calling sounds busy or stressed, ask if this is a good time to talk or whether you can schedule a better time to chat. The simple question, “Am I catching you at a good time?” will win major points.
  • Tell them that you are looking for a new position or making a move in your career and that you’re looking for some advice or information. You don’t need to directly say you’re a job seeker if you don’t want to. This can put people on the defensive, especially if their company is not hiring at the moment.
  • Clearly state the career change or new job you’re looking for, and then ask a specific question: “Can you offer some advice or contacts based on your experience in the industry?” “Can you tell me a bit about your company and what opportunities might exist in the near future?” “Can you recommend some organizations I might look into to help with my job search?”
  • Stop and listen. Let the person take over and offer their advice, ask you questions, or refer you to someone else. Don’t do all the talking; it’s important to show that you respect and appreciate the expertise of the person you’re calling.
  • Close the deal. Remember, good networking results in more networking. Ask for a referral to a colleague, client, or acquaintance who might also be able to help you. Ask for an informational interview. Ask if you can remain in touch and if it would it be convenient for you to reconnect.

Be Positive

  • Sit up straight and smile when you speak. There is a clear difference in tonal quality when you’re slouching from when you’re upright and projecting. People will judge your telephone personality in three seconds flat.
  • Let the interviewer know how excited you are about the prospect of working for his or her company or for your career in general.
  • Keep the conversation short. State your purpose. Answer questions. Ask for a follow up.
  • Speak clearly and concisely. Don’t eat, drink, or chew gum while you’re on this call. Eating candy is a definitive don’t. The phone amplifies background noise. If you have to cough or sneeze, cover the mouthpiece and excuse yourself afterwards.
  • Do not use slang or profanity, ever. Speak like somebody they’ll want to have representing their company.
  • If you have an answering machine, make sure your outgoing message is professional. Cute jokes, music, or canned impressions can be a turnoff.
  • Take notes of what you say and what they say for future reference. Make sure to take notes quietly with a pen and paper, rather than noisily typing them on your computer.

Bad Cold Calls

Here’s an introduction that is guaranteed NOT to work. This may sound silly, but many people get nervous and become too casual in a cold call. Avoid sounding like this at all costs:

“Hey there. Remember me? I want to apply for the job you advertised in the paper a couple of weeks ago. I couldn’t call then, but I sent my résumé a few days ago. Did you see it? I’ve never worked in advertising, but all my friends say I’m smart and creative. Anyways…”

Why is this awful? The goal of a cold call is to make it convenient and enjoyable for the person to help you. They should feel as good about the call as you do.

  • Never make anyone guess who you are. Don’t use games or cute, casual intros.
  • Don’t speak negatively: telling them you meant to call or couldn’t call earlier puts up a red flag. Why couldn’t you call sooner? What was wrong?
  • Don’t point to lack of experience or knowledge. Rather than saying you have no direct experience, talk about your passion for your field and what you’ve done to become involved and informed about it.
  • If you are calling to follow up on a résumé you sent, don’t say “I’m calling to follow up on a resume I sent – did you receive it?” This adds work for the person on the phone. Make their life easy. Instead, say that you are calling “to reiterate my interest in the position” or “to ask a few additional questions.” This will score points for you without annoying a recruiter with hundreds of résumés on her desk.

Breaking the Barrier

Plenty of corporate offices and their human resource departments in particular are guarded against unknown callers. Many times we are told that nobody is available to take our call.

Your attitude is important and your telephone personality must be engaging, upbeat and respectful of busy people’s time. They know if you are listening, confident, and someone they’d like on their team in the first few moments of speaking. Many job seekers get cut off since they sound underwhelming at best and not professional on the phone. Put your best voice forward.

Before giving your name, find out the name of the person you are trying to reach. Once you have the exact name of the right contact, call back and ask to speak directly with that person by name. Do not offer your name or the reason of your call unless asked. For example, “Hi, is Ms. Anderson in, please?” This will usually provoke a “yes” or “no” response. If the answer is “no”, you will often be asked if you would like to leave a message. Do not give your name and number because it’s likely that your call will not be promptly returned. Instead, you should let the assistant know that you will be away from your phone for a while and will try again another time. If after two or three tries you are still unsuccessful, be sure to ask when it would be good to call back. Do not leave multiple messages because this makes you look desperate.

If you can’t get through to the boss, be sure to politely thank the secretary for his or her time. Make friends at the front line and you’ll have a better chance of getting through.

In cases where you have been referred to as specific individual, immediately state your full name. “My name is Patty Brown, and I am calling to speak to Mr. Johnson about a job opportunity. I was referred by his friend James Smith.” Get to the point.

It’s not easy to make contacts over the phone. Keep calling, politely but persistently, until you reach the person you need to speak to. If you have to leave a message, leave your name, the time and date of your call, your complete telephone number, and a short message. If you offer to call back at a specific time, be sure to do it. If the boss is constantly busy, ask the secretary for help. Say, “You are fortunate to have such a fabulous job. Would you mind giving me some tips on how to get through to Mr. Jones. I’m determined to work at Jones Company and was told I’d be a wonderful addition to the team. I would be grateful for any suggestions you could offer me.”

Busy people often make promises and are often too busy to keep them. If someone says, call me back or contact me at a later date, be sure to include that in your communication. Say, “I was grateful that you asked me to call you back and have looked forward to speaking to you for days. Is this a good time to talk?”

It doesn’t hurt to ask someone you know in common for a favor by saying, “Please help me get in touch with Mr. Jones.” Busy people aren’t usually too busy to do a favor for a friend. Consider all the options.

Don’t give up. Busy people are some of the best people to work for since they are just that – busy – and are likely to have many needs. Be sure to highlight in your conversation how you can benefit them and make their life and work easier, more productive, and successful. They are bound to listen to someone who represents progress, productivity, and a benefit for their company.