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Hot Prospects from Cold Calling

Hot Prospects from Cold Calling

By Larry Buhl, for Yahoo! HotJobs

In the era of emails and online social networking, the old-tech method of pitching yourself over the telephone is an overlooked way to job hunt. Some experts say it's overlooked for a good reason: Cold calling strangers has a pretty low return on investment.

In fact, in a 2009 ExecuNet Job Market Intelligence Survey, only 3 percent of executives say cold calling is an effective career strategy (whereas 73 percent said networking was effective). Dave Opton, founder and CEO of ExecuNet, said job seekers at all levels of the career ladder are better off relying on job-search strategies.

"Put yourself at the other end of the call," Opton says. "If you're busy, are you going to want to spend time on the phone with a stranger who's calling you for a job? Probably not."

Then again, Opton admits that very often people aren't effective at cold calling because they don't know how to do it right, and that under the right circumstances a cold call could pay off.

How can it work, and for whom? Experts have a few suggestions.

Know Yourself

If you are shy, hate talking to strangers, have a less-than-compelling phone presence or possess a less-than-bulletproof ego, you'll end up being frustrated with cold calling. If you're outgoing and articulate, have a thick skin, and already have experience in sales or marketing, you'll stand a much better chance of getting what you want from a cold call. Furthermore, if you have a distinct skill set that causes you to stand out from the crowd, cold calling can be more effective, according to Massachusetts-based career coach Jean Knight.

Call the Right Person

It's safe to cold call a recruiter, but take the time to find out a specific manager to contact. "Forget about calling human resources, unless you want a job within that department," Knight says. "HR will just tell you to send in a resume. Do some research to find the hiring manager."

Name-Drop if Possible

Cold calling works best when someone at the organization has already referred you, so use that referral if you can. If you can't, never lie about being referred. You will be discovered and remembered, and not in a good way.

Have a Compelling Pitch

Sales people use scripts to sell products and services. No matter what field you're in you'll need a script -- a powerful, short one -- to sell yourself to a stranger over the phone. "You need to hook the caller in 10 seconds," Knight says. "If you say, 'Hi, I'm Joe Smith and I'm calling about the network administrator position,' you won't get anywhere. If you say, 'Hi, I'm Joe Smith and I worked with one of your competitors for five years and managed projects involving Java for five years and I think I would be perfect for the network administrator position,' you may get a chance to set up a meeting."

Practice Your Pitch

"Try out your pitch on your coach, a colleague or a friend who can give you an unbiased opinion," according to career coach and author Deborah Brown-Volkman. "And make sure you can be as polished and professional and passionate on your twentieth call as you are on your first."

Follow Up Without Stalking

If you're sure your pitch is stellar but you keep getting the hiring manager's voice mail, keep trying, Brown-Volkman recommends. "Very often people are simply busy, so try calling three or four times before you decide if you want to continue, and don't take it personally if they don't get back to you," she says. If you receive a firm "not interested," know that it's time to move on.

Even though cold calling is one of the less effective job-search strategies, it still works better than cold-emailing, according to Brown-Volkman. "Today everyone sends emails, which are easy for the receiver to delete. An email is a passive medium, and can't convey passion the way your voice can. A phone call is a stronger form of connection, and because fewer people use cold calling you stand a better chance of standing out."

Still even the best cold-calling strategies are never as effective as networking. But when used together, these strategies can lead to hot prospects. "When it comes to hunting for a job, it's all about building trust and building relationships," Upton says. "To have the best chance at success you should build your network to where you get referrals instead of having to 'dial for dollars.'"

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