Networking: The Art of the Cold Call
We all know the gospel of job-hunting. You don’t get jobs by applying for them; you get them by knowing someone. Some put the number of jobs obtained through networking - as opposed to answering an ad - at as high as 85%.
The corollary to this truism of the job market is that job-hunting is all about connections. Once you decide on a direction for your career, you need to start by talking to people in your immediate network - even if they aren’t all that close to what you want to do - and gradually work outwards, through them, into people working in the sector of your choice.
It’s true. People are more likely to answer your email/phone call if you’ve been referred by someone they know.
But does that mean that you should abandon the cold call entirely? Should you never just get in touch with someone doing work that interests you and see if they’ll let you speak to them?
It takes a lot of chutzpah, but it can work if done properly. I recently did it, and was offered part-time work. Here’s how:
Don’t assume you need to be an extrovert.
Sure, extroverts have an easier time approaching strangers out of the blue. But that doesn’t mean they are necessarily better at talking to them.
Quartz recently ran an interesting article arguing that introverts might actually be much better at networking than extroverts because they can focus and listen. And people appreciate that.
(Click here for a list of networking tips if you self-identify as an introvert.)
Do your homework about the company.
You should obviously go to any interview - cold call or not - knowing a fair bit about both the person you’re interviewing and the company they work for. But when you’re doing a cold call, this preparation has to come before you even draft your initial email approach.
When I did this recently, I made a point of telling the person I targeted (truthfully) that I’d been following her newsletter and her blog for a years. I also made reference to something specific on her website. Sure, a bit of flattery is always a good thing. But I also really wanted her to know that I hadn’t just wandered in off of the street.
You’re contacting them because you’ve decided you want to work there and/or think they could help you get closer to your dream job. You want them to talk to you, but they have plenty of reasons not to. You need to be sure it’s clear from the get-go that they won’t be wasting their time.
[Related: Dramatic Career Change, Minus the Drama]
Identify a problem to be solved.
People are much more likely to respond positively to a cold call if you can convince them that you can help them solve a problem. That doesn’t mean that you should suggest that they hire you in your initial email because you are God’s Gift to X. Far from it. Humility goes a long way.
For example, if you notice that the company is doing a lot of marketing in trade magazines, but nothing online, ask about that. If it’s a business school, perhaps note: “I see that you offer a lot of courses on management training, but there’s nothing on team-building. Why is that?”
I’ve found that questions about gaps often prompt the person being interviewed to reflect on their own blind spots, and might even get them thinking about hiring someone to pilot an investigation into a new area. That person could be you.
[Related: 10 Tips For A Successful Video Interview]
Reveal your USP.
You never want to go into a meeting - unless it’s a job interview! - and tell someone why they should hire you. Instead, you want to ask smart questions that impress them.
Lately, I’ve been targeting the higher education sector in my job search, offering communication training. I explain to everyone I meet that I “think like a social scientist, but communicate like a journalist.” This is shorthand for saying that I have a PhD, but don’t sound like I do. That’s an unusual skill set, at least in this sector. I play it up because I know it’s what makes me distinctive.
Be willing to hear the word “no.”
You can’t cold call people if you’re not willing to hear the word "no." When I first moved to the UK twelve years ago, I volunteered to run the Christmas Raffle at my then-five-year-old’s new school. This amounted to walking around the local village and asking every single shop person I met if they’d be willing to donate a prize to the raffle.
Guess what? A lot of people said some version of “no.” But a surprising number said "yes." What I learned from that experience was that I didn’t really care if people said “no” to me.
Develop this skill and you’ll find the whole process a lot easier. (Here’s an inspirational story of one woman’s perseverance to get the job she wanted.)
How about you? Have you ever done a successful cold call? Why did it work?
Delia Lloyd is an American writer and blogger based in London. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Financial Times, and on the BBC World Service. She blogs about the journey of adulthood at RealDelia.com. Follow Delia on Twitter @RealDelia.
Have more questions? Follow up with the expert herself.
Visiting Research Fellow
Oxford Institute of Population Ageing
Delia Lloyd is a writer and communication consultant based in London. She holds a PhD in political science from Stanford University and has taught public policy and international development at MIT and The University of Chicago. Most recently, Delia was the Head of Policy and Research Insight at BBC Media Action, the BBC's International development charity, where she was in charge of commissioning, editing and disseminating policy and research outputs. Her reporting and commentaries have... Continue Reading
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