How to Handle the Phone: A Life Skill
by Kate Wendleton
I wrote to Betty, a senior HR executive whom I have known for years, asking her to be on a panel addressing about 100 other executives. A few days later, I called her office. Her assistant, Jeb, said he could see someone in her doorway talking to her, and he would ask her to call me. Betty didn’t call: She’s a very busy lady, and I never expected a return call. When I called again that afternoon, I joked with Jeb, asking him if there was someone still standing in Betty’s doorway. I asked him not to interrupt his boss because I understood how busy she was, but he said he would buzz her anyway, and I then spoke to her.
This is the way it works in everyday life. When you’re making routine work-related phone calls or calling your friends, if they don’t return your call, you assume that they’re busy. And you think nothing of calling them again if you really want to talk to them. But when you’re job hunting, you assume they don’t call back because they don’t want to talk to you. You become fearful of rejection. Unfortunately, you cannot get a job unless you actually meet with people—usually lots of people. And it’s difficult to get those meetings without using the telephone.
What should you say first? What if they don’t answer? What if they do answer? And, yes, in this day of voicemail, things are certainly more complicated.
I had no trouble calling Betty. But when I have to recruit speakers I have never met, I dread making those calls even though prospective speakers are usually flattered.
Making follow-up phone calls is the part of the job-search process people tend to dislike the most. Yet, the calls must be made:
- As a follow-up to a letter asking for a meeting – the most common reason for making a call
- As a follow-up after an interview
- As part of your research to find out the name of the right person to contact.
In this article, we’ll cover how to ask for a meeting.
The greatest mistake you can make in life is to be continually fearing you will make one. — Elbert Hubbard
The Set-Up: Usually by Email or Letter
An email or letter followed by a phone call is effective because most executives do not like to be caught off guard. They want to know what your phone call is about. If you have been following The Five O’Clock Club process, you have been contacting people through networking or targeted mailings (via email or snail-mail). “Networking” means that you are using the name of someone else to help you get the meeting: “John Doe suggested I contact you because he thought you could give me the advice I need.”
A targeted mailing differs from networking because you are not using someone else’s name. Instead, you create a tie-in to that person. You may write, for example, “I have been following your organization for some time and noticed that your international sales have been dropping. I’d like to talk to you about that.” or “Congratulations on your new position!”
Whether you are writing a letter using someone else’s name or establishing your own connection with that person, the last paragraph of your letter says: “I will call you in a few days.”
Most people find it difficult to make those follow-up phone calls after having written to someone.
Learning the Art of Calling
To get the meeting you want, you will have to pick up the phone.
What should you say first? What if they don’t answer? What if they do answer? And, yes, in this day of voicemail, things can certainly be more complicated.
You’ll have to practice to become good at your follow-up phone calls. This means tracking results and outcomes. Observe what is working and what is not. Modify your script to suit yourself and the situation at hand. You will soon learn to think on your feet and get that meeting or a referral to someone else—without annoying people. But this comes with repetition and practice.
I am a great believer, if you have a meeting, in knowing where you want to come out before you start the meeting. Excuse me if that doesn’t sound very democratic.
Before you make that call—even before you write that letter—be sure you know the purpose of your call and what you want to get out of it. If you have unclear goals, you are less likely to accomplish anything worthwhile.
You may be calling to get:
- an in-office meeting with the person, unless the person is in a distant city;
- a phone meeting if that is the only reasonable option; or
- the name of a person who may be appropriate for you to talk to—if the person you’re calling is himself at simply too high a level or in a different area.
“May I have Mr. Jones call you back?”
“No, thanks. I’ll be in and out a lot myself. I’ll call him back later. When would be a good time for me to call?”
Keep control of this process. If you say to your group, “I’ve left four messages and they haven’t called me back,” your group will say, “Stop leaving messages.” Instead it’s your responsibility to put in the effort to make the connection happen eventually.
