Cold calls can lead to hot jobs
By: Matthew Campbell
Approaching potential employers out of the blue can seem daunting, but career experts say it can be a powerful weapon in the job-hunting arsenal, especially in a softening economy.
When Jeff Morrow returned to Toronto last spring after graduating from Montreal’s McGill University with a bachelor’s degree in music, he figured the best way to find a job in music production would be to use his connections among family and friends.
But after a few pleasant chats yielded no job leads, the 23-year-old got frustrated and decided to try a different approach.
"One day, I just printed out a whole bunch of portfolios, and walked around dropping them" off at a handful of music production companies around the city.
Mr. Morrow made a point of chatting up whoever he saw at each office, if only to "say, ‘Hi, my name’s Jeff, I’m looking to get my start.’ "
Approaching potential employers out of the blue paid off.
After leaving his portfolio with one receptionist, it made its way up to Steve D’Angelo, a partner and composer at Eggplant Collective Music and Sound Design, a music post-production company in Toronto, who was looking to fill a position for an assistant composer.
Within a week, Mr. D’Angelo called Mr. Morrow and offered to take him out for lunch. A composition test – writing a score for a short cartoon – followed, and, after another test a few weeks later, came a full-time job offer.
Mr. Morrow says he would "totally" use the same cold-call job-searching tactic again.
"I think it’s fantastic. It’s the only way to go," he says.
"It got me the job, and everything else got me dead ends."
Cold-contacting prospective employers can seem daunting, but career experts say it can be a powerful weapon in the job- hunting arsenal, especially in a softening economy.
"When you go through times when the market isn’t that strong, you need to do more generating opportunity, not waiting for opportunity" to come knocking, says Alan Kearns, founder of CareerJoy Inc., a Toronto coaching firm.
Cold contact can rapidly increase the number of potential employers a job hunter will reach, Mr. Kearns adds, and offer access to positions that might not have been externally advertised.
Confident cold-calling can help applicants get themselves noticed, adds Karen Barootes, director of human resources and administration at Grey Canada, a public relations and advertising firm.
It makes "determined and passionate [applicants] stand out in our minds," she says.
Mr. D’Angelo is equally supportive. "I think it’s essential. I think it works," he says, adding that he gets many cold-call approaches, though this is the first hire he’s made this way.
"You have to be fearless, you need a certain bravado but you need to get yourself out there."
Many people are reluctant to try cold-calling, because of unsuccessful experiences or because of a discomfort with approaching people they don’t know, acknowledges Paul Kidston, president of Sales Training Experts, a coaching firm in Halifax.
"It is tough, especially [if] they’ve not done the right research, or found the ideal profile" – learning enough about a company and who there would be best to approach.
Both are crucial, as is getting over shyness about approaching someone out of the blue, he says.
Experts recommend that cold callers don’t ask for a job explicitly. Rather, they should seek an "informational interview" – a sit-down or phone chat to discuss an industry or company that interests them.
Rajula Gupta, principal career coach at Rajula Inc. in Vancouver, says that "the best approach is not to really talk about a job per se."
Instead, you should say: "This is who I am, and I’m exploring opportunities and wanted to talk to you or meet you to see what [your company] is like."
Mr. Kidston recommends that, above all, cold-calling job hunters "do their research first" on any company they are going to approach, learning, for instance, where it does business and how, and who is responsible for what.
That can "trim the amount of time wasted in cold calling …When people are trying to get folks to talk to them, [wasting time] can ruin your reputation."
That also means that cold-callers must be speedy. In 15 to 20 seconds, they should be able to explain who they are, what they’re interested in, and request an informational interview, Mr. Kidston says.
They should also recognize that they may be contacting busy executives, who may not be able to immediately get back to them, or may need some time to get to application packages they drop off.
Mr. D’Angelo, for instance, fields many portfolio drop-offs, along with lots of e-mail and phone calls from job hunters.
One who didn’t get the immediate response he wanted followed up with a "nasty e-mail, saying I guess you’re too busy to get back to me. He was right; I am too busy and, judging from your tone, I don’t want you here," he recalls.
Cold-calling tactics were effective for Michelle Amiro of Halifax. After graduating with an MBA from Dalhousie University in the early nineties, she started calling on companies in the consulting industry to set up informational interviews with executives, often focused on learning about their own career paths.
