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Your Career Q&A: Make the Most of Cold Calls

A person is using a telephone to make a call.

​Best-selling author Martin Yate, a career coach and former HR professional, takes your questions each week about how to further your career in HR. Contact him at the e-mail address at the end of this column.

I'm having problems getting back to work after being laid off due to the coronavirus. I have been using all the passive and active job-search tactics you write about, especially doing the research and approaching directly. This sounds great in theory, but I seem to get almost nothing but rejection, and it's killing my motivation. Am I missing something?

I've written about the need for a range of job-search approaches, always stressing that each approach be part of a comprehensive plan of attack with the goal of speaking with hiring managers and recruiters as often and quickly as you can. That requires us to do things we may not be naturally talented in, such as talking to strangers about job openings, which can make us nervous or downright terrified.

When you do the research and direct approach correctly, you'll find the companies and contact information for most of the hiring managers and recruiters within your target geography. You'll be able to identify all the possible employers in your field within commuting distance. This gives you far more choice and a range of opportunities while allowing you to bypass endless job boards.

With a little research, you can usually find contacts in your network who work or have worked at those target companies—giving you inside information and sometimes an introduction to a hiring manager or recruiter. There is usually more than one person worth speaking to at any company, so use your networking contacts to identify the highest-value names and titles. These are usually people who hold the titles one to three levels above your own.

Then you start making phone calls. Have more than one goal in mind when you make these calls. By no means will you get an interview from everyone you call, so prepare other questions you can ask, as well. To use a fishing analogy, you cast one line and so can catch only one fish at a time. But if you cast multiple lines (in other words, ask questions), then you multiply your chances of getting bites (job leads).

Making Contact

When you make contact, introduce yourself briefly and succinctly. You can use the professional summary you built into your resume as a template, because the advice I gave you in that post ensures that you will hit the important skills managers look for when hiring. When you finish explaining your reason for calling (usually within 45 seconds), you can ask:

  • "I'm looking to make a change and I admire your company. I wondered if you had any openings right now?" Have a reason ready to explain why you wanted to make a change and chose that company. If the answer is no, don't give up; cast another line into the water.
  • "When might you have new needs? May I keep in touch every couple of months? I'm impressed with the things I hear about the company, and I don't want to miss out on an opportunity." Almost everyone will say OK, and you can call again every six to seven weeks.

Most people will help you if they can, just as you would help others if the situation were reversed, so keep casting lines into the water:

  • "May I send you my resume in case the situation changes?"
  • "Do you know of anyone else within the company who might have use for someone with my skills and dedication?"
  • "Do you know anyone at [name company] who might have a need for someone with my skills and commitment?"
  • "Do you know anyone at other companies in the area who might have a need for someone with my skills?"
  • "If you are looking for someone with other skills right now, please tell me; I might know of someone and be able to give you lead."
  • "Who do you know is hiring right now?"

Each question increases your chances of turning that call into a success. You naturally multi-task aspects of your job when you can; this is how the headhunter multi-tasks every day of the week. It works. Integrate these tactics with your direct research and approach and other approaches I recommend, and with all these lines you've cast, you'll have more successful days and a much shorter transition.

Have a question for Martin about advancing or managing your career? From big issues to small, please feel free to e-mail your queries to We'll only publish your first name and city, unless you prefer to remain anonymous—just let us know.