Cold-Calling: How to Establish a Relationship in Under 30 seconds

Cold-Calling is not just about sourcing passive candidates, it is your company’s First Contact with the top one percent of outstanding technologists in your area, and should be done with the utmost of professionalism.  I’m going to cover the basic elements of a cold-call:  an example of an all-too-common method, then dissecting and analyzing how to make very effective cold-calls.

First off, if your company uses a script for cold-calling, stop reading: they simply aren’t ready to make the leap to effective practices.  Secondly, if you don’t believe that establishing a consultative relationship in 30 seconds is possible, you are wrong.  It’s very possible and is done every day by highly effective Business Developers for very expensive Products and Services.  And lastly, if you actually believe that your company is so attractive – because it’s a: hot startup, giant web site, cool place to work, among Forbes 50 Best Places to work, unique SAAS, offers pre-IPO stock options, etc. – that the very best of the best will just drop whatever they are doing and listen to your sourcer or recruiter?  That turns out not to be the case (that’s the PC version of “you are wrong”).  That mindset is understandable: just like parents love their kids and dog owners love their dogs, people who love their company a lot tend to think that others will love it just as much.  But if you’ve ever had a lovable dog jump on your favorite clothes and trash them, you will get the point.

So let’s look at a bad cold-call to candidate Pat Smith:  “Hi Pat, I’m (sourcer/recruiter name here) with (insert your loveable company name here) and I have a great opportunity I’d like to share with you.  It’s a (insert your irresistible position here) role with (insert reasons job is great here).  We have (game room, segways, sushi bar, gym, 100 percent medical coverage, really cool people, organic snacks, unique concept, big $$$ potential, etc.) and much more to offer.  I’m looking at your (resume/profile, etc) and I think you might be a match.  Are you interested in learning more?”

Why is that a bad, bad cold call?  It brings to my mind a country western song about a guy whose girlfriend is so totally self-centered that he finally yells “Let’s talk about ME!”  It’s a bad cold-call because everything the sourcer/recruiter is talking about has absolutely nothing to do with the candidate!  I’ve gotten tons of telemarketers call me at work and at home.  At least 95 percent of the time (or more) I just interrupt with “I’m on the ‘do not call list” and hang up.  But a few times I’ve been called by really talented telemarketers, and spent a few minutes with them.  Why?  Because they talked about me: they addressed my business, my possible needs, my goals, my future.

So let’s look at a good cold-call:  “Hi (Ms./Mr./Dr) Smith.  My Name is Bill Barnes and I’ve been tasked with finding an exceptionally talented person.  I’ve looked at your (LinkedIn/Facebook/G+/other page, publication, personal web site, etc.) and I see that you (description of great project) and (description of another great project).  I like what I see; do you have a minute to spare right now?”

Now let’s dissect that call and look at the elements that make it a positive outreach effort:

  • “Mr./Ms/Dr Smith”:  As an introduction you always want to establish your respect for the person you’re calling ASAP.  Addressing them formally helps a lot.  It demonstrates a level of respect and people appreciate being respected.  I’m going to call these expressions of respect “Strokes”. One stroke.
  • “My Name is Bill Barnes and”:  Notice I use my name only and not my company’s name.  It conveys the message ‘I’m a person, I see you as a person, I want to know you as a person’.  That places the focus on the candidate as a human being and on the recruiter/sourcer as a fellow human being.  It also avoids the tension mentioning the company’s name will inevitably produce.  Two strokes.
  • “I’ve been tasked with finding an exceptionally talented person”:  I just told the candidate that I perceive them as an exceptionally talented person.  I’ve also done it in an indirect way.  Everybody likes being seen as talented and exceptional.  Unless you come out and directly say it: then they feel like you’re BS’ing them and get turned off like a switch.
  • “I’ve looked at your (LinkedIn/Facebook/G+/other page, publication, personal web site, etc.)”:  I’ve just told the candidate that I am aware of them as a unique professional and that I am interested in them.  People like that.  It also tells them that I am looking at a lot of profiles and that I am busy and I value my time as well as theirs.   Notice I avoid telling them that I am looking at their profile at that moment because that may make them feel intruded upon.
  • ” I see that you (description of great project) and (description of another great project)”:  Now I’m showing more interest in them and more respect for them.  Two big giant strokes.
  • “I like what I see”:  I just gave them a simple compliment – everyone likes compliments.  Notice that I avoid words like ‘accomplishments, achievements, successes, etc’.  Using those words takes the focus off of the candidate as a person: they may feel like you perceive them as you would a slot machine with their career as a payoff.
  • “do you have a minute to spare right now?”:  Very, very important.  I’m asking them for some valuable time and I’m making it clear that I intend to be very brief and won’t waste their time.

