Cold Calling in Recruiting and Why I Don’t Do It…

A while back, I was listening to a brilliant recruiter named Jennifer McClure, on an internet recruiting talk show.  When Jennifer mentioned that she didn’t cold call, there seemed to be an air of disbelief.  How in the name of Jehoshaphat can you be a recruiter without cold calling?

Well…I don’t cold call either.

*Grumble, grumble, that’s because you’re a corporate recruiter, grumble, grumble*Boiler room call

Sure it is.

The decision not to cold call has little to do with being a corporate recruiter.  Instead, it has everything to do with the fact that I hate receiving cold calls almost as much as I hate making them.

Picture this…you’re sitting at your desk, feeling good, steadily progressing toward your goals.  The phone rings.  “Hi there…this is So and So from Such and Such and I am calling about an amazing opportunity with Who’sHisFace and Associates.  I am wondering if you are interested or perhaps you know someone who is?”

Feels very similar to another situation that involves dinner time and a long distance telephone service.  In fact, some people see recruiting as another form of Spam.

Look…I’m not knocking cold calling.  Lots of recruiters do it and are great at it.  Personally, I am not.  It makes me uncomfortable and I do take no for an answer.  My point isn’t that cold calling is bad.  Only that it’s not the end all be all of recruiting.  I made an exceptional number of hires from outside the company last year and not a single one of them was from a cold call.  Not one.

Instead, I prefer to focus on the relationship.  Every candidate we hire and every qualified person we interview has a stack of friends, coworkers or college buddies.  I’m not going to be sitting there drooling over their contact list.  But, I do make sure that I maintain a relationship with those people I feel are connections to other potential hires.  Maybe at the next conference, my new hire will introduce me to his favorite former coworker.  Instead of standing there ready to pounce with a rundown of our benefits package, I shoot the breeze.  They clearly know who I am and what I do.  If they want to talk about opportunities, I am more than willing.  If not, that’s fine, too.  I’ll see you on Facebook.

Kris Dunn had a great post last year illustrating a “sales funnel” he built.  It starts with 423 total candidates and ends with 9 accepted offers.  An excellent method if you need to fill lots of heads in a very short amount of time.  In my world, however, if I’m looking at 423 people for 9 jobs, I’m pretty much spending my time confirming words on a resume.  This could make the close more difficult as I am not going to have much info other than how much money this person wants.  Plus, it leaves no time to develop the relationship beyond recruiter/new hire.  It’s much easier for me to get passionate to and about someone to whom I have given time and effort.

If you are good at cold calling, I salute you.  You probably make more money than me.  But, I am quite content exceeding my numbers without taking someone away from their Kraft dinner.

FOT Background Check

Jason Pankow
Jason Pankow realized long ago that he wasn’t smart enough to actually program video games and game consoles. So, he found another way to participate! In between bouts of pwning newbs in Halo or scoring mad gamerpoints, Jason spends his time as the Staffing Program Manager for Microsoft’s Devices and Studios Division. Jason’s day is spent running programs that help recruit the obscenely talented developers, designers and engineers that have blessed the world with the likes of Xbox, Kinect and tons of other rad stuff, much of which he can’t tell you about. So, don’t ask. In non-nerd speak…what this means is that Jason has the coolest recruiting job in the world! Look him up as “Satchmo Baggins” on Xbox LIVE. But, watch out for the dreaded headshot!


  1. Phil says:

    Yeah but look at where you work Jason.. You have the name to help drive your recruiting efforts. Most smart people know that there is some prestige to working at a Microsoft, Apple, Google… These are industry leading firms who really know how to take care of their people. You don’t need to cold call because you have hundreds of qualified candidates lined up at your doorstep. I cold call because we have 250 employees and no one knows who we are…
    Just my observations.

  2. Katie says:

    I’m with you Jason – I don’t cold call either. Developing relationships and networking that way goes further for me. A lot of this has to do with personal style – nothing wrong with either.

  3. Phil says:

    I forgot to add to my other comment that I really hate cold calling. I much prefer the networking method. That being said I do find myself with no other avenue to take but to start reaching out in a more proactive manner. I really really hate it though…
    I do believe that social networking is the key to getting away from traditional cold calling.

  4. Pankow says:

    Hey Phil and Katie. Thanks for your comments!
    Phil, I have to differ with you a bit and play my own devil’s advocate. There are groups within Microsoft that will disagree with me. Sometimes, the corporate name can hurt us. People buy into too many myths. Many times, when warm calling, I have received a comment like, “I would rather stick [insert painful object here] into my eye than work for you.” For some groups, in order to meet their hiring goals, they also feel cold calling is necessary.
    But, I 100% agree on Social Media. This is one of my goals for 2009.

