How can a shy guy improve his cold calling in order to get a job?
November 18, 2008 11:02 AM   Subscribe

I am out of work and have decided try something new in my job search. I have started cold-calling potential employers in my industry. Now, the thing is . . I'm pretty shy, not a salesman type at all. Calling up strangers in order to promote myself is not something that comes naturally to me. How can I make cold-calling work for me?

(I'm looking for a job as a legal secretary or a paralegal. Forgot to mention that.)

Here are some things I'm already aware of:

*It's going to take a lot of persistence.

*Upwards of 98.5 percent of the calls won't pan out.

*Some employers I contact will choose to react rudely. I've made my peace with that. I can deal with it.

*The job market really bites right now.

So . . if you have any tips on what I can do to make my cold-calling more effective, please let me know. If you've been in my position, what did you learn from the experience? If you have any personal anecdotes to share or other sources of information -- books, websites, etc -- to recommend, I'd be forever in your debt. Many thanks in advance.
posted by jason's_planet to Work & Money (20 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
The only tip I can give you from my cold-calling experience (sales) is not to be vague in an attempt to get someone in higher management on the phone. What I mean is, don't give the receptionist for the HR a line to get to talk to the actual HR. You'll just piss him or her off and get yourself hung up on.

Be honest, be sincere.
posted by aleahey at 11:09 AM on November 18, 2008 [2 favorites]

When I was a kid, I hated even calling up to order a pizza. So I wrote out a script complete with pauses and um's and uh's.

I did this about a month ago when I was helping a co-worker out to call people to be part of an audience.

The first 3 calls I did were pretty awkward and I sped through the script, but as I made more calls, I didn't use the script but still had it there as a security blanket.

I also wrote it in pencil so I could erase stuff that sounded weird once I actually said it out loud.

Also, would you consider working in New Jersey? Since the market is bad now, as you said, it might be worth a try. Somewhere along the PATH, maybe.
posted by spec80 at 11:11 AM on November 18, 2008 [2 favorites]

I consider myself shy, and I got a job at a call centre. It wasn't all that easy to start with, but after - literally - about three calls I completely got the hang of it. After six months in that job I was named employee of the month.

I know your first call is going to be nerve-wracking, but believe me, it only gets easier from that point onwards.
posted by hnnrs at 11:27 AM on November 18, 2008

Make sure you really research the company/agency/firm so that you can give a strong statement of why you want to work there. It might be helpful to approach the calls not from an i-need-a-job standpoint, but rather an I-really-want-to-work-for-YOU one. That way, instead of potentially sounding desperate, you come off as a go-getter. Tell them why you want to work for their company, what you like about it, how you feel you'd be an asset, etc. Be succinct and to the point, and make every word count--you don't want to ramble on.

I'm sure you know how important networking is, and is actually a good place to do it. I unintentionally stumbled upon a meet-up group for members of my profession, and that helped a lot when I was looking for my job.

Good luck!
posted by catwoman429 at 11:33 AM on November 18, 2008 [2 favorites]

I wouldn't spend time cold calling for a job. I think your time would be spent much better networking. Make a list of everybody you know and make sure they know that you are looking for a job. Connect with anybody that you know that might have connections with the legal industry and meet up with them for coffee or whatever. Look for meetups or other events where office managers for law firms may congregate and attend. Cold calling has a low success rate for sales, probably even lower for job hunting. You need that "in" that only comes from a personal connection to set yourself apart from the other 100 people that wsant the same job.

Good luck!
posted by COD at 11:41 AM on November 18, 2008

Are there any temp agencies for paralegals or legal secretaries?
posted by barnone at 11:48 AM on November 18, 2008

One thing I've heard repeatedly, and seems to work from trying it myself is: if you can, don't just sit there with the phone, get up and walk around. It sounds more natural on the receiving end, and the pacing can help walk-off issues with nervousness.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 12:17 PM on November 18, 2008

I would actually recommend that you NOT cold call law firms. This field is extremely traditional and people are generally really busy, even the HR folks. I would sign up with temp and temp-to hire agencies instead.
posted by onepapertiger at 12:24 PM on November 18, 2008

Response by poster: I would sign up with temp and temp-to hire agencies instead.

Been there. Done that. Bought the t-shirt.

The only thing that dealing with temp agencies got me was an endless stream of opportunities to do more dead-end temp work.

And even that's dried up. So there's no more point in talking to them. I'll probably have to lean on them for survival money at some point but putting my future in the hands of semi-literate temp-pimps is a complete fucking waste of my time.

The point being -- I've tried that and it didn't work. It's time to do something different, even if that something doesn't pay off immediately.
posted by jason's_planet at 12:44 PM on November 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

I used to do this and I was more successful when it was less about trying to sell myself and more of just an enquiry. Ask what the employment situation is like? what are they working on? what sort of people are they looking for? if they arent hiring have they heard around of places that are? Sometimes you can end up having a 15 minute little chat about the industry in general.

It might depend on what industry your in, this was design kind of jobs, I imagine for a lot of other jobs they are going to want you to sell yourself more.
posted by phyle at 12:53 PM on November 18, 2008

I hate cold calling, but it's a useful skill to have and practice makes perfect. Even if you don't get a job from it, you will hopefully be more comfortable cold calling for other business purposes in the future.

