How to Convert Cold Calls into Hot Candidates

Jim is the best recruiter at LNM, a division of a Fortune 500 company. Karen is a strong marketing manager who is not looking for a job. Jim found Karen’s name on ZoomInfo, and he is now cold calling her to explore the possibility of considering her for the position.

The Opening Jim: Hi Karen. My name is Jim Howard. I’m a recruiter with LMN and I’m leading a search for a senior-level marketing executive. Your name was brought to my attention as someone I should contact regarding this assignment. Since I have you on the line, let me just ask you very openly, would you personally be open to exploring a new career opportunity if it were clearly superior to what you’re doing today?

Opening Scenario One: No reluctance. Karen: Yes! Of course. (75% of candidates say this without qualifications.) Jim: Great. Before we get too serious on this, let me ask you a few short questions about your background. Then I’ll give you a quick overview of the position. Based on this, if it makes mutual sense to proceed, we’ll schedule a convenient time to talk later in more detail. (Here, Jim will start to conduct the work history review below. Very few candidates will object.)

Opening Scenario Two: Some reluctance. Karen: Yes, but tell me a little about the job first. Jim: Great. Telling you about the job could take some time, though. We have a very unusual selection process at LMN. As part of this, we conduct a formal job matching process to ensure every offer includes significant job stretch and job growth. This marketing position is a very important position for us, and job matching makes sure that both of us make the right decision. Why not give me just a two-minute overview of your background? I’ll then give you a two-minute overview of the current job, and if it makes mutual sense to talk further we can schedule another call later today or this evening. (Here, Jim will start to conduct the work history review below. Very few candidates will object.)

Conduct Work History Review After conducting a quick work history review (titles, companies, education, compensation, size of team), which usually takes about six to eight minutes, you’ll know whether the candidate is in the game or not.

Moving Forward And Getting Referrals If the person is not qualified, use the following technique to get referrals. Remember, at this point in the conversation you have not told the person much about the job. If the person is a good fit, you’ll want to arrange another call. See Scenario Two for how to do this.

Scenario One: Overqualified for the job. Get referrals. (If underqualified, just reverse this process.)

Jim: I’m very impressed with your background, but I think this job is not a big enough move for you. As part of our job matching process, we like to see at least a 10%-15% stretch for new hires. This makes it worthwhile for you to make the move. Regardless, I’d like to review your background with a few marketing executives and make sure that if something bigger develops, you and I can reconnect. However, someone who worked for you at a prior employer might actually be worth networking with. Let me give you a quick overview of the position. (Provide quick compelling elevator pitch about job and its importance. Then get two or referrals by asking the following.)

Jim: Is there someone you worked with in the past who you think would be qualified for something like this? I only want to target passive candidates who are not looking. We want to be able to offer 10-15% job stretch and growth, so we want to target people who need to be recruited. I’ll even talk with people who might know the right person, just to build up my network. Who are some of the best people you’ve worked with in the past? (Interact.) Who would you like to hire someday if you could? (Interact.) (The point of all this is that, in order to get names of top people, you need to first establish a professional relationship with the candidate. You do this by being vague about the job so the person doesn’t opt out, by conducting a work history review, and then by proactively asking for names of top people. If you restrict your phone calls to only top targeted people, you should be able to find three or four great candidates in a few days.)

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Scenario Two: Qualified. Set up for next round. Jim: Karen, your background is very impressive. Let me tell you a little about the job and our unique job matching process. (Provide longer elevator pitch about the job, describing two or three areas of obvious stretch, like team size, budget, scope, scale, or complexity.) On the surface, does this seem like something worth evaluating in a little more depth? (Interact. If you conducted the work history and screening properly, 90% will say yes.) Jim: Let’s set up a phone call later today or tonight. What’s your cell phone or home number? (Get both!) I’d like to review your background in more detail during this call, and give you a thorough overview of the job. I also want to describe our job matching process. (Introduce candidate to job matching. You’ll use job matching to maximize the close rate of top candidates, minimize counteroffers, reneges, and no-shows.) Jim: I think we’re one of the few companies that formalizes the career selection process to make sure our candidates make the best long-term career move for them and that we select the best person for the job. Assuming everything goes smoothly, we both recognize that the only way you’ll accept an offer from us is if it’s a great career move. We’ve found ten factors top people use to decide whether they’ll accept a job or not. As I review each factor, could you tell me how you’d rank your current job? We’ll rank the new job the same way. If an offer is eventually made, this way you’ll clearly see if a move is worth making.

Job Matching: How to Compare Two Different Jobs

As Jim reviews the ten factors below with Karen, he asks her how she’d rank her current job on each of the following factors. You can do the same with your candidates. As the candidate learns more about the current opening during the interview and selection process, she’ll be able to determine if the new job is a strong career move. You can also use the idea of getting more information about the job as a way to keep the candidate interested in the job and coming back. At the end of the process, this will increase the likelihood of acceptance and minimize the chance of her taking a counteroffer or another offer.

