Job seekers have a lot of networking resources at their disposal. Theoretically, it should be possible to either a) find connections that will introduce you to people to help with your job search, or b) introduce yourself to those contacts via social media. Despite this access, sometimes a cold call is the only way to speak to important job search resources. Most people hate the thought of calling someone they don't know, but there are ways to prepare so you will be successful.
Here are seven tips to warm up your cold calls inspired via 100 Conversations for Career Success (www.100conversationsforcareersuccess.com), the book I co-authored with Laura Labovich:
1. Always get the name of the person. 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. Similarly, asking to speak to "the person in charge of sales" won't inspire anyone to put you directly through.
Even if you can't find someone to introduce you to your target contact, either in person or via social media, you should at least be able to find the person's name. There's no excuse for calling a company and expecting the receptionist to help you figure out the best person to meet your needs. Plus, if that person makes a mistake, you'll be launching into your pitch with the wrong contact, which would be embarrassing and disheartening. Use LinkedIn's "Advanced Search" and other social networking search tools to access the contact's name and title before you make your call.
2. Think about the best time to phone. Don't we all have friends (or maybe colleagues) who always call to ask for something at 4:45 p.m. on a Friday afternoon or first thing on 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.
Do a little research to find out all you can about them. If Twitter status updates all mention that the person is busily preparing to attend a conference on Thursday, you know not to call that week--or probably the week after, either. If you do, you risk your message being put behind many other more important priorities. Even the most diligent networker may forget about you if your call comes in during a very hectic time. In general, morning can be a good time to reach key influencers, but when you should reach your contact depends on his or her schedule.
3. Know what you offer. 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. When you identify specific reasons to schedule a follow-up meeting that will pique the person's interest, you will be well on your way to a successful networking meeting. If you cannot think of any reasons for him or her to get back to you, it's time to go back to the drawing board. Either find a new contact or get yourself up to speed about the organization or individual enough to be able to be convincing.
4. Ditch the pleasantries. Do you really care about the weather? Neither does your cold call target. Be cheerful, but get to the point and make sure you don't lose your contact's attention before you have a chance to get started.
5. Become allies with the phone gatekeepers. Most executive assistants consider it part of their jobs to prevent unwanted calls from reaching their bosses. Some will go to great lengths to screen calls. How can you overcome this obstacle? Think of ways to convince the person who answers the call to help you. Asking something authentically, such as, "I wonder if you would be willing to help me?" could be just the thing to disarm an otherwise militant gatekeeper. Ideally, you'll know the gatekeeper's name before you call, and always be polite and respectful, as you'll likely encounter him again in your efforts to reach his boss.
6. Prepare a toolkit. Isn't it always easier to do things when you have a cheat sheet? Since you'll be trying to connect on the phone, you have the opportunity to write notes and have them handy. Don't squander this gift! Write down some notes--even a script--of what you want to say. Make sure you have your calendar at hand, and something to write notes. If you use a contact-tracking tool, such as FreshTransition (http://www.freshtransition.com), have easy access to it and any notes from it before you make your call. The worst thing is to have someone ask to meet and for you to say, "I'll have to call you back to schedule a meeting." Don't assume you won't reach your contact on the first try, because if you do a good job preparing, you will have a chance to speak to her, and you'll need to be ready.
7. Follow up. It's your job to follow up with your contact. In fact, it's always best to keep the follow up in your "court." For example, if she says, "I may be free early in March," you should say, "What's the best way for me to be in touch with you to set up a time? Should I email you in mid-February and then follow up with a call if I don't hear from you?" If she agrees, you can honestly tell the gatekeeper that your contact is expecting your call, and you don't rely on her to remember to reach out to you.
When you prepare for cold calls and take control of the situation, you'll feel better about your job search and have more opportunities to succeed with your networking.
Miriam Salpeter is a job search and social media consultant, career coach, author, speaker, resume writer, and owner of Keppie Careers. She is author of Social Networking for Career Success and 100 Conversations for Career Success. Miriam teaches job seekers and entrepreneurs how to incorporate social media tools along with traditional strategies to reach their goals.