She got an enthusiastic response. "Everyone likes to talk about their position and success," Ms. Amiro, now 41, says.
In one of those meetings with a senior partner at an information technology consulting firm, she was offered a job as an IT consultant to replace an employee departing on maternity leave.
Ms. Amiro didn’t end up taking the position, listening instead to some other advice she was given during that same interview: that she get experience in the IT industry before going the consultant route.
Several years later, when Ms. Amiro relocated to Nova Scotia from Ontario, she turned to cold-calling again to find a job in the software industry.
She secured several interviews. Within a week, she had two written offers and accepted one, spending six years as vice-president of marketing at Clear Picture Corp., a business-to-business software firm.
Ms. Amiro’s experiences have convinced her that people you approach as a cold caller "want to help you. There’s a real eagerness" to assist young prospective employees at many companies, she says.
Kim Sweetman, the talent acquisition manager for Cossette Communication Group, a Toronto advertising agency, is certainly eager.
Ms. Sweetman says she welcomes cold calls from applicants who mention marketing training or experience and a specific interest in the field, and will always "call people back who are like that and who know what they want."
She often sets up informational interviews, many of which have led to jobs. She estimates that last year alone, at least 20 of 150 hirings in Toronto were of people who’d initially made cold contact.
"People who do cold call…are confident and keen and know what they are talking about, so you do tend to give them that meeting," she says.
Although as a recruiter, Ms. Sweetman receives the lion’s share of cold calls at Cossette, Mr. Kidston says that prospective employees shouldn’t be shy about going directly to a top manager if they can identify one with interests or experiences aligned with their own.
"Many times, job seekers go too low" in a company hierarchy, he says.
Mr. Kidston says that, in his experience, trying to reach an executive – or even his or her assistant – typically yields better results and more calls back.
Like Mr. Morrow, job hunters might also visit offices to drop off a résumé, making sure to ask that it gets to someone in a position to hire. Mr. Gupta recomm
ends hitting up potential employers at industry events.
Shirin Khamisa, head coach of Careers by Design Inc. in Toronto, says that choosing the right tactic "all depends on the industry you’re in."
In creative sectors, like music production or media, showing up unannounced might be acceptable, but at more corporate-minded offices, "you need to have someone expecting you," and a call in advance would be wise, she suggests.
Whatever the method of cold contact, career experts all agree on one thing: Developing a personal rapport is essential. Potential applicants might mention a shared interest or experience, like having attended the same university, or ask friendly questions about a person’s job or background.
Melanie Hardy, a counsellor at the YWCA Career Zone in Vancouver, says that job hunters should always remember the point of the exercise: "You’re trying to develop warm contacts from cold contacts."
HOW TO GET A WARM RESPONSE
Do your homework
Employers are more impressed by applicants who have taken the time to learn about their company, and thought about how their own qualifications might fit in. Learn the basics about a company, then demonstrate that knowledge to the person at the other end.
Choose your method
Phone calls are almost always appropriate. But in more informal industries, like the arts or media, just showing up can work.
Get to the right person
A recruiter is always a safe bet, but it’s worth doing the work to find out a specific manager to contact; get their extension number or direct line to avoid being shunted to human resources.
Don’t ask for a job
That can make a person feel trapped and resist your approach. Instead, ask for an informational interview or informal chat. Be flexible about your availability.
Speed, speed, speed
Ideally, a cold-call spiel should take no more than 20 seconds, and include information about who you are, what you’re interested in, and a request for an informational interview. Always remember to ask first if the person has time to chat.
Business thrives on connections; job seekers should approach cold calls with the goal of making long-term ones. Be personable: Find out background on who you plan to speak to, looking for common interests or experience.
Cast a wide net
Cold-calling is limited only by the number of companies a job seeker calls on, not by which ones are advertising jobs.
Follow up, but don’t bug
Recognize people may be busy. If they aren’t immediately free, ask for another time to call. If you drop off an application package, give them a few days to get to it before contacting them. Follow up reasonably; don’t be a pest.
Have thick skin
Don’t be daunted by rejection; obviously not all companies will have openings or be interested. Just one needs to pan out.