Become Friends with the Assistant
A long time ago, I wanted to meet with the person in charge of outplacement coaching at a Fortune 10 company. Even with research, I could not uncover the name of that person. So I wrote to Kevin Altria, the head of human resources, knowing that he was inappropriate because he was too senior. I didn’t need to get in to see Kevin or even speak to him. I just wanted him to refer me on. Then, when I contacted the appropriate person, I would be able to use Kevin’s name.
So, before I finished the letter, I called Kevin’s assistant to get her name (Jane) so I could include it in the letter, and to tell her to watch for it.
I followed the Five O’Clock Club format for cover letters. In the opening paragraph to Kevin, I wrote, “I know you’re not the right person for me to contact, but I assume you know who’s in charge of outplacement coaching at your firm. I’d like to tell that person something about myself and find out more about your company’s outplacement department.”
Paragraph two was my summary about myself. Paragraph three, the bulleted accomplishments. In the closing paragraph, I said, “I will call Jane in a few days to find out who you suggest I contact.”
But there’s more. On my letter, I put a sticky note saying, “Jane, this is the letter I told you about.” When Jane opened her boss’s mail, she saw my note with her name on it. She took the letter in to her boss, and got the information I needed. Then I called Jane back (by now, we’re friends) and I said, “Hi Jane, this is Kate Wendleton again. I’m following up about the letter that I sent your boss.” And she said, “We sent your letter on to Sylvia Norwood, who is in charge of outplacement here.” I never had to bother Jane’s boss.
At this point, I could have simply called Sylvia. But I didn’t want anything to go wrong, so I wrote to Sylvia and said, “Kevin Altria suggested I contact you.” This was my standard letter. And again, I followed the routine of finding out Sylvia’s assistant’s name (Jason) and using the sticky note. So, when I called back, I talked directly to Jason again and asked him to help me set up a meeting with Sylvia.
Notice that I don’t use the assistant as a messenger, asking him simply to tell Sylvia that I called. Instead, I want the assistant to be my ally. I tell Jason a little about my background, why I want to meet with Sylvia, and ask Jason to pass that information on to her. Sometimes, it may take five or six talks with the assistant to set something up. Eventually, Jason said, “Sylvia’s very busy, and she manages her own calendar, but I’ll get her to talk to you.”
This is a slow but fairly sure approach for getting in to see appropriate senior-level people. I had a two-hour meeting with Sylvia and was referred on to excellent people in the field.
Very senior people tend to have very smart assistants on whom they rely. So I can “pitch” to an assistant and ask him to make sure the boss sees my letter. And I don’t try to meet with people who are inappropriate for me to see, irritating them and wasting their time.
- Have goals for your phone calls.
- Develop an outline of what you want to say.
- Practice to become smooth and natural.
What Are Your Back-Up Plans?
Sometimes you will not get what you want. Perhaps the person is in the middle of a major project right now, or sees herself as an inappropriate person for you to talk to. You can still get something out of the conversation. You can at least try the following tactics:
• Determine when the person may have more time to schedule a meeting with you. The manager may have said to you: “We’re in the midst of a crisis;” “The next month is murder for me;” or “We’re reorganizing. I don’t even know what’s going to happen. The dust isn’t going to settle for three months.”
Try to book something. “How about if we schedule something for a month from now? I’ll call you ahead of time to confirm.” Or—in the worst case—“May I call you back in [a month] to see if the situation has changed?”
• Get other names. For example, the manager may have said, “I’m leaving the organization in a few weeks;” “This department doesn’t concentrate on that;” or “We don’t use financial people in this department.”
You can say, “Can you direct me to others in your organization you think would be appropriate for me to talk with?”
For most people, getting in to see a specific, appropriate person is not easy and requires a high degree of motivation. It must be important to you or you will not think of the right things to say and you will give up too quickly. Do you want a meeting with this person or not? If not, go back to the Targeting book and rethink what you want to do with your life.
Why should a person meet with you now just because you wrote to them? You’re sitting by the phone, but they’re busy.
