Hello, stranger: How to use cold introductions to advance your job search

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If you’ve ever gotten an unsolicited phone call from a telemarketer, you know what it’s like to think your time is being wasted by someone who wants something from you. It’s annoying to have people think you have nothing better to do than listen to them talk about why you need a new furnace or why you should support a political candidate. If you need a new furnace or have the notion to back a certain politico, you’ll figure it out on your own. Click.

That’s why the cold sell, whether by phone call or email, is a tricky art to master. You’re asking a total stranger to give you — at the very least — his time. People are busy and don’t part with their time easily.

However, there’s a reason that cold calls and emails are still a big part of the way that companies generate sales leads. If done correctly, they work. This same theory applies to your job search, too — if approached correctly, cold introductions can be a great way to generate leads and develop networking relationships that can help you land a job.

So what’s the right way to make a successful cold introduction? Here are four tips for getting through to people you don’t know:

It’s not about you. “The No. 1 rule [for cold calling] a company: It’s about them, not you,” says Judi Perkins, owner of career coaching firm Find the Perfect Job and former recruiter with 22 years of experience. “If you start and end your call or message by talking about how fabulous you are, you’ll get nowhere. Instead, tie yourself to [the company's mission] by showing how you can benefit them or how you have similar values or philosophies.”

Do this by raising a problem or need the company has or a challenge it is facing in its market, and explain how you can help solve that problem.

If you can’t quickly articulate why the person you are addressing should be interested in what you have to say and how you can advance his cause, you’ll lose his attention.

Make it personal. Don’t just call a company and ask to speak to the human resources department. Find the name of the person you are looking to speak with first.

“There is absolutely no reason for you to start a ‘smile and dial’ campaign without first conducting some research and identifying your contact’s name,” advise Laura Labovich and Miriam Salpeter, co-authors of the upcoming book “100 Conversations for Career Success: Learn to Tweet, Cold-Call and Network Your Way to a Dream Job.” “Finding data about the person via LinkedIn, Twitter or Google+ and uncovering key details will make your conversation more productive.”

Become allies with the phone gatekeepers. “Executive assistants, receptionists and office managers like to play defense for the team they support, protecting them from unnecessary interruptions,” Labovich and Salpeter say. “An authentic request such as: ‘I wonder if you would be willing to help me?’ will go a long way toward getting a gatekeeper on your side. Don’t forget: Get the gatekeeper’s name — and be sure to thank him or her.”

Warm up a cold intro. Before making a call or sending an email, try building connections with people of interest through social media.

Paul Cameron, president and senior technology recruiter at Illinois-based DriveStaff Inc., offers the following advice for getting on the radar of people or companies you’d like to network with:

  • Find them on Twitter and follow them. When they post, comment on their posts and compliment them on their references.
  • Follow their company pages on LinkedIn and Facebook. Once again, comment on and compliment the posts.

“Doing these things shows you are interested in [the company or person], which helps them to be interested in you,” Cameron says. “It gets your name in front of the employer in a positive way, so when you do call, email or meet them, they already know of you and already like you. It helps to eliminate ‘cold’ calls and emails.”

  1. As a former gatekeeper, don’t ask their names. It immediatly puts a person on the defensive, especially if they don’t know what you’ll do with that information. It may be good for the jobseeker but not for the “gatekeeper”. I second the “i’m wondering if you can help me” starter. I wanted to help people who were polite. Also supply them with a name within the company and see if they correct you. It’s worked for me in the past.

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