The Five Cold-Call Icecrackers

Michael Korda noted in his bestseller Power! How to Get It, How to Use It:

The person who receives a telephone call is always in an inferior position of power to the person who placed it.

Except for a placer. You’re not exactly treated like the Chairman of the Board. Our industry has done almost nothing about it, either. Oh, there have been some unforgettable efforts here and there — but many industry activists have been too busy unloosening, unleashing and unregulating to upgrade. It’s unfortunate. Frigid cold calls to rigid employers are the result.This column will review the five icecrackers for cold calls.


You probably think you’re being received rather well — all those books, tapes and workshops on overcoming “objections” you never hear.That doesn’t mean the objections aren’t there, though. In fact, it might be a sign that they are.Jesse Nirenberg points out in How to Sell Your Ideas:

Generally, people express only a small portion of their skepticism. They feel that to ask for justification of every assertion is to question the other person’s integrity and competence…

How can someone buy an idea if he doesn’t feel confident that the presented facts are true? He needs to rely on the presenter’s concern for the truth to supplement his own.Let’s take a typical cold call and see how few objections actually surface:

Recruiter: Hi, this is Don Hansen. I’m with Recruiting Associates, and understand you’re looking for a senior engineer.

Hiring Authority: That’s right– we’ve been inundated with resumes and calls but haven’t found anyone.

Recruiter: We’ve just completed a search for senior engineers, so should be able to help you. What are the spec’s?

Hiring Authority: Well, we’re looking for someone with at least a BSEE and 10 years of circuit design experience in computer peripherals.

Recruiter: I have a few candidates in mind. Our fee is 30% of the annual starting compensation.Hiring

Authority: That sounds pretty standard. Why don’t you send me some resumes along with your fee schedule? That conversation took only a minute or two, but communication never occurred. Here are ten of the unspoken objections never raised:

  1. What is your background in engineering?
  2. What is your background in recruiting?
  3. What other employers have you recruited for?
  4. How many placements have you made?
  5. How many engineering placements have you made?
  6. What are the specialties of Recruiting Associates?
  7. What are the resources of Recruiting Associates?
  8. How long has Recruiting Associates been in business?
  9. What competitors of ours will you recruit from?
  10. What is the guarantee on placements?

So those ten questions (and tens more) remain unanswered. Trainers agree that it takes around 45 minutes to write a detailed job order.Chapter 1 of The Placement Strategy Handbook is entitled “Examining The Employer Mentality.” In it, we quoted some of the typical responses by hirers.Here are two:

“Some openings can easily be filled through ads and Internet postings, but we still spend every Monday morning telling recruiters ‘No’.””I don’t want to match wits or argue with a recruiter.”

What’s the unspoken objection here? It is:

“I object to being called unless you really have something to offer.”

How do you handle it? By recognizing what the “something” is he wants. It’s not that difficult, either. He doesn’t want convoluted candidates, and he doesn’t want a false five-figure friend. He doesn’t even want to discuss the job thoroughly.He wants information. Just look at those ten unspoken objections again. They’re all questions about you and your service. Since he’s not asking but thinking, lead into the discussion with these ten statements:

  1. I was an engineer for 4 years with Interstate Electronics.
  2. I’ve been recruiting for two years in the circuit design field.
  3. We’re recruiting engineers for several companies that use similar technology to yours.
  4. I’m proud of my success in placing recruits.
  5. We’ve been extremely active in the placement of engineers.
  6. The senior engineering design area is our specialty.
  7. We’re a member of the IEEE and the Engineering Search Network, so our candidate database is extensive.
  8. Recruiting Associates was recently formed through the merger of two established firms.
  9. We recruit for only one of your direct competitors.
  10. If a candidate leaves for any reason within 30 days, we’ll replace him at no charge.

As you can see, some of the statements are precise (“4 years”), while others aren’t (“several companies”). No matter — the objections were addressed. There are ten cracks in the ice.


Most recruiters drop their credibility as they pick up the phone.They think employers want to hear about their “ethics,” “standards” or “professionalism.” They’re right — only not during the placement process. That’s why we don’t have a self-regulated industry.Employers only care about recruiting rules when they’re:

  • Trying to stop a recruiter from raiding them,
  • Blaming a recruiter for not checking out a conning candidate.
  • Fighting for a fee refund.
  • Speaking to a mesmerized mob of recruiters.
  • Justifying a bigger personnel staff.