It’s a Self-Selection Process
You wrote a letter. Why should a person meet with you—and meet with you now—just because you wrote them a letter now? Not only are they busy with their jobs, but personal things come up: There’s been a death in the family; he’s suffering from the flu; she’s on vacation; she is out of the country 90% of the time.
You’re sitting by the phone, but they’re busy.
Part of getting meetings is a self-selection process: you decide how important this meeting is to you, and you put in effort to the extent that you want it to happen. Five O’Clock Club research shows that it takes an average of eight follow-up phone calls to land a meeting. The research also shows that the more senior level the person, the more calls you will have to make. Senior-level people travel a lot or are in meetings, they are difficult to track down, and returning your call is not the most important thing on their “to do” list. If you really want to see them, prove it by your effort. You can show your interest without irritating them, such as when you acknowledge, “I’m sure you must be very busy. . .”
It’s a self-selection process. If meeting with this person is important to you, put in the effort.
One Five O’Clock Clubber—a senior-level marketing executive—sent targeted mailings to twenty important, high-profile people. He got in to see people like Craig McCaw of McCaw Cellular and John Kluge, one of the richest men in America. On average, this process required fifteen follow-up phone calls—fifteen conversations with assistants. He met with approximately half the people on his list. He ended up spending four hours with Craig McCaw at Newark Airport—that was the only mutually convenient place they could arrange. His search was very successful, but he also understood that he needed to prove to these in-demand people that it was important that they meet. By the way, he spent four days preparing for his meeting with Craig McCaw.
Busy and important people must have their calls screened or they would never get their work done. On the other hand, part of their job is to look at new talent, make sure they don’t miss someone, and keep up with what is happening in the industry.
It takes an average of eight follow-up phone calls to get a meeting. The more senior the person, the more calls it takes. But leave a message only once.
How can an important person decide with whom he should meet? Part of that person’s decision is how important the meeting is to you. Have you done your homework? Do you know how to talk to his assistant? Do you make a good pitch to the assistant? Do you call back frequently, but without becoming a burden? You have to break through the clutter of all the other people vying for a place on his calendar.
When I was in my early 30s, living in Philadelphia, I had my day job, but loved artwork and art museums. I was at the Philadelphia Museum of Art every single Sunday, did a lot of volunteer work there, and I knew a lot about that museum. It was announced that Jean Boggs, who was at Harvard, was going to come in as the new head of the museum. I wanted to see Jean Boggs because I had so many ideas for that museum.
Would I be able to network in to see her? Not a chance. No one in Philadelphia would have introduced “Kate who?” to Jean Boggs. Instead, I wrote to Jean Boggs at Harvard six months before she was scheduled to come to Philadelphia. I said essentially, “You and I should meet. I have a lot of interest in the museum and a lot of ideas.” By the way, this too is not networking (using someone else’s name to get in). This is called “direct contact,” a very effective technique, especially when you want to see someone very senior.
Then a month before Jean was to arrive at the museum, I wrote to her again saying, “Do you remember me? I know you’re coming to Philadelphia in a month and when you get here I think you and I should meet.” A little arrogant of me!
When she got to Philadelphia, I wrote to her a third time and I said, in so many words, “Hi, it’s me again. I know you’ve arrived and I still want to see you.”
When she got to Philadelphia, I was so persistent in making those follow-up phone calls — and not leaving messages for her to call me — that poor Jean Boggs eventually agreed to meet with me. I was passionate about the museum, so these calls were easy despite my shyness.
When I met with Jean, I was enthusiastic and had plenty of ideas. She graciously had granted me15 minutes, and then took me down the hall to meet Noble Smith who actually ran the museum on a day-to-day basis. I had a great meeting with Noble and he came up with a project for me. I worked with about 20 people who were on staff, shared my ideas, and we implemented a lot of them. I actually got paid a small amount so I could say that I was a paid consultant.
Although I have always been shy, I’ve managed to meet with anyone I’ve ever targeted. Who was I to get in to see Jean Boggs? I was just a lowly volunteer with no connections. I didn’t have great credentials in the art area. I simply wanted to see someone for what I thought was a good reason, I wrote a letter using no one else’s name, and I followed up – a lot. Being successful in a targeted mailing has to do with being sincerely interested, doing a fair amount of research, contacting the right person, and not being put off when you make those follow-up phone calls.
