Make That Cold Call, Get The Job

Holding a white mobile phone.

At some point in your job search, you will have to place a cold call. That probably turns your blood chunky in your veins. No worries, military spouse. Making the kind of cold call that helps you get the job has never been easier with our step-by-step guide.

STEP ONE: Do Your Homework.

Ideally, there is always a colleague or a friend-of-a-friend who can offer a personal introduction for you to a potential employer or connection. When you have to initiate the introduction yourself, you are left with the cold call.

In a world run by email, that is not always a bad thing. Sometimes, a cold call can be a great way to set yourself apart, especially if you are prepared and polished.

To ensure that you are, think about the Five Ws: who, what, when, where and why.

Who are you calling? Do some research about the person on the receiving end. Are you talking to a hiring manager, a receptionist, an operational manager, or a recruiter? Are you cold calling the CEO out of the blue?

Miriam Salpeter, author of 100 Conversations for Career Success, says a little research goes a long way. “Always get the name of the person,” she urges. “It’s tough to try to get in touch with someone whose name you don’t know. Trying to reach a company to speak to the “hiring manager” for XYZ job probably won’t get you very far.”

First, figure out to whom you plan to talk. Instead of just reaching out to someone in HR, try to connect with the person who would be your boss if you had the job you wanted. This person will be able to gauge your abilities and usefulness far better than someone sitting in the Human Resources office. 

Once you know who your target is, comb the company’s website and LinkedIn to see what you can learn about your contact. Do you share any mutual connections? If you find that you do not know anyone in common, start looking for any commonalities you might share.

Did you attend high school in neighboring towns? Are you fans of the same football team? Finding some common ground will give you the ability to connect in conversation -- and without that personal introduction, finding a personal connection is an advantage.

What do you hope to gain from the call? If you do not have a goal you hope to accomplish on the call, it is going to go nowhere fast -- and awkwardly.

Position yourself for success: Do you want to learn more about a job that is listed on the website? Are you hoping you can discuss any future opportunities that may become available? Are you looking to sit down with someone for an informational interview? Have your answer in hand before you start to think through what you’re going to say.

When is the best time to make the call? “Think about the best time to phone,” urges Miriam. “Don’t we all have friends (or maybe colleagues) who always call to ask for something at 4:45 on a Friday afternoon or first thing on a Monday morning?

No one really wants to hear from you at those times, especially someone who does not know you. Think about the best times to try to contact people you want to reach.”

Where are you going to place the call? If your house is anything like mine, that could be a challenge. Kids, dogs, neighbors mowing their lawn ... not exactly the sounds of professional courtesy.

If you are worried about finding a quiet space, don’t fret! Check out the options at your installation. Many offices that help spouses look for work also have quiet places where you can place a call, so drop the kids at the CDC and head over. Your car can also serve as a mini isolation booth.

Why should they talk to you, anyway? This is the most important question you should ask yourself. You should have your answer before you start putting together a script for acing the phone call.

“Know what you offer,” says Miriam, who suggests you ask yourself some questions. “Why should this person want to talk to you? Can you help him solve a problem? It’s a good idea to uncover company pain points in advance and to make a list of what you know that might be useful to your contact.”

This does not mean you should tell them what they are doing wrong, but it does mean you should take a few minutes to outline what you offer that can help them do what they do already better than they ever have before.

STEP TWO: Say Something Interesting the 3-2-1 Way.

If this is your one moment to reach out and make the person on the other line hear your name, you want it to be memorable. And not for your “uhs,” “ums,” or “likes.”

Miriam says that your best approach to a great cold call is to have a plan. “Isn’t it always easier to do things when you have a cheat sheet?” she asks. “Since you’ll be trying to connect on the phone, you have the opportunity to write notes and have them handy.”

If jotting down a few notes to keep you on point is not enough for you, go ahead and outline a whole script.

Start your script with a plan to talk to the gatekeeper, or whoever is answering the phone of the person you are trying to reach. This could be an assistant, a receptionist, or voicemail, so have a plan ready for all options. An assistant or receptionist may ask the reason for your call, so be prepared to have that at the ready.

Example: Hi, My name is Sarah Smith. I am calling because I’m very interested in X position and I’m hoping to talk to Y about it very briefly.

She might not be available to talk to right now, but do not be let down. Take this opportunity to establish an appointment.

Try: Then perhaps you can help me. I’d love to schedule a phone appointment with her -- two to three minutes is fine, unless she has five. Does she have any free time on Thursday afternoon?

If you do not get a yes right away -- and be prepared for that -- show some persistence. Call back and see if you can get through. And remember, some prodigious Googling might yield a direct line that circumnavigates the gatekeeper altogether.

What are you going to say if you have to leave a voicemail? Think about the voicemails that you respond to: They get to the point quickly, right? And they don’t ask a lot from you. You want to do the same thing here.

Example: Hi, My name is Sarah Smith. I am calling because I’m very interested in the X position and I hope you might have five minutes to briefly discuss the opportunity with me further. I’ll try you again on Thursday at three and hope we can connect then. Again, my name is Sarah Smith and my phone number is (321) 123-4567. Again, that’s (321) 123-4567. Talk to you Thursday at three!

Be sure not to say your name too quickly or rush through your phone number in case your contact is able to call you back.

But remember, you are not relying on her to take any action on your behalf. Instead, you have already offered up a time when you will try again so she does not have to call to confirm or cancel, and you are letting her know you are interested, persistent, and dedicated to getting a few minutes with her.

When you do finally connect, be sure you can live within that promised five minutes. Think through your talking points in a 3-2-1 paradigm: What three skills or experiences do you have that set you apart? What two questions can you ask about the company, position or contact that will initiate conversation? What one thing can you put forward as an actionable item to conclude the phone call?

This ask for action is critical: It is what will set you apart from other candidates because you are establishing, already, that you will be back in touch.

Example:  Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me today about potential opportunities with _____. While I am confident my resume speaks for itself, I would like to spend the next few weeks doing whatever I can to add to the experience I already have so that I can most contribute to your organization. If I sent along my resume along with some of the volunteer opportunities I have been considering, would you be willing to give it a quick glance to help me figure out what would make me the strongest candidate for your company?

Or: I’m so grateful for the time you’ve spent discussing these opportunities with me today. Is there someone else you can think of with whom I can speak to further pursue this opportunity? Is there someone in specific you’d recommend?

STEP THREE: Practice Makes Perfect.

It might seem a little silly at first, but before you get on the phone, try your script out in front of the mirror. You will be more animated when you are talking to your reflection, and that will make you sound more relaxed and conversational.

Plus, the more you practice, the more comfortable you will be with the content -- which means when you get tripped up in the phone call, you will be able to more graciously move the conversation along.

“When you prepare for cold calls and take control of the situation, you’ll feel better,” says Miriam. You will sound a lot better, too.

STEP FOUR: Follow Up.

The importance of following-up cannot be overstated in the job search process. This is never more true than when someone takes time out of their busy day to speak with you.

It doesn’t matter who you spoke with -- the contact you were aiming for, a helpful Human Resources professional, or a grumbly assistant -- take the time to say thanks.

If you can easily find their contact information online, shoot them an email right away to thank them for the few minutes they spent on the phone with you.

Let them know how you plan to move forward based on your conversation -- be it sending them your resume, filing your application with Human Resources, or following up with a suggested contact. Miriam says that following up is the best way to keep the ball in your court, and it is certainly the best way to keep your name at the tip of their tongue.

Take the time to go through these four steps before you make your next cold call. Not only will they ensure that you do your best on the phone call, they will also ensure that you leave your potential employer with the very best idea of you, too.

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