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How to Contact Recruiting Sources Over the Phone

Dealing With Secretaries and Switchboards

Switchboard operators are often the first line of inquiry when you call into a company. Some switchboard operators will talk freely about executives in their firm, while others will be very suspicious and might even transfer you directly to your target. Therefore, it is very important to be prepared for the worst. Also keep in mind that when you have made it through the switchboard, you can probe anywhere in a company for information. Be aware that you can get any information you want as long as you have what it takes: persistence, smarts, the right personality, and the requisite set of skills.

Some Basic Rules
  1. Try to get the direct extension of the potential candidate and not his or her secretary's.

  2. A Sound self-confident; be decisive when talking to the secretary.

  3. Be put through by a colleague if possible.

  4. Tell the secretary that you are seeking Mr. or Ms. X's assistance due to his or her great network in the field, to find someone for a position (you only say this line if you are being asked).

  5. Call the candidate later in the evening or early in the morning when the secretary might not be in.
There will always be several people who do not call you back. To make sure that you do not waste your time when calling, make it a rule to cover all the names on your call list at least once. Then start from the beginning again and go for round number two.

Stop approaching people after leaving two messages if they have not called you back. They are blind shots and are not worth pursuing-you want motivated people as well as qualified. Most likely they are not interested in the opportunity you are presenting. But, if for some reason you know that someone is extremely appealing, you can always go a little further. If you compare it to fishing, you know that sometimes you have to fight a little harder for the big ones. But it is worth it if you catch one.

Direct Telephone Contact (Some Rules)

When you get through to the source or to potential candidates, keep in mind that these people probably get a lot of calls from people like you.

So you have to grab their attention quickly. When you speak, be as positive as possible about the assignment. Keep in mind that attitude is as important as presentation. The opening dialog could contain the following information:
  • Name
  • Executive search consultant or in charge of recruitment at Company X
  • Currently looking for a director of manufacturing
  • Build up a personal relationship in the first few sentences
  • Be short and direct; don't waste the candidate's time with explanations.
  • Be aware that you have something to offer.
After the pitch, ask if the person would like to hear more, based on the brief information. If you feel that the person could be a candidate, mention to her that she has been highly recommended, which is why you are calling. Keep in mind that most people like to be flattered.

At this point, explain that you have heard great things, but you do not know details of her background. Before she gets a chance to answer, state the basic requirements for the position that you are looking to fill. Then pause, because this is when you will get the feedback that lets you know whether the person is a possible candidate.

By this firm and direct approach you will, after a maximum of three to five minutes, know if you want to continue talking to the candidate. If you sense a potential fit, your time on stage has come and the work begins. You now not only must describe and sell the opportunity, but also get as much information as possible about the individual. This should be done by calling her at home after work. If she appears to be on target and is open to listening, keep in mind that most candidates will not say yes in the first three minutes of the conversation, as switching jobs is not like buying dinner. As this is the starting point of a relationship, you have to be the prospect's friend throughout the process. With this attitude, you will be well respected even by the ones you reject.

When You Are Unsure of the Candidate

If you do not know beforehand whether your contact is a source (i.e., someone who can recommend names to call) or a prospect (i.e., a potential candidate), you might close your pitch with some of these questions:
  1. "Do you know anyone who might be qualified and interested in something like this?"
  2. "Is this an opportunity that would be appropriate for someone with your background?"
  3. "Would you be interested in learning more about this opportunity?"
  4. "The next step would be for us to get some information on your background. Can we do that while we're on the phone right now?"
Repeat anything that is not clear. Try the statement, "My understanding of what you are saying is..." or "Am I understanding you correctly when you say...?" Very often, the person you are speaking to might not have a resume. If such is the case, ask him or her to prepare one. At the same time, keep in mind that the best way to get the information you need accurately and quickly is to get it over the phone. This is typically the best way to sketch someone's background.

Whenever a source refers someone, always ask for permission to use the source's name. Do not use the name if you are not sure that doing so is all right with the source. It is better to call the source back, just to double-check that you have permission. The source should certainly appreciate your conscientiousness about a matter as important as using his or her name.

You should also know that if you already have the names of prospects, sources are usually more forthcoming than if they must give the names. Ask the source to rank them and to tell you who is bad and who is good. This procedure works well with sources who just left a company or are still there.

In order to determine if you are dealing with the right candidates, you need to know where in the organization they stand. Therefore, it is important that you flesh out the organizational chart and clarify reporting relationships. You should ask your prospect for the titles of:
  1. His or her boss
  2. The boss's boss
  3. All direct reports and the number of people reporting to each of them
  4. Peers reporting to the same boss
If a candidate is not interested in the opportunity you present, always find out why. It may be something that can be dispelled. If not, source him for other potential candidates. If neither, leave your name and telephone number-always try if possible to get information on him or her for future reference. No matter what the outcome is, always be polite and understanding. Most likely you will need to speak to your contact again at a later point.