If I’m afraid of making 20 follow-up phone calls, the good news is that only two people will actually be there!
The Follow-Up Call
You must make those follow-up phone calls. Don’t leave a message saying that you called and hope they’ll call you back. Instead, say to the assistant, “I don’t want to leave a message for Ms. Boggs to call me. I’m going to be in and out a lot myself, so I’ll call her back.”
Do Not Leave Your Phone Number
If you leave two or three messages asking them to call you back and they don’t call, you are stuck. Instead, stay in control. Leave one message saying that you called, and then keep calling until you reach them.
The first time you call, you can leave a message saying, “Hi, this is Jane Doe. I wrote you a note, and I’d like to meet with you.” And repeat some of the pitch you made in your note. Have your note in front of you. You can even say, “I’ll call you back, but my phone number – just so you have it – is 222-555-3456.”
But after that, don’t leave messages for them to call you. You must call them back. Don’t complain to your group, “I’ve left three messages but they haven’t call me back.” You shouldn’t expect it or complain about it. Hiring managers have their “9 to 5” obligations and plenty of people who want to get in to see them. They don’t have time to drop everything and call you back. You screen yourself in by doing your research, by doing those follow-up phone calls, and by becoming friends with the manager’s assistant.
Case Study: Philip
His 28 Follow-Up Phone Calls
Philip, a Five O’Clock Clubber in his 60s, landed three offers from Fortune 500 companies. But this might not have happened. When he had made his 27th call to one of the companies, he said to himself, “My ego can’t take this anymore.”
But Philip made a “research” call to the purchasing department where he thought there was an opening, and asked for the purchasing manager, the job he was hoping to get. The person who answered the phone said, “I’m sorry we don’t have a purchasing manager right now. Maybe I could help you.” So he knew the job was still open. He called the hiring manager for the 28th time, and the hiring manager said, “Thank you so much for being persistent.” That’s normally what happens. As long as you don’t leave messages for them to call you back, they’re usually apologetic when you finally get to talk to them.
If it takes an average of eight follow-up phone calls, some job hunters have to call some people 20 or 30 times to get a meeting. You can call lots of times – so long as you don’t leave messages or ask to be called back. You know how it is: you get voicemail. Just hang up and call later.
It’s a Mental Game
Very few job hunters enjoy doing follow-up phone calls. I’ve always disliked doing them. But my attitude was this: My anxiety level gets extremely high for even one follow-up call, and when I finally make that call, the person isn’t there anyway. So I’ve wasted all that anxiety on one phone call. Making 20 follow-up phone calls takes the same amount of anxiety. And, chances are, most of the people I call won’t be there anyway! I’ll probably reach only 2 people out of 20. So I was able to force myself to make those calls when I was job-hunting because I expected to reach no one. If I got someone on the phone, it was almost a surprise.
When I have my list of calls to make, I first call a friend. Or you could call a job-search buddy, and say, “Hi Jim, this is Bob. I’ve got to make some follow-up phone calls. The minute I hang up this phone, I’m going to dial that first number without even thinking so I can get on that phone and start talking to people.” And then your friend Jim may say, “I’m going to talk to you in an hour, Bob, to make sure you made those calls.” Sometimes you need that kind of help. You might as well call 20 people because you’re going to reach almost no one. Make a clump of phone calls at once and don’t waste all that anxiety on one call!
It’s your responsibility to find some way to get in to see the people on your target list and then keep in touch. I used to get so anxious, I would postpone and postpone making those calls. Then I was forced to write to the people again and say, “I wrote to you some time ago, but got off track. I’m contacting you once again because I think it’s important we meet.” By that time, I was humiliated, but I would finally make my follow-up phone calls.
Remember, you are calling people because they really should meet with you.