What do they want, then? Honesty! Just read these comments by two others from The Placement Strategy Handbook:

“A little more truthfulness wouldn’t hurt.””If I hear about a guy who will knock my socks off one more time, I think I’ll scream.”

You’ll never hear a hirer say “This recruiter is twice as honest as that one.” A recruiter is either considered “honest” or “dishonest.” Hirers make this determination within the first few minutes of a cold call. Right or wrong, you’re branded.Dr. Nirenberg revealed how he branded a conning candidate in a similar situation:

[T]he applicant said that he attended college for four years, but didn’t get a degree. When I questioned him further, it turned out that he actually attended for only 3 1/2 years. When I asked him why he claimed four years, he replied that he always said four and didn’t think it mattered.But I found myself wondering at that moment whether the 3 1/2 years was so, whether he actually went to that college, and if his dates of employment at his last job were true.

Was the candidate’s representation understandable? Of course. He wanted to get hired. In fact, it was more true then false (“3 l/2” is closer to “4” than “8”). He just “rounded off” his education. What’s the harm? Practically none in terms of the educational requirement. He probably would have been hired anyway. But that “white lie” turned the “honesty” switch off, and he wasn’t. What if that conning candidate was yours? Would you be believed after the sendout? Referring candidates who lie is bad enough. But recruiters are even more likely to increase, inflate and invent candidate backgrounds. They don’t stop there, either. How about this placement pep talk?

“His coworkers say he’s the best design engineer in the industry.”

“Don’t worry — he’ll accept a lateral move for the right opportunity.”

“He’s considering another offer, so you’d better interview him right away.”

Hirers want vicious, voracious, vociferous “junkyard dogs.” They just don’t want to get bitten. Dishonest ones can’t be trusted.Even appear to be a conning consultant just once, and you’ll never place through them.Most can justify an “honest mistake” in hiring — none can justify relying on a liar.


You have none. Except yourself. Every recruiter is unique. Just consider how different you are from every other one in:

  • Approach
  • Experience
  • Contacts
  • Data
  • Matching ability
  • Creativity

Invariably, “competition” equates to comparison. Psychologist Wayne Dyer says “comparison” should equate to confrontation. In Pulling Your Own Strings he advised:

When you are offered someone else’s example as an argument why you should do something you don’t want to do, try asking . . . “Why would I want to hear about how you’ve dealt with other people?” Don’t shrink from asking such questions: Your victimizer is willing to ask much more of you.Try interrupting people the instant they bring up comparisons to use against you. Simply say “Hold on a minute. You are using other people’s examples as reasons why I should be a certain way, and I am not any of those other people.” Such a straight-from-the-hip approach, while you might be unaccustomed to it, must be used despite your quivering insides.Once you’ve tried it a few times, you’ll find it easier to be confronting, and you’ll notice that once the regular victimizers in your life see that you mean business, they will cease their futile efforts. Remember, they only do what they do because it works. When it no longer works, they won’t do it.

Chapter 13 of The Placement Strategy Handbook is entitled “The Reply To ‘Your Fee’s Too High.” These two quotes by human resources should convince you not to compete against yourself:

“What good does it do to work with cheap firms who don’t produce the desired results? If they’re making less money, they’re going to do less.””When someone calls to tell us they’ll do the job cheaper than their competition, I know I’m dealing with someone who’s desperate. I equate desperation to carelessness and recklessness.”

These folks don’t react any differently when a recruiter says:

“This is our fee, but of course it’s subject to your company policy.””We’ll reduce the fee because you’re a new client.”

Currently, 80% of the cases in the National Placement Law Center Collection Department involve fees and guarantees compromised before the placement. This is directly attributable to:

  • The psychological advantage the employer gained by the original concessions, and
  • The legal advantage it gained by your opinion that you’re not worth what you charge.

My advice has not varied on this subject for 25 years:

  • Be certain your fee schedule and guarantee are as high, but as realistic as possible.
  • Don’t reduce the fee or extend the guarantee.

For a complete review of this, read Chapter 105 in Placement Management entitled “Fee Negotiation.”