If the candidate says yes at that point, I have just established a relationship with them.  If they say they don’t have time but ask me to call back at an exact scheduled time, I have just established a relationship with them.  If they tell me they have a meeting and can’t talk, try next week?  I blew it or they just are not open to talking.  Calling back will be a waste of my time.

Notice I used a lot of contractions.  While it is always preferable to use proper grammar in a professional conversation, keep in mind that the recruiter/sourcer has a 15-30 second window to connect with the candidate.  The time constraints overrule grammar.

I wish I could say that this is the Silver Bullet of cold-calling, but it’s not.  The ingredients of a truly effective cold-call are non-quantifiable: subtle pauses, tells and sub-tones on the part of the candidate must be read and adjusted to on the fly.  Overt signs (like a lot of traffic sounds in the background) need to be heeded.  Both require instantaneous adjustment by the sourcer/recruiter.  I can’t put how I personally read and convey the most subtle and important elements of a relationship-building cold-call into words: I simply don’t know myself how I do it.  The intuitive processes of humans are still a matter of scientific study and debate, so I take a bit of comfort in the fact that nobody else has figured it out either.

The Smoking Recruiter’s Current Tip

THE TIP:  The BooleanBar is a toolbar for recruiters and sourcers with a lot of nifty features to make searching/sourcing passive candidates faster and easier.  It was recommended to me by an associate from CT: he’s the SME for Sourcing/Recruiting strategy for a high-tech Fortune 500 company (and a great guy) so I trust the source completely.  It’s also relatively new so hopefully a lot more features will soon be added.  They also have a LinkedIn Group called ‘Recruiting Toolbar – The Sourcer’s Toolbar. The BooleanBar publisher’s web site is – there is more information on there and a video demo of the tool being used.  If you want to skip all that, the direct download link to the publisher’s download service (don’t worry, it’s a link to a web page that displays a snapshot of the BooleanBar, it won’t even download until you click on the download button) is here:

INSTALLATION:  If asked, select “Save” (one should never select “run” when downloading as installing software over the Internet is bad security practice).  Once you save the file Boolean_Bar.exe  to your desktop or a folder, install it like any other software.  Or have your Tech Support department bless it first and do it for you.  Be aware that there are two check-boxes filled in on the first (or second?) install screen: one to change your home page and one to change you default browser search settings.  Un-check those boxes if you don’t want to make those changes before continuing!  My home page is Google and so are my browsers search settings (I use IE, Chrome and Firefox depending on what I am doing) and I like it that way.

PLEASE NOTE:  The links above are simply my effort to help out the recruiting community: there are no hidden (Affiliate, pay-per-click, etc) elements:  all I receive as payment is the warm and fuzzy feeling of having helped make my fellow recruiters work easier and more productive.   If you want to help me out: post a nice comment, throw me a Like on Facebook or a +1, follow me on Twitter @visionetric , tell your co-workers about me, or buy me a beer.  Even better? Post a link to this article on a LinkedIn Group for recruiting, HR, Social Media Sourcing, etc.  The Google-Blessed shortcut  is:


How To Build A Loyal Candidate Base For Free…

At 29 I was Founder, Principal and sole Recruiter/Account Manager of a consulting firm: my agency quickly became one of the leading providers of Software & Hardware Engineering consultants in the area, reaching sales of $1 million per year. Being my own boss, some might think “Cool, he didn’t have to keep metrics and report them to a slave-driving manager”. Not true. Being my own boss just meant that I had to report to the most demanding perfectionist I’d ever know: Me. So I kept metrics on myself vs. my competitors: I found that I had 4 times as many placements per opening than they did. I also found that my consultants had their contracts extended 4 times longer than my competitors’ did. I like to think that was due to my being gifted with natural talent and brilliance, and I will continue to believe that.

But recently I was reminded of one of the primary reasons for my success. I attended a networking event; while there I went out of my way to introduce two people with synergistic needs. They were both grateful for my helping them find each other, and I suspect at some point in the future we will meet again and they will remember me and my help.

Which brings me directly to the title of this post: How “Paying it Forward” can help you build a candidate pipeline. I cannot count the number of times I freely gave advice, referrals, feedback and other forms of help to consultants and hiring managers – all of whom were clear about the fact that they were not going to use my agency for the topic they were asking about. They just wanted to pick my brain regarding the going rates/salaries or the availability of a certain skill set. I also cannot count how many times I had those same people in turn sent referrals my way: referrals that resulted in many, many thousands of dollars in new revenue for me.

All because of one single thing, which is at the core of this post: I was genuinely focused on and interested in helping the candidates or clients I was networking with. I called every consultant in my “circle” every 6 months just to say hi and ask them if there was anything I could do for them. I called every hiring manager I knew every 6 months, just to say hi and see how their projects were going. After a while a lot of them called me before the 6 month ‘check-in’ date. I had the advantage of being able to call almost any consultant I knew and openly ask them if they knew anyone fit for a position I was trying to fill: I was often referred to a candidate who filled my opening. I had the advantage of calling any of my clients, asking if they knew of any projects elsewhere that needed consultants, and they would tell me if they knew. I could even call a lot of prospective clients and get referrals; even if they couldn’t get me on their own company’s vendor list, they appreciated the value I added enough to refer me to other managers they knew.