Through a targeted mailing—and fifteen follow-up phone calls— one client got to spend four hours with Craig McCaw of McCaw Cellular.
You Do Not Want to be Interviewed
on the Phone
Unless you live far away, there is no substitute for an in-person meeting: You can pick up non-verbal information, there will be fewer distractions (the person is unlikely to be sorting mail while you are in the room), and you will be better able to establish rapport and, hopefully, a relationship.
In addition, the person is more likely to give you more and better information, and may even shuffle through his rolodex to give you names or pick up the phone and make a call on your behalf.
Very senior-level job hunters want to meet others in person even though this may require travel. They may conduct a screening call, but then it may be worth using their frequent-flier miles, “I can be in Chicago early next week so we can meet in person. Which day would be best for you?”
Important people must have their calls screened or they would never get any work done. But part of their job is to look at new talent.
Your Answering Machine
If someone calls you in response to a mailing, be prepared. Have an appropriate, businesslike message on your answering machine – no kids’ voices, blaring music or flip comments (“Hi, this is Jake. You know what to do.”). Have your script handy; know your Two-Minute Pitch cold. For direct mail campaigns, you can figure on getting a 4% response rate. That is, 4% of the people you write to may call you in for a meeting. So if you mail to 100 people, four are likely to call you for a meeting.
Before Making the Call
- Call into your own phone answering machine, practice your pitch and listen to your voice. You will probably need to polish your presentation.
- Practice with other people, and get feedback. If you don’t do this, you may sound canned or unnatural.
- Warm up by calling a friend.
- Don’t make just one call at a time. Bunch your calls together so you can get on a roll.
- Sit up straight and smile. The listener will hear the energy in your voice. Some Five O’Clock Clubbers prefer to stand up as they talk so their total presence is focused on the call.
Your Basic Script
If you followed the basic Five O’Clock Club “four-paragraph formula” for your cover letter, use that as the starting point for your script. But people don’t talk the way they write, so don’t repeat the opening paragraph of your letter verbatim – even though it will be the basis for your introduction on the call.
The quickest way to success is to build a relationship with the person you are calling. Using the key points in your opening paragraph in your greeting, establish that there may be mutual interests.
“Hi. This is Peter Song. I wrote to you a few days ago because I’ve researched your organization and I am so impressed with your bold move into the European market. (Pause.) I have 15 years of international marketing experience with companies such as ___ and ___, and I was hoping to meet you at some point to find out more about your organization and to tell you something about myself.”
The first 15 or 20 seconds establishes the tone of the call. You have to practice so that your call will sound conversational. An actor doesn’t read a script the first time and go on stage—he reads it dozens of times—to sound natural.
Prompt the person you are talking with when it’s time for a response. In other words, be quiet! If you do all the talking, it’s not a conversation. You should also ask open-ended questions: “I’m so impressed with what you are doing . . . I’d love to hear more about that.”
If you don’t practice your pitch, you’ll stumble or sound canned or unnatural.
You want a brief conversation—if only a minute—that covers something of interest to the person you’ve reached. This helps you form a relationship with the person and increases the odds of your achieving your objectives—that is, in most cases, getting a meeting.
Your cover letter outlined the most important points you want to make in your phone call: the points of mutual interest, why you want to see the person, your background, and your key accomplishments.
Some people find it easier to list their “talking points” and goals on a card. With this kind of mini-script handy when they make the calls, they can cover the bases and become more conversational. Some examples follow.
If the Assistant Answers
The assistant may be a great help. Talk as if you were conducting normal business: You wrote a letter to Mr. Jones and you’re following up.
For the first call, leave a message saying that you called. After that, do not leave a message. Instead, keep calling back. Keep the ball in your court.
You: Hi. Mr. Jones, please.
Assistant: I’m sorry, he’s not in right now. May I take a message and have him call you back?
You: This is Kevin Walters. Who am I speaking with please?
Assistant: My name is Dorothy Black.
You: Hi, Ms. Black. I had written a letter to Mr. Jones asking for a brief meeting. I’ll be in and out a lot so I’ll have to call him back later. When would be a good time for me to call?