One frantic day not long ago, I exclaimed to a client “The phones never rang like this when I was a recruiter!”That’s probably the single major reason recruiter turnover is 80% annually. If you don’t make “cold calls,” the phone never rings. “Clients” aren’t clients at all – – they’re just employees who give you “orders” to find other employees. They commit to nothing — you work for nothing. “Candidates” are just temperamental opportunists — the more one calls, the less placeable he is.Recruiters are pursuers by nature. They’re comfortable breaking through the sound barrier. Search requires locating, identifying, qualifying, interesting, motivating, convincing, closing and locking. Throughout the process, the recruiter is overcoming inertia. He’s the pursuer, not the pursued. In Intimate Connections, psychiatrist David Burns pointed out:

One rule of the game is that some people are the pursuers and other people are the ones who get pursued. The secret of winning is to be the one who gets pursued, not the pursuer. Once the person is chasing you, many people will chase you, and you can pick and choose.But the moment you chase someone, he or she will become elusive and reject you.If you’ve ever visited a zoo, this observation shouldn’t surprise you. We’re dealing with primordial urges here. It’s not easy to create a demand for yourself, and the results take time. But calls from a clamoring public are too hot to be on hold.

Here’s how to get interested employers and qualified candidates to call you (at no cost):

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a. Write Articles

Human resourcers scour newspapers, business journals, magazines, the Internet and every other source they can find for candidates. So the key is to get your name in print for something positive.Company newsletters are a natural. The editors are always looking for something to write about. It’s so difficult to find “staff contributors” that I used to ghost write the entire newsletter, then find people who’d consent to having their names used. Just find the editor and ask. It’s perfectly appropriate, and you probably never even thought your “clients” were so interested.Competitive companies receive smuggled copies of other “house organs” all the time. They contain names, faces, titles, personal backgrounds, company news, industry trends, and many other items that provide the intelligence they need.Your library has The Encyclopedia of Associations and National Trade and Professional Associations of the United States in its reference section. Practically every trade association has a publication, and they’re always hungry for material. Their dilemma is much like that of an employer, since most volunteers don’t take the initiative to place the pen on the paper.If you need a “pitch letter,” here’s a sample: (date)American Association of Contract Administrators4038 Gramatan RoadLong Beach, Delaware 98368ATTN: David N. Stafford, Executive DirectorRe: Article for Contract Administration ReviewDear Mr. Stafford:I am interested in submitting an article for insertion in Contract Administration Review entitled “Highlights of Personnel Procurement Contracts.”As an Account Executive with Recruiting Associates, I have specialized for the past eight years in employee benefit negotiations. There have been many new developments in fixed and contributory benefits, and this article should be both interesting and informative to AACA members.I will call you within the next week to discuss it further, and look forward to contributing to Contract Administration Review.Thank you for your anticipated consideration.Very truly yours,DONALD R. HANSENDRH:aja

Most pitch letters are overwritten — too many words with too little focus. Samuel Goldwyn (the “G” in MGM) became so tired of being ambushed by people with movie ideas that he gave each person his business card and said “Write your idea on it. If you can’t, it’s not clear enough in your own mind.”Your letter shouldn’t be more than one typewritten page, and shouldn’t contain:

  • More than three paragraphs.
  • More than three simple sentences per paragraph
  • Words with more than three syllables.

Of course if you’ve already written the masterpiece, you can enclose it. Don’t worry about it being used with attribution to you; just worry about it being used. You can include a “byline” about yourself, and it will probably be printed without any editing. Use other bylines in the publication for your format. That’s your part of the deal (since you’re not getting paid), so make sure it shines.What should you write about? No problem. Just do what every columnist and author does; write about what interests you!The pros know that:

We do best what we like most,and we like most what we do best.

They also know that:

If it interests you,it will interest others.

