How to Make a Phone Call

I have a sense that a real yearning is emerging for information about how to communicate.

I mean about how to communicate face to face or over the phone and not about “communicating” on someone’s “Wall” on Facebook or sending an InMail through LinkedIn.

I’m talking about what you should say on the phone.

There’s a difference between calling an “active” candidate (one whose resume is out there or “in there” or a candidate who is obviously “out there,” meaning he is high-profile on the Internet or the trades) and the truly passive candidate: the guy we sourcers find closeted away behind a company’s closed doors, who is not listed anywhere on the Internet, who is way too busy working to even think about thinking about looking for another job.

When I’m calling through a list of folks, profiling, I don’t leave call back messages until I’ve called through the list 5-6 times.

When I’m sourcing, I’m in the habit of trying to remain in the power seat, in charge of the process.

When you leave a plaintive “please-call-me-back” message you’ve transferred “power” (and the chance of your success) into the hands of another person.

No, no, no, and double no, no, no. You never want to do that!

I call through a list, top to bottom, methodically, and talk to the ones that answer.

Let a number ring 2-3 times; usually they’ve answered if they’re there in that amount of time.

This can reduce calling time from 60-90 seconds per unanswered call to about 15 seconds, which includes the dial!

Definition of Profiling: The first contact with the candidate who has been identified through sourcing that includes an introduction to your opportunity and a gathering of facts about the potential candidate’s abilities.

That candidate may or (more probably) may not be thinking about another job.

Your task here is to knock on his door and introduce yourself and your mission and get his general information while taking his initial temperature regarding the opportunity you’re presenting.

This is quite different from contacting the “active” candidate who sent his resume in over the transom regarding a possible new job opportunity, which I talked briefly about above.

How’d you get my name?” the phone-sourced potential candidate usually asks.

When I answer this, I tell them the truth.

I tell them I was tasked with identifying them within their organization to see if they might be interested in a specific opportunity.

If they press further I tell them they may have been located in a variety of ways, one of which (and usually the most probable) is that I called their organization to find out who they were!

This usually both surprises and delights them.

Other reasons I’ve given are that my attention fell upon them because of some posting they may have put out on the Internet regarding their work, or their name may have been passed to someone at the company I’m calling on behalf of because they were good at what they do.

If I found them on LinkedIn, I tell them so.

They’re never surprised by this one.

I’ve never told them I found them in a job board database because I’ve never been on a job board.

Whatever explanation I give them I punch the fact across that they have been specifically chosen for contact.

This is usually enough to assuage their paranoia (some industries are afflicted more so with this than others) and flatters them to the point where they relax and begin to share their information with me.

I try not to draw any lines in the sand. I feel this “first contact” is precarious enough without asking scary questions that they feel pressured to answer yes or no to.

I rarely ask them their salaries at this first contact. Few want to answer this.

After all, most of them are not looking for another job and don’t see the relevance in revealing this particular piece of information.

The object is to get them to start talking. Once they do this they will spill most of their beans along the way. Sometimes, even what they’re earning.

My job at this point is to listen and take notes.

The person on the other end of the phone isn’t going to give me squat if he doesn’t like me, and that’s the first and most important object of cold calling — the object being to like and enjoy what you’re doing because it’s going to come across in your voice and delivery.

Believe me, it will.

So every day is probably not a good idea to be doing this. You must “feel like it” so choose a time when you “feel like it” and go hard at it until you don’t!

Learn to manage your time. There are of things you have to do besides get on the horn, so set your days up to allow for this.

There are “good” times and “bad” times to call people. Remember that!

You’ll reach far fewer people from 11 to 1, and right after lunch some are sleepy and might not want to be bothered.

I like the 8 to 11 slot in the morning. I catch them at their desks before the day has taken its toll.

Or for the very same reason, that 4 to 6 timeslot can be effective.

Use common sense when you’re calling. Keep in mind the different time zones.