Assistant: I don’t know. He’ll be in and out of meetings also.
(Become friendly with her. However, it’s always preferable to use “Mr.” or “Ms.” in your first contact. Later it may be appropriate to use first names.)
You: Dorothy, I’ll call back later. Maybe I’ll be lucky and find him in.
Call frequently. If you wait too long, they won’t remember who you are and will sense no urgency on your part.
You: Dorothy, hi, this is Kevin Walters. We spoke earlier. Is Mr. Jones available now, by any chance?
Dorothy: He’s in a meeting right now. May I have him call you?
You: No, he can’t call me back, so I’ll have to call him later. You must have your hands full managing his schedule, but I know we will link up soon.
Sometimes you can try early in the morning or in the evening when senior executives may answer their own phones. Voice-mail systems, however, have made this more difficult. Call frequently. If you wait too long, they will not remember your letter. You’ll get no momentum going.
If you are calling voice-mail—but not leaving messages—you may even call back three times in one day. It’s not a bother because you haven’t taken up the person’s time. Even if they see on a log that you have called a number of time, this simply shows your persistence and this person’s importance to you. [Note: Remember that your target may have Caller ID, a feature sold by the phone company that identifies your phone number to the person you are calling. Simply call your local phone company and ask them to block your identification.]
Sometimes you may be able to get the assistant to set up a meeting for you or a time to connect:
You: I really wanted a few minutes of his time. (Here’s the reason why.) I was wondering if you could facilitate the process. Do you happen to handle his calendar? If not, I’ll just keep trying.
You: Hi, Dorothy, this is Kevin again. You’re probably starting to recognize my voice. I hope I’m not bothering you. Is Mr. Jones in?
Assistant: It’s terrible that he is always so busy. You’ve tried so often. I’ll try to get him to talk to you. He’s in a meeting right now, but I’ll ask him take your call.
To Get Your Paperwork to the Boss
You: Dorothy, do you know if Mr. Jones read my letter?
Dorothy: No, I don’t know. He receives so much mail.
You: Well, I’ll fax you a copy. You can put it in his “to read” pile so he’ll know why I’m calling.
If They Did Not Receive Your Letter
You: I sent him a note a few days ago. Has he seen it?
Assistant: I don’t remember it.
You: Well, let me fax it to you now. What is your fax number?
[Note: Fax your résumé to yourself and see what it looks like. If the type is too small, it may be unreadable by fax. If possible, fax from your computer to lessen degradation. Also, be mindful of the “message” that your fax may be automatically printing at the top of transmissions!]
If the Boss Answers:
First, establish a connection. For example, “Hello. In my letter to you, I pointed out my interest in your new European campaign.” Then, go through your script or checklist.
In addition to your basic script (which should relate to your cover letter), it is valuable to put together an “objections card.” Then you will have a ready response when an objection is thrown at you.
You are most likely to handle objections smoothly if you develop your skills of active and reflective listening. This will help you understand the situation of the person you’re calling.
Listed below are a few basic objections from bosses and some possible answers. Believe it or not, objections can be an opportunity. You want to uncover the real concerns of the person, even if the objections seem like a closed-end statement. Paul Miller, a Five O’Clock Club member and marketing executive suggested some of the following responses to objections:
a) There are no jobs here now.
I didn’t expect that there would be. I’m contacting you because of your knowledge of the industry. I’m very interested in your organization and your industry. I have 20 years’ experience in direct marketing, and a lot of it has been with an industry that is a direct competitor of yours. I thought it would be good for us to meet.
I have read that you are being challenged by Monmouth Company. Is that one of your chief concerns right now?
b) I’m busy.
I can understand with all that’s going on. May we set up a time a month from now? I will call to confirm to make sure that that time is good for you.
[Note: If you show consideration of their time, they will sometimes suggest that you “come in tomorrow.”]
c) I didn’t get your résumé.
I’ll fax it to you right now and then I’ll give you a call back. What’s your fax number?
d) We don’t need people with your skills now.
