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:


4 Comments on “Cold-Calling: How to Establish a Relationship in Under 30 seconds”

  1. Oscar D. Sanchez says:

    Glad to read a new post! Beer is on me the next time we meet!

  2. Great tips for everyone … thanks!

    Christine Hueber

  3. dan gieber says:

    excellent information, thanks Bill

  4. Karine Redon says:

    It is a really helpful article, thanks a lot !

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