Successfully Mining the “Hidden Job Market”

Cold calling companies of interest is one of the most effective strategies a job seeker can employ

By Donald J. Strankowski
Ascend Career and Life Strategies

I am often asked the question, which job search strategy–all things considered–is the single most effective method?  The answer is simple and also holds true for any economic condition: cold calling companies of interest.

Over the years in my professional career, I have personally employed this strategy with much success.  As a former sales executive in consumer products and high tech, I made a living on getting past gatekeepers and closing business by reaching key decision makers and presenting my products as a solution to address their businesses needs.  Before starting my own career management company, I gained my last two corporate positions by cold calling companies I was interested in working for.  And in my current coaching practice, the majority of my clients land a position by proactively contacting the companies they are most interested in working for.  Cold calling works!  

Why is cold calling so effective?  Because according the U.S. Department of Labor, 70-80 percent of all available jobs are never advertised.  Companies will almost always try to fill a position by looking internally or by word-of-mouth before placing an ad in a newspaper, online, or even contacting a recruiter.  Take initiative and tap into the “hidden job market” by contacting companies before their job listings go public.  You can greatly increase your chances for success by limiting your competition and taking a proactive approach. 

Cold calling isn’t as scary as it sounds.  Realize that when you make a cold call, you’re doing the employer a favor.  First, you’re saving the company time. You’re decreasing the time required for a new hire to be approved, reducing months of paperwork in human resources, weeks of advertising, and weeks — even months — of interviews to choose a candidate.  Secondly, you’re reducing funds spent on productivity lost when between one and seven managers have to take time out of their regular workdays to interview potential hires. You’ll also save the company costs for advertising in newspapers, magazines, the Internet, and trade-publications.  Hiring is very expensive!

Before you begin to cold call, do some research on companies of interest based on your own personal criteria.  Some areas for consideration might be company size, industry, particular product line, geography, work environment, values, etc.  The Internet, local newspapers, specialty newspapers, and especially the local public library can offer a plethora of information regarding fast-growing, progressive companies in your area.  Assemble a target list of 50-100 companies and then reassemble this list in descending order of importance so your number one prospect, the company you would really like to work for, is at the top of the list.  When you begin the cold calling process however, I recommend starting out the bottom of your list.  Get in your “practice swings” so you can perfect your delivery and work out any bugs (or butterflies) before you start calling your top prospects.

In advance of your call, make sure you have scripted out what you are going to say–in bullet-style.  This way it won’t come across like you are “reading it directly” if you are stating your case via phone.  Also, rehearse it few times so the delivery is smooth. Some employers are so disarmed by a cold caller’s guts that they can’t say no. Others will have no problem turning you down. The reality is that the vast majority of employers are likely to say no. However, when you consider the chances of gaining interviews through help-wanted newspaper ads and online, the odds for cold calling are a vast improvement. You must prepare for and expect rejection; toughen your skin and don’t give up.

When the hiring manager comes on the line address them by their surname (find out beforehand), and then introduce yourself by name. Then, suggest that working at (company name) in a (position seeking) capacity would be a good fit for you and them based on your personal observations, their needs, and your research about the company.

Then briefly, in perhaps 30 seconds, describe your top skills and personal strengths, a brief description of your experience and why you’re interested in working for Company X.  Then ask, “How can I help your organization?”  I call this 30 second dialogue the “Elevator Pitch.” If they say “yes”, set up an interview time, repeat it, and repeat your name.

As mentioned, prepare for rejection and “not interested” type responses.  It’s a good idea to pencil out any possible objections and have a corresponding response ready to go.  This is a sales call; you are the product and are creating or uncovering the need.  In selling, most sales are closed after the ninth or tenth “NO.” To leave the door open, try:

  • Are there any other departments within your organization that I might want to contact?
  • Which other companies would you recommend I be talking to?
  • When can I call you back?
  • May I buy you lunch or coffee sometime?

Always remember to thank the interviewer or contact whether they gave you a job lead or not and follow-up with a hand written thank you note, mailed that same day.

Remember, you have nothing to lose when cold calling.  Be confident!  If one door closes within a particular organization, there is usually another one open.  Maybe you just haven’t spoken to the right person or department yet.  Maybe the person you spoke with is having a bad day or is preoccupied with another matter.  Keep persisting until you have exhausted all possible avenues then, when you feel if you have made every attempt to gain a foothold in this organization and have still come up empty, drop them off the list and move on.

Cold-calling companies of interest is one of the most effective job search methods a person can utilize.  Just get over the fear of picking up the phone and calling or meeting people you don’t know.  Expect yourself to be less than perfect, especially in the early going.  In a short time and with a little practice, you will develop the confidence required to deliver a smooth cold call.

Donald J. Strankowski Jr. is founder and president of Ascend Career and Life Strategies, a career management firm for businesses, professionals, executives.  He works out of Boulder, Colorado and can be contacted at 303-245-7049, via email at [email protected], or on the web at
Just Published!  Get Hired!  10 Simple Steps for Wining the Job You Desire—in Any Economyby Donald J. Strankowski
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