As the only direct contact I generally have with candidates is when I do profiling, I’m sure there are others who have better skill sets at eliciting information, but here’s what I say when I’m profiling:

Me: “Hi, this is Maureen Sharib. You’ve been identified by XYZ Corporation as someone they’re very interested in for an open position they have. Do you have a few minutes to share a little information with me?”

Them: “Huh? Who, me? How’d you get my name?”

Me: “Your name was identified by XYZ as someone they’re very interested in talking with regarding a design position they have open. Is now a good time to talk?”

Them: “Yeah, I guess so. But I’m not looking to make a move. Whatd’ya need?”

Me: “Well, let’s start with you. You’re an RF Design Engineer there?”

Them: “Yep. Level III.”

Me: “How long have you been with ABC?”

Them: “Three years, before this I was with LMN for two years and before that I was with DEF for seven.”

Me: “So you have 12 years experience — have you ever managed others?”

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Them: “I don’t like to manage — I can’t stand people — ooops — did I say that?”

We laugh.

Me: “So you have 12 years experience?”

Them: “Yeah.”

Me: “You’re part of a design group now?”

Them: “Yeah, there are six of us. Jerry Speaks is our Manager. I gladly leave the management stuff to him.” (He’s stuck on the prior question, it seems. Management might be a sore spot for him.)

We laugh some more. (I’m making a written note who his manager is.)

Me: “Where did you go to school?”

Them: “Cal State Fullerton. I have a BS in Electrical Engineering and an MS in the same from there. I’m thinking about going for my PhD. Thinking about it.” (Emphasis on “thinking”.)

Me: “What do you like most about your job?”

Them: “Being left alone. They pretty much leave us alone to do what we want — probably because we’re working on some pretty high-level security stuff and they don’t understand much of it. My buddy Chad’s the Team Lead and I leave the facey-face stuff to him. I like working in the lab. What did you say your name was?”

Me: “Maureen Sharib. Would you be interested in learning more about this open position at XYZ?” I make another written note that “Chad” is his co-worker and the Team Lead. Chad who? You bet I’ll find out!

Then: “Well, yeah, I guess, it never hurts to listen.”

Me: “Would tonight be a good time for someone from XYZ to call you — maybe at home?”

Them: “Yeah, that would be good — tell them to call my cell, it’s 408 xxx xxxx.”

Me: “About 7:30 Pacific time then?”

Them: “That’s good.”

Me: “Before I say good-bye, I was wondering if you had any friends who might be interested in a test engineering position XYZ has open…”

Them: “Yeah! I do! My buddy Fred’s lookin’ to make a move — I’ll pass your name along to him.”

Me: “I wonder if I might email him the position?”

“Them: “Yeah, that’d be okay -– his email is”

Me: “Okay, thanks very much, I’ll get this right out to him and it’s been great talking to you, I wish you the best of luck — good bye!”   

Them: “I’ll let him know it’s coming — thanks and you’re welcome!  So long, bye.”

It’s amazing what an abudanza* of information can come tumbling out of one phone call.

I did not have to ask him for last names -– he volunteered two of them and the other one, Chad, would be easy enough to find.

Can you please transfer me to Chad, I don’t know his last name — he works in Jerry Speaks’ group,” would do it just about every time. Like this:

Oh, you must mean Chad Hanger — he’s at x4239 — here ya’ go!”

I find it’s a conversational thing and you have to like, or at least, not mind, talking to people for this to work.

I know most of you don’t mind talking to people but some people really don’t like it and I think that’s what gets in the way of a lot of people being able to elicit useful information.

The other thing I think is important is to control the conversation — don’t let the other person take that away from you — is when he said, “I’ll pass your name along.” It wasn’t good enough for me — I press for more information and I attempt to control things by actively offering to do something that requires (elicits) a little more information.

*Abudanza: (Italian for abundance) An emotional waterfall effect that produces a feeling of reveling or joy. As in, “I can’t believe it! She gave me an abudanza number of names!”