You can write a jobseeking article, one about emerging hiring practices or the results of some survey. Anything practical — practically anything!I’ve written articles while on planes, trains and buses. I have even written in a jailhouse lobby at 3:00 A.M. waiting to spring a client out, a garage waiting room while my car was being lubed, a checkout line at the market, in courtrooms everywhere, and in some very private places as well.Before long, writing becomes as easy as talking. In fact, you can buy yourself a microcassette recorder and actually dictate your article for transcription. You can use a personal computer too, as long as you don’t let the gadget get in the way of your creativity.In spite of the state-of-the-art dictating and data processing equipment at my office and home, I still use scratch paper for all creative writing. It’s the only way to instantly see what you’ve written, reorganize it and add the latest “zinger” that pops into your mind (before it pops out again). Most important, scratch paper can be pulled out at any time, ready for use with no power or technical difficulties. You are also less likely to be arrested for talking to yourself, less likely to be distracted by people asking questions, and less likely to lose time fiddling.You’ll also find that writing relaxes you, as you get in touch with your own private world and share your unique experiences.Writing for commercial trade publications is just as easy, although you probably won’t be paid enough to cover the cost of the paper. The Gale Directory of Publications and Ulrich’s International Periodicals Directory are useful here too. They’re also at your local library reference desk.Once you’ve written for these insatiably hungry specialty publishers, you might want to submit the same or other articles to mass-market media. If so, go directly to your local bookstore and buy a copy of the latest Writer’s Market. It’s an annually updated, reasonably priced book from the publishers of Writer’s Digest (the freelancer’s magazine) that’s like a Yellow Pages of publishers. In addition, it summarizes what each publisher wants, and includes hints on how to prepare ideas and manuscripts. There are over 4,000 names, addresses, phone numbers, and preferences of publishers looking for submissions. If you compare last years’ edition with the current one, you’ll see why I recommend that you buy it. No two pages are the same. The real “writer’s market” changes faster than the job market. Libraries usually can’t stock the latest Writer’s Market in time.Local newspapers often hire freelance writers for feature stories. If you have something interesting, submit it. You’ll probably find it goes in with little editing. All you care about is that it’s something hirers will read. Also submit news of your promotion, or assumption of new responsibilities. Enclose a recent picture.

b. Write Public Relations Memos

Memos are the most overlooked recruiter public relations devices ever written. They are the high-visibility form of company communication. Anyone can write them, control their content, and even aim them squarely at the target. How much more potent could a PR device be?Just use your letterhead and send them by mail, fax or e-mail.Memos vary widely in formality, clarity and brevity. Some are read instantly; others become liners for the personnel “in box.” Some are clear; others are confusing. Some bring good news; others bring bad. A few really make a difference. Make them yours.A PR memo has only five components, but they must all be there. Here they are:

i. Predetermined format.

Use it. By setting up the title (“Memorandum,” “Interoffice Memorandum,” “Memo,” etc.) and the “To,” “From,” “Date,” and “Subject” or “Re” lines the way used by the employer, you’ll maximize the acceptability of the content. If there is no standard format, align each item on the upper left as follows:To:From:Date:Subject:ii.

Topic sentence.

This is the first sentence. It should be short, concise and to the point. An example is:I am pleased to inform you that we have located several qualified candidates for the senior engineer position.

iii. Short body.

This should be under one page. A public relations memo is about you, so if you start flagellating yourself in public, in will appear self-serving.Write it out first. Then work with it — fight your way through it again. Cross out excess words and phrases (“that,” “and,” “or,” “and/or,” “as you know,” etc.). Include short, direct words (“use” instead of “utilize,” “buy” instead of “purchase,” etc.). Then, carefully read The Word Watcher’s Handbook by Phyllis Martin.Keep it short, sweet, and simple like your pitch letter. People want good news fast.In Advertising: How to Write the Kind that Works, David Malickson and John Nason wrote:Use contractions whenever possible. They’re fast, personal, natural. People talk in contractions. (Listen to yourself.) Don’t brag or boast. Everyone hates a bore… Write from the reader’s point of view, not your own.iv.

Accents, exclamations, and triggers.

Successful people don’t talk in a monotone. They punctuate what they say and people listen. Your one-page memo should underline a few key words or phrases. It should contain one exclamation point at the end of no more than two sentences. It should contain words that move and shake like “expedite,” “improve,” or “perform.”When companies are really looking for people, good news is particularly welcome.

v. Concluding sentence.

