Cold calls are not just for salespeople.
In the course of your job search, business launch or other career transition, you will need to reach out to people you don’t know. You may be looking to get their insights, to expand your network, or to get information you need to make you a better candidate.
Don't be afraid. If you're respectful of their time, you focus on your commonality, and you are specific in your ask, you should be able to engage a stranger's attention fairly easily. Use this three-step guide to a concise but captivating cold call or email.
1. Establish your common bond.
The first thing you have to do is introduce yourself. But don’t just default to your standard professional introduction. Pick the description of yourself that establishes what you have in common with the person you approach, even if it’s not career-related. For example, I’m a Money.com blogger but also a business owner, career coach, recruiter, Barnard graduate, wife, mom, stand-up comic, et cetera.
If I am approaching a Columbia alum, I may open with Barnard graduate, even though I attended years ago. If I contact a journalist, I may open with Money.com (or some other publication if we both wrote for that other one).
The best choice is dictated by the person you are contacting, not what you typically use as your pitch.
2. Explain why they are "the one."
In the above example, the Columbia or journalism connection is the first step in my hypothetical cold call, but it’s still incomplete. There are lots of Columbia alums and lots of journalists. Why am I contacting this particular one?
Perhaps I read an article that cited them. Perhaps they work in a company or in an area that I am researching. Perhaps they gave a talk somewhere, and I am following up on something they said.
You need to explain why the person you are contacting is unique, so there is urgency for this person in particular—not some other alum or journalist—to get back to you.
3. Pick a small and specific request.
Once you have established a common bond and explained to your cold contact why he or she is the only one who can help you, you need to explain how he or she can help.
Your ultimate goal may be a job or a sale or a career change. But don’t ask people for any of these.
A job lead, for example, is too big a request this early in the relationship. This is also not a specific enough request: Does it mean you want to speak to HR? Are you inquiring about a particular opening? Are you asking this person to hire you?
Your new connection won't be able to get you directly to your end goal on the first call, but there are many small, specific steps in-between that he or she may be able to help with.
For example, if you reach out to someone because they work at your dream company, ask about the organizational structure of the specific department you are targeting. Ask about the person who runs that group. Ask about projects in the pipeline or key objectives. The answers to all of these questions will enable you to better position yourself for the job, but these requests are not in themselves about getting a job.
By asking for a job, you put your cold contact on the defensive. By asking about the business, you demonstrate that you care about making an impact.
Caroline Ceniza-Levine is co-founder of SixFigureStart® career coaching. She has worked with professionals from American Express, Condé Nast, Gilt, Goldman Sachs, Google, McKinsey, and other leading firms. She’s also a stand-up comic. This column will appear weekly.
Read more from Caroline Ceniza-Levine:
- Three Easy Résumé Fixes to Help You Make a Career Change
- Make Sure Your Next Raise is Bigger than 3%
- How to Network in Just 5 Minutes a Day
- How Making a Friend in HR Can Help Your Career
- 10 Easy Ways to Make Yourself More Hireable
- Your Career is Your Biggest Asset. 5 Ways to Protect It