How to Get Through to Anyone On the Phone During Your Job Search

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Cold calling. It can strike fear in any job seeker's mind. Ideally, you'd always have an introduction to someone you want to speak to on the phone, but realistically, it isn't always possible to warm up your leads. Do you have a resolution to get in touch with some new contacts? How can you successfully get through to people who have the power to positively influence your job hunt?

The key is to plan ahead and prepare for all options.

1. Research the organization so you can sound intelligent.

Never try to cold call anyone before you have a well thought out plan and a reason to reach your contact. Create a script so you can practice what to say in advance. If you cannot articulate to yourself exactly what you hope to accomplish from the call, stop now and figure it out first. Potential outcomes you may expect: an in-person meeting, a referral to another contact or some immediate advice or information that may help you with your job search goals.

2. Never cold call without a name in mind.

This should go without saying, but you are unlikely to be connected if you ask for "the head of marketing." No matter what you say, the person answering the phone knows you are not a trusted colleague and is not going to put you through.

3. Plan for potential outcomes.

What if your contact actually answers the phone, and you were expecting a receptionist? Are you prepared to launch directly into your quick pitch? On the other hand, what if it's your fifth time calling, and you get the answering machine? You don't want to leave a rambling message; plan ahead so you'll know what to say.

If a gatekeeper answers the phone, be prepared to give a good reason to pass along a message: "I met Ms. XYZ at the ABC event last night, and she suggested I get in touch to arrange a meeting." (This is a great opening line only if it is true!) Alternatively, you may say you are working on a project and wish to include her insights. If you don't think you're getting what you need, you can always request to be transferred to voice mail.

4. Convince gatekeepers to become your ally.

If, every time you call for your target contact, the same receptionist picks up the phone, you can sometimes win favor by being attentive to his or her needs and being very polite and accommodating. Never sound annoyed or disappointed or take out your frustration on the gatekeeper who is just doing his or her job.

A simple inquiry, for example, "I wonder if you'd be willing to help me?" can go a long way. In our book, 100 Conversations for Career Success, Laura Labovich and I also suggest you get the gatekeeper's name and make a point to convince that person to provide useful information for you. You may say, "I hate to keep bothering you ... Can you tell me a good time to reach Mr. XYZ?"

5. Timing is everything.

Consider the scenario: it's the end of a busy day, and your contact is anxiously finishing things before leaving for the evening. You call. What are the chances of getting through to someone not expecting to hear from you? Morning is usually a better time than evening, but if you can learn something about the person's schedule, you'll be more likely to reach him or her. If your target contact uses social media, you can try to see if anything posted there may help you. For example, if he's traveling or at an event, you'll want to time your call for another day.

6. Don't spend too much time on small talk; get to the point.

No one really cares about the weather; you probably have two or three sentences worth of talking before the person decides if you are worth more time or not. This is your pitch: Use those words well. What can you say? Focus on what you can do for the person, not what you want him or her to do for you.

7. Leave a compelling voice mail message.

Sometimes, you need to leave a message. Say something compelling to pique the person's interest. For example, you may indicate you have information you'd like to share about a particular issue you know the individual is facing, or you can say you're seeking the contact's expertise for a project.

8. Be polite, but persistent.

Follow up. If you say you're going to be in touch, and you are not, that isn't very persuasive, and it's unlikely you'll ever be hired by that company.

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