This should be one short sentence. An exclamation point at the end leaves ’em laughing. Examples are:Thanks again for your assistance! We’ll let you know the results as they are received.I hope this success will enable you to hire the most qualified candidate.Many examples of PR memos are contained in Memos for Managers by Auren Uris. If you’re not writing one PR memo per month (no more, no less) to each employer with an open job order, you’re missing the greatest cold-call cracker ever created.The results of your PR campaign will speak for themselves — with every call you get. Then you can leverage your experience by following our suggestions in Chapter 8 of The Placement Strategy Handbook entitled “Zap! You’re An Industry Specialist.”5. ASK FOR ADVICESince recruiters are pursuers by nature, it rarely even occurs to them to ask for advice. Certainly not at the icecracking cold- call stage.Asking (and listening to the response) isn’t to get information- – that’s just the tip of the iceberg. It’s to get investment.The hirer “invests” his thoughts in you, and starts trusting you with them. This works every time, because he wants you to transform those hiring thoughts into a living, breathing, hireable human. He also is more receptive to your thoughts because you have humored him by respecting his opinion.”Ask” means “question.” Here are 10 cold-call crackers:

  1. Where do you think I’ll find the best candidates?
  2. What experience should I screen most carefully with candidates?
  3. What personality characteristics should I look for in candidates?
  4. How do you suggest I describe the job to candidates?
  5. What do you think I should emphasize about the department?
  6. Do you have any recommendations as to how I approach promotion potential?
  7. In view of the importance of working with the supervisor, how should I approach him?
  8. Do you think advance resumes would be more desirable at first?
  9. What would your approach be to a candidate who doesn’t have a resume?
  10. Can you think of any way we can expedite the qualifying process?

If you’re afraid of appearing dumb, you suffer from a relatively mild ego problem. You need to overcome it fast.These words from Mark McCormack in What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School should be taped to your phone:

People are often afraid to ask for help or to accept it, because they believe that somehow this will show that they are inadequate in their job. If they would think about it for a moment, they would realize that the system is set up for giving and receiving help.The whole corporate assumption is that certain tasks, and effectiveness in accomplishing these tasks, are sometimes better achieved by groups than by individuals . . .

Not asking is such a short-sighted and narrow-minded view. Asking for help is the way to learn, to expand your knowledge, your expertise, and your value to the company. It also demonstrates your willingness to work with others.Hiring is a team sport. Raymond Blank coached in Playing the Game:

A speaker develops trust in a listener only after he has confided in him without being criticized or hurt by what he has said. At this trust level, the speaker (who has given you leadership in your relationship) will be supportive of your endeavors.

There’s more on this in Chapter 91 of Placement Management entitled “How To Get The Personnel Manager To Help You.”Five icecrackers — they work like a jackhammer.**Placement Management & The Placement Strategy Handbook may be ordered through

More than thirty-five years ago, Jeffrey G. Allen, J.D., C.P.C. turned a decade of recruiting and human resources management into the legal specialty of placement law. Since 1975, Jeff has collected more placement fees, litigated more trade secrets cases, and assisted more placement practitioners than anyone else. From individuals to multinational corporations in every phase of staffing, his name is synonymous with competent legal representation. Jeff holds four certifications in placement and is the author of 24 popular books in the career field, including bestsellers How to Turn an Interview into a Job, The Complete Q&A Job Interview Book and the revolutionary Instant Interviews. As the world?s leading placement lawyer, Jeff?s experience includes: Thirty-five years of law practice specializing in representation of staffing businesses and practitioners; Author of ?The Allen Law?--the only placement information trade secrets law in the United States; Expert witness on employment and placement matters; Recruiter and staffing service office manager; Human resources manager for major employers; Certified Personnel Consultant, Certified Placement Counselor, Certified Employment Specialist and Certified Search Specialist designations; Cofounder of the national Certified Search Specialist program; Special Advisor to the American Employment Association; General Counsel to the California Association of Personnel Consultants (honorary lifetime membership conferred); Founder and Director of the National Placement Law Center; Recipient of the Staffing Industry Lifetime Achievement Award; Advisor to national, regional and state trade associations on legal, ethics and legislative matters; Author of The Placement Strategy Handbook, Placement Management, The National Placement Law Center Fee Collection Guide and The Best of Jeff Allen, published by Search Research Institute exclusively for the staffing industry; and Producer of the EMPLAW Audio Series on employment law matters. Email him at


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