  1. Job matching and satisfaction. “Are you highly motivated to do the work, find it fulfilling and enjoyable?”
  2. Job stretch. “Are you learning new learning new skills, handling bigger projects, dealing with more complex issues?”
  3. Job growth. “Are there significant opportunities for career advancement, and have you experienced these in the past and are likely to in the future?”
  4. Hiring manager. “Is the hiring manager strong, a real mentor, and helping you grow and develop?”
  5. Work team. “Do you really like the people on the team, and do you find them helping you grow and develop?”
  6. Senior management and leadership team. “Does the executive team know clearly what they’re doing and, as a result, are they leading the company in the right direction?”
  7. Company. “Do you really like the company, the culture, its products and what it stands for?”
  8. Tools and support. “Do you have the right materials and resources to be as effective as possible in the job?”
  9. Compensation and benefits. “Is the total comp package and upside potential fair and equitable based on what you’re doing?”
  10. Quality of life issues. “How would you rank the work/life balance?”

Imagine how much useful information you’ve just obtained from the candidate conducting this type of evaluation. What do you think the candidate would think? Now all you have to do is deliver a better overall career opportunity and you’ll never lose another candidate. If the hiring manager embraces a similar approach, you’ll be able to convert the dull and boring interview and selection process into a remarkable experience. As a result, candidates — whether they’re hired or not – will start referring others. Soon you’ll have more referrals and stronger candidates then you ever imagined. Differentiating the hiring experience is something great recruiters and hiring managers have been doing for years. You can start today on your next cold call.

Lou Adler is the CEO and founder of The Adler Group – a training and search firm helping companies implement Performance-based Hiring℠. Adler is the author of the Amazon top-10 best-seller, Hire With Your Head (John Wiley & Sons, 3rd Edition, 2007). His most recent book has just been published, The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired (Workbench, 2013). He is also the author of the award-winning Nightingale-Conant audio program, Talent Rules! Using Performance-based Hiring to Build Great Teams (2007).


9 Comments on “How to Convert Cold Calls into Hot Candidates

  1. The approach you suggest can be effective if the prospective candidate is either A) actively seeking change or B) you’re seeking referrals from the person. However, there’s no mention of how you approach the truly passive candidate that’s not actively seeking or interested in making a move. Top professionals in all fields are typically happy where they’re at because their firms recognize them as such and pay them well; keep them challenged and show them ‘love.’ With that said, these professionals still change jobs but for something that allows them to accomplish their career goals more rapidly. While you intially ask; ‘are you open to exploring a new career opportunity if it were clearly superior to what you’re doing today?’ there are many that would still defer entering into a candid conversation about their until you’ve overcome their initial objection.

    What seperates ‘Recruiting’ (see selling) from those ‘Order taking’ professionals is the way they respond when the ‘candidate’ says no. This approach will not only net better candidates than strictly relying on those that submit their resume’s directly to ads, postings, etc. but most definitely increase the odds of developing a relationship with the real stars of our repsective industries.

  2. Dan,
    Many recruiters miss something very incredible with an approach like this. Most often it is maybe due to not seeing the forest for the trees.

    When you call someone, either passive or not, one does not have sufficient information regarding that person to be able to recruit them automatically. (A mistake many recruiters make right out of the box)..

    Each recruiting call should be with the intent of gaining information ? if not that potential candidate, then maybe the possibility of networking for that new potential candidate.

    Not everyone wants to move at that moment, but maybe sometime along the way they will.. Maybe they may not want THAT particular position.

    With a technique like this, you make a friend, a possible future candidate, and got some referrals you would not have gotten all in one call.

  3. Dan – the quick take – the opening paragraph (Jim’s question to Karen) demonstrates exactly how to approach a passive candidate. The idea is that every passive candidate will say yes to the right question. This then puts the recruiter in the driver’s seat as to whether to pursue the candidate or get referrals. Please review it again to see if I missed something, because that was the intent of the article – how to convert cold calls into hot candidates.


  4. One other thing one get’s with a call like this is job orders. A networking call can always be turned into job orders much easier than a direct recruiting call.

  5. Lou,
    another way to also put it is how to convert cold calls into future hot candidates as well.

    Maybe that candidate did not want the position today, or did not fit in the role very well,he/she may fit into it one day especially if one specializes. That one day could be tomorrow, next week, or next mth.

  6. I am new to the recruiting business, and always looking for useful phone scripts such as this.

    The one obvious question that I see being asked in this cold call situation, is ‘Who is the job for? Who is hiring’ This would seem to be the easiest question to ask, and perhaps a question that you would not always be able to answer.

    What would be the best way to address this request without providing a great deal of information?

  7. Lou,

    Just wanted to say how much I enjoyed this article. It’s one of the best of it’s kind that I’ve seen. Many articles tell you that you should do this, but few tell you how. You did so in a simple, direct manner that can be used in almost any scenario.


  8. Lou,

    This article was extremely helpful in giving me a nice framework from which to work. I particularly enjoyed the job matching discussion. I can really see how this could go a long way towards establishing rapport with a cold call and turning them into a hot candidate.


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