  5. jessica lee says:

    i’m with you jason. i not big on cold calling (very frequently, that is) either. i do it if it’s dire, but one of the other reasons i avoid it is to make sure i’m keeping in good graces with my industry competitors. it’s a courtesy and we’re more collegial than that and they repay the favor… if i need a developer though and the developer doesn’t need my industry specific experience, i might be more apt to do it if i’m calling into some other sector… but there are other ways to build your pipeline, of course. just another way to think about the issue…

  6. Pankow says:

    JLee – also agree.
    I should emphasize…I’m not saying people should never cold call. Nor that cold calling totally avoidable. Only that, like you said, Jessica, there are other ways to build your pipeline. People shouldn’t feel that the ability to cold call is the only thing that makes a good recruiter. I would say it’s more of a bonus.

  7. When you have an incredible brand behind you, for example as a Sales Exec, you don’t need to hustle like the Sales Exec who doesn’t. I know Sales Reps who refuse to cold call and will only attempt to sell to ‘warm leads’ provided by the Marketing Department. They’re called ‘Account Managers’ and they normally earn 50% to 100% less than the ‘New Business Development Representatives’. The less technical term is that of a Hunter vs. a Farmer. Each are necessary because Hunters are aggressive and sometimes kill each other off.
    My concern with not cold calling is that the best prospects may not come into the Marketing Department as a lead. Perhaps they don’t even know what you’re selling . . . or why they need it . . . or why it may simply benefit them to take a look. But I digress . . .
    So while I can’t entirely relate . . . perhaps this is a solution: Hire Hunter Recruiters and Farmer Recruiters. Have the Farmers handle incoming resumes and have the Hunters scour the ground for prey at your competition. Hunters want to hunt, and Farmers want to farm, so let them . . .
    Jason, I think you’ve inspired me to a new post! 🙂

  8. Todd Rogers says:

    I suspect that there is a very strong positive correlation between the MS brand and the volume and quality of people who initiate contact with MS. Additionally, with the strength of the MS brand, people who are hired there are probably more than willing to share tons of names of friends, colleagues, etc…with the hope of getting someone in to the Gates family. That shifts a recruiter’s job to be more heavily geared toward selection as opposed to attraction and influence.
    I don’t doubt for one second that you’ve heard phrases such as, “I’d rather work for the devil” on many occaisions. But I bet you probably hear the phrase, “hang on while I close my door” far more often.
    Cold-calling is an art and it takes lots of practice, lots of finesse, a gentle touch, and the ability to know when the cut ways, to name only a few things. I can say with confidence that I sucked at it for more years than I’ve been good at it. But now when I make such calls, I give it about a 95% success of getting a referral, or a good lead. Few people ever display hostility. For those who do, well, “Please accept my apologies for the disruption. If my call or the opportunity is totally unwelcome, please say so right now and I will never bother you again.”

  9. Chris says:

    Cold calling can build your network quickly. Social networking in addition to cold calling makes an effective desk not one or the other.

  10. Jason Davis says:

    This reminds me of a scene in space balls when Dark helment says
    “smoke them if you get’em”
    I think for the rest the people who don’t have the luxury of coming to work with millions of dollars of infrastructure which includes a brand name and a place where people submit resumes, you need to know how to call people on the phone and make them look at things a little different.
    I don’t know any recruiters who work a desk, motivate happily employed people to change jobs without recognizing that cold calling is perhaps the biggest important factor in being successful.
    People who see recruiting by way of cold calling as spam is something that always makes me scratch my head. I mean are we all not interested in something new if it were to prove to be an enhancement over what it is that we do now?
    No disrespect but your post is typical of a corporate recruiting mentality that drives the wedge between agency recruiting and corporate recruiting. Having said this, I know lots of people who work at companies who recognize that the only way to get the great talent (probably they are working when you need them)is to contact them.
    It’s a skill and not everyone is good at it and your line that says “If you are good at cold calling, I salute you. You probably make more money than me.” is probably true but maybe not.

  11. Mari says:

    I enjoy cold calling, and being on the agency side, cold calling is largely the key to success even more so than social networking. Most recruiters who don’t cold call are largely afraid of rejection, and cold calling is not for the faint of heart. My experience has shown me that most people actually appreciate the cold calls, often like to hear what is out in the market and are more often than not very nice people. If they are rude, they probably need a new job. The attitude toward cold calling is largely what separates corporate recruiters from agency recruiters.

  12. Tim Ruef says:

    You’re right; you will get flack and justifiably so.
    The problem with your comments is that they assume a particular approach to “cold calling” which a competent, professional recruiter would never employ. First of all,the initial call would never go to a prospective’s candidate’s home – and particularly not in the evening when the family would be disturbed. You also seem to totally gloss over the fact that there is an appropriate way to quickly introduce one’s self and ask for a time to continue the conversation.
    I don’t know what candidates you are recruiting but in my business, and the level for which I recruit, every candidate we contact is a passive candidate. The vast majority of successful executives genuinely appreciate the contact.

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