Sometimes those referrals were on-the-spot or solicited by me making a return call. But just as often it would be months or more later. I often had new candidates call me months after a conversation I’d had (let’s say it was with Consultant Joe) and say “Hey, Joe gave me your name and number. I’m just finishing a contract at the XYZ company and I’m looking for a new assignment”. And I had just gotten in a requisition from a client which matched the consultant perfectly, which resulted in my closing a deal worth $20K in net profit (i.e. take-home income). Ca-Ching! That kind of thing happened frequently. The same kind of referrals came from clients as well, but usually it was new clients asking for consulting services.

The other great thing about my network is what I call the “Birds of a Feather” effect: exceptionally talented Technologists – candidate or client – tend to form relationships with other exceptionally talented people. They also tend to value their reputation and won’t refer you to another Technologist whom they know to be less than stellar. So if you build a network with exceptional and/or brilliant performers in it, you will get back more referrals to other exceptionally talented people.

So building a candidate pipeline by taking that extra step may be familiar to you already, or a new concept, or too “Old-School” for some: but it still works. People appreciate it when others show a genuine interest in them. They appreciate it when new people listen to them rather than ask them for a favor right away. They will forget the recruiter who called with a “send me your resume and what’s your rate/salary requirement” approach or reads from a pre-screening script before they hit the “end call” button. But they will remember for months the recruiter who called and showed a genuine interest in them. Whether you discuss career goals, hobbies, sports, vacation plans or the price of gas, it doesn’t matter. Listen, show interest, answer any questions, and always offer added value, like free career advice. You will be repaid ten-fold down the road.

Candidate Motivation 101

I just interviewed for a position as a Technical Sourcer/Recruiter at a large Silicon Valley presence. Their sourcing methodology and philosophy was quite a surprise to me. My interviewer, the Team Lead I would be reporting to, said this verbatim: “We don’t have any problem hiring passive candidates, everyone wants to work here”. If their Sourcing Team Leaders actually believe that, they are missing a critical piece of the sourcing puzzle. Such a philosophy is understandable, but when it affects the quality of hires it’s a major problem.

I personally know quite a few people – some of them brilliant, driven, top-performing technologists – who have stated openly that they would never work at that company. Not for any reason related to that particular company: they simply are not interested in the work that they believe that company would offer them. I’m not denigrating the SF Area companies: the above philosophy is common everywhere. Nor is it relegated to high-tech companies, it is a common attitude at companies everywhere, and especially at very large companies.

That’s just one example of the mistakes many hiring managers and recruiters make when trying to source or close a candidate. The classic is believing more money will close the offer. But there are others: stock options, pending IPO, better job, newer technology, more interesting project, opportunity for advancement. One or several of those may motivate some candidates, but more often than not there are other factors motivating your candidate to make a change.

I once had a candidate in a dead-end job at a small company. A Fortune 500 company was very interested in hiring him: offering better pay, opportunity for advancement, more interesting work, shorter commute – and a lot more. The candidate had been approached numerous times in the past by recruiters from various major high-tech companies, and never gotten to the offer stage because none of the recruiters bothered to address what HE wanted! He had a child with a rare medical condition which required very expensive treatment: all the candidate wanted to know was “Is my child’s condition covered under the medical plan?” After the hiring manager and I had jumped through a few hoops to confirm that the treatment was covered, the candidate accepted the offer – and I collected my fee.

That’s why it’s crucial to establish a genuine consultative relationship with a candidate. If you can accomplish that, your offer-to-acceptance ratio will improve – a lot. This is as true at the sourcing level as it is at the offer stage; the challenge the sourcer faces is establishing that relationship in a 15-30 second window. Impossible? Any good salesman will tell you that it’s not just possible, it’s essential! Good salesmen across the country do this every day.

Unless a recruiter or sourcer already understands the above, they should be sent through sales training before being allowed to pick up their phone or use their e-mail. All the truly effective recruiters I know understand that the most critical part of recruiting is selling. Selling the opening, selling the job posting to the hiring manager, selling the offer. It’s all selling, and effective selling requires establishing a relationship with the buyer. If you don’t believe me, just search for high-level sales jobs: most of the postings will include “Proven History of Establishing Consultative Relationships”.

So whether you’re a staffing leader, hiring manager, start-up company, head of talent acquisition for a major high-tech company, or the CEO: make sure your recruiting efforts are optimized. If your recruiters are trying to source A++ Passive Candidates, but are operating under the belief that “everyone wants to work here”? Your recruiting department is not optimized.