A carefully prepared and well delivered cold call can be an extremely effective job applications strategy – if you get through to the right person!
Making job applications by cold calling does not seem particularly attractive as a job applications strategy. Most of us find the idea uncomfortable and shy away from it. So what can you do to feel more comfortable about cold calling and to include it as part of your job search arsenal?
Cold calling has a number of advantages:
- Telephoning is quicker than writing and much more personal. If you research and plan well you can make dozens of fact-finding and appointment producing telephone calls in a day.
- You can get directly in touch with decision makers although of course this is not guaranteed.
- People tend to be much warmer in meetings if they have had a phone conversation first. They feel they already know you a little bit, their initial reserve and caution is tempered somewhat.
- It is much easier to make an appointment by phone than by letter or e-mail.
How to Cold Call
- Define Your Target List
This is no different from defining the list of people you will write speculative letters to. Ideally you will be calling the person who will make the decision to hire. The only difference this time is that you will probably have to talk to someone else first- their ‘gatekeeper’ before you can raise them on the phone. So when you do your research, try to find out the name of their PA or secretary, it will benefit you if you can form a relationship with them first.
As with letters, don’t cold call Human Resources or Personnel, unless that is the department that you want to work in.
Be tenacious and, if necessary, call back a number of times in order to speak to your target (try not to leave your name and telephone number – unless they know you they are unlikely to return your call, and it stops you ringing them again).
- Decide On Your Objective
Before you pick up the telephone, clarify what you aim to achieve in the next five minutes. Ideally this is to set up a firm date and time for a meeting but this may not be so easy. So make your goal to set up a meeting, but map out some intermediate stages that you can accomplish in a phone call in case you cannot achieve your goal.
For example, you might get them to agree to look at your CV, or to give you the name of someone else in the company that you should be talking to. If you cannot achieve your goal of getting a meeting the important thing is to keep your lines of communication open.
- Scripting Your Conversations
You will find it useful to write yourself a script before making your first call. This involves carefully choosing words, phrases and sentences, weaving them together into a coherent form and planning how to use them for maximum effect. Try to run your script past someone you know to get their reaction before using it for the first time.
Make sure that you use your script as a prompt, but don’t read it word for word. Otherwise you are likely to come across as dull and lifeless. Particularly once you have read it a few times and you are becoming bored with it.
The first phone call takes longest to prepare. The more calls you make, the sharper your skills become. In addition, the better your planning, the more likely you are to make your calls confidently and persuasively.
Your telephone conversation will normally only last two to three minutes, so it is important that you use the time well and get to the crux of the conversation as efficiently as you can.
Firstly prepare your opening pitch, which should dispose of any uncertainty in the mind of the person you are calling about:
- Why you have rung
- Why they should talk to you
- Why you have rung them in particular.
The opening of your phone call needs to establish efficient rapport to keep the caller on the line and to create interest in what you have to say. Remember that the person you have just rung was not expecting your call, is likely to be busy and is probably very tempted to hang up on you or to pass the call back to her secretary. So make sure that they know why you are calling and that they are willing to talk to you. Don’t open by asking how they are, or how their weekend was, or passing your opinion on the weather. These are the sort of things that frustrate the recipients of cold calls, they are likely to view them as a distraction or even worse, an irritation.
Move quickly to the reason for your call. This may be a referral from someone, in which case mention their name or it may be because you are researching something.
If at any time you sense that they want to end the call, don’t impede them. Have a closing request lined up which asks, for example whether you can drop them an e-mail to explain why you are calling, or perhaps if there is a better time for you to call them back.
But if you can establish a rapport, if the conversation is flowing relatively well, then move as speedily as you can to explain the link between your background and their needs. For example, you may have:
- Relevant industry experience or qualifications-
- Relevant functional experience or training
- Relevant exposure to their kind of problems.
In each case, be specific. Don’t waffle.
If you feel you still have time in the call to add further information or to demonstrate why you are worth seeing, refer to your script and tell them:
- What you know about their company
- What you see as a possible role for yourself in their company
- About your achievements and credentials.
Next, try to ask questions so that you can clarify their needs. Create dialogue. Listen. Be positive. End the call on a positive note
- Plan and rehearse
You probably know from your own experience, and in any event research has demonstrated that when you make a phone call, even though the recipient cannot see you, they can detect your mood.