I'd sign up with and network with everyone and their brother that is a 'real' link to you. Check for job listings that are published there.

I think a lot of companies are going to forgo headhunters in the near term in order to save money. I know we are depending more on networking, craigslist and linkedin for finding new employees.

Get yourself in front of people who may be hiring (e.g. any legal seminars, the PLI talks, events run by law firms).

Set up google news alerts for companies or people you are interested in.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 1:18 PM on November 18, 2008

Research the heck out of the place you are calling then call to ask for an informational interview.
posted by anastasiav at 1:21 PM on November 18, 2008

Another thing you might try is reaching out through your alumni network and cold-calling those people. I find that people are much more willing to help if they have even a slight connection to you.
posted by rmless at 1:27 PM on November 18, 2008

I never realized until the last time I was out of work how well networking works. People like to be in a position to give help and/or advice-- it's a power thing.

I knew a guy who knew a woman who knew someone in my field. I got introduced, and asked that person if we could get together and talk about the job market in this area. Nothing came of it then, but later on they called me up to do some filling in work, which led to two part-time jobs in different departments of the institution. While not an ideal situation, it kept me in food and electricity for a while.

So yeah, follow your leads. Ask for recommendations for other people to talk to, and meet in person if you can.
posted by cereselle at 1:47 PM on November 18, 2008

Don't bother with HR. Find out who manages the department you want to work in and contact that person directly.

You probably won't get anywhere asking for work, but people do like to help other people so try to get an informational interview instead. I understand you may not be in a position to hire right now and I appreciate how valuable your time is. I have a few questions about the industry though and you've been mentioned as somebody that really knows there stuff. Would you be able to give me five minutes at whatever time would be most convenient for you?

When you meet with them, make sure that you know exactly what you want to ask them and that you are very respectful of their time.

At the end of any informational interview ask for other referrals. Thank you for your time. It's been very helpful. I like what I've seen of , and I'd very much like to work for you. Are you planning to hire at any point in the near future, or do you know of anybody who might be or anybody who might be as willing to help out an up and comer as you've proven to be?

Note that asking for an interview or an informational interview will work TONS better if you can mention who referred the person to you, so work your network to its maximum. I agree with people up-thread who said that networking will be a much better use of your time than cold-calling.

I assume you were trained as a paralegal or legal secretary. Does your school have any programs to assist former students with finding work? If they don't, are you friendly with any of your instructors. They may be able to give you your first round of referrals. Hit up anybody you were in class with as well.

Good Luck

posted by willnot at 2:17 PM on November 18, 2008 [2 favorites]

Well, you can do whatever you want, but all I'm trying to point out to you is that cold-calling is a pretty awful idea because law firms are insanely busy, high stress places and God help you if you piss an attorney (or hiring partner) off by bothering him/her while he/she is working. They don't care about how desperate or needy you are. It is not going to impress them that you decided not to follow protocol and cold call every law firm under the sun.

You could also join your area paralegal association. And I'm guessing your hostility towards the account execs at temp agencies isn't going to help you find a job any faster.
posted by onepapertiger at 7:47 PM on November 18, 2008

I have no advice specifically about the call, but I would target bankruptcy law firms. I would check the website to find the partner in charge of the bankruptcy department and call him with the hope you get his secretary. Explain to her/him you are looking for a job and ask her if she can give you some advice or the contact information for the person in charge of hiring the paralegals. Also ask her if she knows anyone at other firms who might be able to help.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:47 PM on November 18, 2008

I never realized until the last time I was out of work how well networking works. Ask for recommendations for other people to talk to. careselle

This tactic works wonders, even if you're cold-calling. Ideally, if you get somebody that is willing to chat about basic information you can get a couple of names and numbers, either inside or outside their organization. That way, you're next call starts:

"Hi, my name is jason's_planet. I'm researching paralegal jobs in my job search and John Doe suggested I contact you." - Oh, okay.

You've introduced yourself, told them why you're calling, and established a familiar contact.

"I'm a trained paralegal and I know your firm works on bankruptcies. I wonder if you have a moment to tell me about your firm and your experience as a paralegal?"

Demonstrate a basic understanding about what they do and immediately respect their time. If yes, great! You've got them talking and can learn something, perhaps whether they have any openings. If no:

"Well, thanks for taking my call. Do you know anyone that might be a good resource to talk to about work as a paralegal?"

Keep it simple and unobtrusive. Ask for information, not a job - yet.

Good luck!
posted by GPF at 7:25 AM on November 19, 2008 [2 favorites]

If it makes you feel more at ease, you could call and tell them you'd like to set up an informational interview. Those are interviews that aren't directly about getting a job (indirectly, certainly) but to find out more about the company and industry. Of course, in the process of talking to them face-to-face you can tell them you're thinking of working in the industry and do they have any openings. Talking in person beats a cold call.
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 10:28 AM on November 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

Specifically on cold calling - you should have a basic script that feels natural to you, almost memorized, and also some nominal knowledge of the unique characteristics of the firms you call. Never speak for longer than 15 seconds before you ask a question.

have you ever heard of the "elevator pitch?" just google it, and I'd use that to model any cold calls you do. Cold calls suck but don't take them personally, remember they are cold, which equals absolutely not personal.
posted by RajahKing at 11:15 AM on March 29, 2009

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