From “The Magic In The Method” Sourcing Glossary

Maureen Sharib has been a “Socratic sourcer” her entire sourcing career; from the moment she first picked up the faxed list of Silicon Valley high-tech companies that was her target list to “phone source” in 1996 to today she has instinctively followed this method of investigative sourcing using (mostly) the telephone.  She is a proponent of sourcing as a synonym for success and envisions the craft moving away from a dangerously drudgery-paced life-form existence to an exciting investigative/competitive place within organizations where practitioners co-exist within a framework of market research, human resources, and C-level future planning. She owns the phone sourcing and competitive intelligence firm, Inc. You can contact her at Maureen at or call her at (513) 646-7306.  If she’s not on the phone she’ll pick up!


27 Comments on “How to Make a Phone Call

  1. Interesting article….the phone skills we used to value seem to be a thing of the past…maybe when phones come back into fashion, and everything does, the skills will be valued once again

  2. Great read…this is a great example of the “thrill of the chase” in fundamental headhunting. It also reminded me of a presentation on telephone skills given by the local phone company 20 years ago-they wanted to encourage more long distance usage. Back then the telephone was stationary, yet it was also the most efficient means of communication. However, I am not sure that in this digital/mobile/technologic advanced/generational transformation era, those methodologies are as effective. I’m just saying… people are no longer having long conversations on the phone anymore.

  3. Interesting point about “long” phone conversations.

    Most of my first-touch profiling exchanges take 5-10 minutes.

    The one above would probably fall in the 5 minute range.

    Of course, that doesn’t count the time it took to try to reach him several times before I finally did reach him.

    Add another two minutes total for those attempts on different/days/times.

    Do you consider that long?

    What’s the average length recruiting call, do you think?

    I hope others chime in on this.

    I’m fascinated by that phone company presentation.
    Can you recall much about it?

  4. Maureen, a 10 minute conversation in profiling a candidate is not long, but profiling, qualifying, building trust, encouraging further dialog to gather additional intel, selling the opportunity and motivating the candidate into becoming active-10 minutes is short!

    The phone company’s presentation is identical to your present approach, which is also the approach that I use. The point that I was making is that most people I talk to on the phone today do not have the type of verbal telephone skills that was essential for career success back then. As an example-“what’s your email, I’ll send you my resume right now” is the typical response when you ask someone to tell you about their current job duties.

    There is a possibility that the telephone is no longer the entry point in making a connection, especially when people are of the mind-set that you don’t answer the phone unless you know the caller or the purpose of the call.

  5. Nicely said. You could take your same technicques and hand to inside sales folks and teach them well. Getting people talk to you is always the answer – not leaving them a dozen (usually awful) voice mail messages.

  6. Yep, I’ll be calling RIGHT BACK IN.

    Do you have a problem w/ sourcing everyone in a group?

    I don’t.

    In case my “hot new candidate” cools, as we all know so many of them do – there will be more waiting behind him that I can call.

  7. Sorry Maureen. In my opinion – if he feels free enough with you to mention a name, combined with being interested in the position you’ve called him about…… are violating a certain (fragile) trust.

    This – to me – is wrong. It’s one of the reasons candidates have a distrust for recruiters. Actions like this continue to build the inherent resentment candidates have for recruiters.

    Once you are moving beyond your “sourcing” role and into a “recruiting” role I think you have an obligation to the candidate. That obligation being to not “use” the information they share with you in confidence as part of the relationship they are building with you.

  8. What a great article to commemerate the 134th anniversary of Alexander Graham Bell’s first succesful phone call! I was beginning to think phone conversations were becoming a lost art. I believe successful recruiting is part art and part technology and the “art” of verbal communication seperates the above average recruiter from the pack. Great article Maureen!

  9. Hey, Jer.
    Sun Tzu said (Art of War; Variation of Tactics section 8) there were five dangerous faults, which may affect a general.

    One of them was a “delicacy of honor which is sensitive to shame”.