So prepare yourself mentally to ensure that you project a warm, positive and self-assured image. Your smile can be heard on the telephone! If you smile when you speak over the phone: you sound more confident, friendly and enthusiastic.
Make series of calls in a row, without waiting too long in between. You will become more fluent and relaxed as you make the calls. Repeated calls will allow you to project greater confidence. Many people stand when they cold call; it centres your body so increasing your confidence and having a positive effect on your tone of voice.
- Ask for the meeting
Don’t leave it to them to suggest a meeting. It probably won’t happen. Use your judgement about timing the question and take the plunge. It is better to be too early than too late. You should attempt to move to this stage as soon as you get a clear signal that they are interested in you. Some lines that you can use to move the conversation towards agreeing a meeting are:
‘… yes, I would like to see what you have.’
‘… tell me about your experience with ABC Co.’
‘… when would you be available?’
The tone of voice will very often indicate that they are interested.
If a meeting is not to be, see if you can get some introductions to other key people in the company or sector.
Always remember to thank the person you have spoken to, irrespective of the outcome.
Traps and pitfalls
Avoid the following:
- starting with excuses or being negative at the start – ‘I’m sorry to bother you’ ‘I know you don’t have any vacancies but …’
- expecting them to control the call (they don’t know your objectives)
- wasting time with small talk (first impressions are crucial; time is precious)
- talking too much (try to ask questions and get them talking)
- using closed questions that will result in yes or no answers. It is very hard to move the conversation forward from this point.
- talking for too long: they are busy so end the call when a meeting is agreed or earlier if you sense that is what they are trying to do.
It is perfectly natural for people to raise objections during cold calls, as they will try to make sure that you are not wasting their time. The most important aid in dealing with objections is to have the right attitude towards them. They are not obstacles – but opportunities to:
- Listen more carefully to their needs
- Analyse what they want in more detail
- Give them information
- Explain your background with more examples
- Convince them how you can be of benefit to the company
Remember, every objection that they raise indicates that they have been paying attention to you. So treat objections as opportunities and build on them.
A good technique for overcoming objections is to create common ground:
Listen: do not interrupt but take notes of what they are saying so that you respond when your turn comes to talk.
Agree: recognise they are valued objections
Clarify: Do not pounce back , but try to understand what they are saying.
Ask questions, ‘So the position is …’
Summarise: Do not argue, but get your contact to accept that you have a good point.
Avoid the word ‘but’. The more positive word ‘and’ can work just as well.
Objection: ‘You sound too senior for us.’
Reply: ‘It’s the quality and content of the work that appeals to me, not the job title or status in the company.’
Objection: ‘We only recruit people with accounting degrees.’
Reply: ‘I have exactly the work experience required by the role.’
‘Could you tell me which part of the degree applies to the role? I have taken several accounting courses that will have covered most aspects of the degree.’
Objection: ‘You’ve had global responsibilities – we’re not much smaller.’
Reply: ‘My work was only in one department of that company, which was the same size and scope as this company.’
‘I actually prefer smaller organisations. That’s one of the main reasons I was interested in what you have to offer.’
Objection: ‘We don’t have any opportunities at the moment.’
Reply: ‘Could you give me some idea of the number of vacancies you have had in the last year?’
‘Do you anticipate any potential opportunities for someone like me in the future as I am very interested in your company?’
Objection: ‘We need someone with same industry background.’
Reply: ‘Industry experience can be invaluable, but knowledge and exposure to complex projects in other industries can be equally helpful. I am very flexible and adapt quickly to new environments’
‘I have experience in a number of different industries and have always made the transition well bringing the best of the industries I have left with me. I have always enjoyed the challenge.’
Points to remember
Catch your target’s interest at the start – within 20 seconds most people will decide who you are, what you really want, and whether or not they might be interested.
You don’t have time for apologies, for example, I won’t keep you long, Can you spare me a few minutes, I’m sorry to take up your time (you are inviting your target to say No!)
Control the conversation but don’t dominate.
Listen and concentrate – focus all your energy on the conversation. When people talk they tell you things – listen, and ask questions – get them to do the talking.
Calls are more likely to be successful when:
- You have selected the right person to contact.
- You can link your background to their possible needs.
- You have developed some ideas as to the possible role you could play in their company and the benefits you bring.