Can Cold-Calling Be Taught?

Imagine a world with no files, no computers and no job boards -- just a desk, a phone and a book of yellow pages. Think "Survivor" for recruiters.

What would you do in such an environment? How would you get by? Would you be willing to hunt for candidates and fight off your competitors without the comforts of modern-day technology?

If the answer is yes, you're not alone. In a world of unprecedented information, many recruiters are trending in a totally different direction. They've chosen to work -- and prosper -- in the recruiter's version of the Stone Age. They've found that the candidates they get from job boards, databases, and subscription services are unsuitable. Here are a few reasons why:

1. Insufficient supply. Many candidates with specialized, esoteric or hybridized skill sets stay off the beaten path, and don't tend to register with job boards or put their resumes in global circulation.

2. Overexposure. Highly active candidates often have lots of options when it comes to job opportunities. The more you're in competition with your candidates (and other recruiters who are calling), the less chance you have in terms of realizing a return on your investment in time.

3. Candidate quality. Rightly or wrongly, "active" candidates are often perceived by hiring managers as less desirable than passive candidates who are minding their own business, buried in excellence. The rap on job-board candidates is that they tend to be unemployed, disgruntled or more interested in playing the field than in performing outstanding work at their current jobs.

Frequently, managers who are frustrated with their recruiters' dependency on job boards ask me if I can train their recruiters to go "retro." Their objective is to develop their recruiters' research, networking and cold-calling skills in order to find fresh passive candidates.

Active vs. Passive Recruiters
Have you ever noticed how passive recruiters tend to affiliate with active candidates and active recruiters are always on the lookout for passive candidates? Then it shouldn't surprise you that switching to a totally different recruiting model involves a fundamental change in the recruiter profile. Any time you try to change a mindset, a methodology and a core constituency all at once, you've got your hands full.

That's not to say it can't be done. But before you make the investment in time and effort, consider the differences between active, low-tech recruiting and passive, job-board recruiting:

Commitment. Low-tech recruiters can't rely solely on their current resume inventory or a job board subscription to fill a position. Once you take on a search, you can't cut and run just because you ran out of names.

Resourcefulness. There's more to good detective work than simply entering keywords. Sometimes, it takes unconventional methods such as cold calling, back-door entry or creative cross-referencing to find prospective candidates.

Courage. We're paid the big bucks to do things others can't stomach. If cold calling, being rejected or dealing with disappointment were fun and easy, we'd be out of a job.

I often wish that cold calling was as simple as looking up a phone number and reading from a script. If this were the case, it could easily be taught. The problem is that cold-call recruiting is only one piece of a larger puzzle that involves finding where to look, who to talk to and who to avoid as you navigate your way through various obstacles.

Even more importantly, the ability to recruit the old-fashioned way almost always requires a change of attitude, culture and expectations. Recruiters with an abundance of intestinal fortitude and a healthy dose of street smarts are likely to thrive. In contrast, those looking for low-hanging fruit are likely to end up like the penguins Morgan Freeman describes in his narration of Antarctic survival: sadly, not all of them will make it.

By Bill Radin
 BlackDog Recruiting Software Inc.
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