    Also, he said (same chapter/verse) that over-solicitude for his men would expose him (the general) to worry and trouble. This, Sun Tzu said, was also one of the five “dangerous faults”.

    What do you think about all that?

    Is there any allegory in this for recruiting?

  10. First I am going to say, very interesting article. It is true that “phone skills” do not or perhaps are not used often enough. That being said, I have to add that there is a whole generation for whom email and “calls” are not used for communication. I am not advocating for or against this–just stating a fact. About three years ago my company
    was strongly focusing on college recruiting. I started noticing that emails, calls were not producing very positive results. Fortunately, I have college age nephews, so I talked to them about my situation. They shook their heads and I understood why dinosaurs went extinct.(Dinosaurs just decided to go play in traffic after talking with college-age dinosaurs = ) Anyway, after talking to me as if I were a three year old, they preceded to explain how success was dependent upon texting. They were right–texts produced immediate responses (even when in class–students responded). These students are now part of the workforce–and these are very bright, Stanford, Berkeley, MIT, etc., (top tiered schools) engineering students.

    So, I would add that communication–successful communication is not only dependent on skill, but also knowing and understanding the “age/generation” of your candidate. Otherwise, or you may end up with little or no success.

  11. Maureen, interesting article. Do you think the telephone as the most effective means of name generation and sourcing is an antiquated method? Over the last few years I have been more successful recruiting candidates via web 2.0 as a first method of contact vs. phone sourcing. We now live in a culture where people seldom pick up the phone for a number they don’t recognize but respond quickly to electronic forms of communication. Additionally, I prescribe ardently to candidate care and would worry that calling somebody 5 or 6 times would be a turn off to potential candidates.

  12. Ben, I think you and I mean different things when we say “phone sourcing”.

    When I say it I’m talking about calling in to a company’s front desk (or wherever else I can get into) and finding out who on the inside holds specific titles.

    Or who does a specific job.

    What’s your definition of phone sourcing?
    Most of what I describe in the article is not about sourcing (though a little of it is — the part about picking up additional names) as much as it is about the first contact with a potential candidate.

    On an average job 90% of the names on a job are (usually) able to be contacted using the phone.

    Yes, it takes some time -sometimes 5-6 calls, sometimes more! – but if you persevere you will get through.

    I don’t worry too much about what you call “candidate care” – I believe reaching them to let them know about what might be a better opportunity than what they have is the best “candidate care” I can offer at this early stage.

    Do I think the telephone is the most effective method of name generation?

    Do I want to put my fate into the hands of some email that is easily deleted?

  13. Maureen, I agree with you. “Sourcing” is an industry term that can be used losely. In this case it appears connotations to me are different than they are to you. That being said, from my lense, it is the act of compiling information on candidates and subsequently conducting reach out with the hopeful, inevitable outcome being a placement. My preference, unlike yours, is to harness the power of technology to expediate name generation as opposed to spending countless hours calling into the front desk of a company to obtain a name of somebody who may, or may not, be a viable candidate.

    By virtue of the work you do, I can understand why candidate care is not as important to you as it would be to me. In my case candidate care has led to many of my successes as a Recruiter. Not only have I place a number of people multiple times, those people have also been great about referring potential candidates on to me.

    What I take away from your article, as well as your response to me, is that we all use our own methodologies to be successful in the recruiting industry. Unlike PMBOK, ITIL, CMMi, or SDLC (sorry, I recruit in the IT space) recruiting doesn’t have a set methodology used industry wide. And, I don’t think there should be as it would detract from our successes by eliminating the agility needed to deal with the unpredictability and nuances of human beings.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  14. Hey Maureen – if you have a job that requires relo, do you ask if they are open to that in your initial call?

  15. Good question.

    More and more of my sourcing jobs nowadays are location specific – because of the state of the housing market many people can’t – or won’t – move.

    It’s a lot easier to get someone into a job if relo isn’t involved and for that reason my customers want me to source locally if that is possible.

    The answer to your question is yes, though – IF the job requires relo.

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