See (a) above. Try to ascertain their one or two greatest issues/problems. You may have experience that is a match.
e) How did you get my name? You can’t say that you did a mailing to 200 people. You can say that you found the names of several key players through research or you can say what I have sometimes said:
“A few people mentioned I should contact you.”
“Sharon Nuskey and Deirdre Cavanagh (two of my friends).”
“I don’t know them.”
“Maybe not, but they know you!”
Prepare an “objections card.” Then you will have ready responses for objections they throw at you.
Here are some basic objections from assistants and possible answers:
a) He’s very busy.
I’ll bet. You must have your hands full with his schedule. What would be a good time to call?
b) I sent your résumé to Human Resources.
Thank you. However, I really wasn’t calling about a human resources matter. I thought Mr. Jones would be interested in discussing a project I’ve done that relates to what he is doing at United Widget.
c) We have no openings now.
I didn’t expect that you had openings. See (a) under bosses’ objections.
What to Do If You Get Voicemail
First, you can try the company operator to see if you can get the name and number of Mr. Jones’ assistant or the name and number of someone who sits near him. Talk to that person and say you’ve been trying to reach Mr. Jones, but you only get voicemail. Has he been in? How would they suggest you reach him? Does he have an assistant?
Other than that, use voice mail as an introduction to begin getting your message across.
Early on: “Hi. This is Kevin Shaw and I’m calling to follow up on my letter.” You want them to hear your name and that you sent something. Say that you will call them back.
Here’s a danger: If you leave your phone number, you may get a blow-off message on your voice mail that would make it very awkward for you to call again. You don’t want people to call you back if you have not had a chance to explain yourself.
Always try to understand the situation of your listener. “I understand how busy you are with so much going on . . .”
How to Handle Rejection
If you aim to talk to 10, 20 or 50 people, you can never expect 100% success. There are no perfect scores in this game. But learn to use rejection. Hearing why you have been rejected is a way to modify your pitch. A “no” requires you to probe.
If you are perceptive, you can pick up on the negatives. One good rule is: Don’t ask a question that can be answered “yes” or “no.” You want to keep the conversation going, and “no” can kill the conversation.
Be polite and direct, but probe!
You: I have been trying to break into United Widget (or the Widget category). I’m sure that’s a fine place to work. I’d really like your opinion of how I can further my candidacy at United Widget. . . Thanks. Is there someone else you suggest I speak with?
Rejection is a way to modify your pitch. A “no” requires you to probe.
They Don’t Teach You This in School
Improved telephone techniques are both job-search and life skills. With the help of your small group, you can get through this part of the job-search process.
Can we talk?
Case Study: My Brother
Call When You Think They Have Your Letter
My brother, Robert, is a scientist and a marketer in a very narrow industry with very few companies in his specialty field. He wrote a very detailed, intelligent letter to the president of one of them, a small company that happened to be in a remote geographic area. This was a targeted mailing – there were no job openings he knew of.
Because his letter was so intelligent and on-target, he thought the president would pick up the phone and call him right away. Well, Robert waited a week, and the president didn’t call him. So, instead of calling him, Robert wrote another detailed, very intelligent, analytical letter. Again, no call. Finally, I said to Robert, “Just pick up the phone and call the guy.” I come from a family of shy people, and we’ll all reluctant to call strangers. So my brother finally found his courage, picked up the phone, called the president, and said, “Listen, this is who I am. I’ve written to you twice, and this is what I said.”
The president didn’t remember having seen either of the letters, “But,” he said, “I’m interested in what you’re telling me, and I’d be delighted to meet with you.” My brother was absolutely dumbstruck that the man had not read his letters! The president dug them up later. In fact, hiring managers will often ask you to send letters again because they can’t find them. Those follow-up phone calls are critical.
But don’t wait two weeks to call, wasting too much valuable time. Among other things, you need to know if the letter arrived. If you figure it takes four days for your letter to arrive, call on day four. If they haven’t received it yet, that doesn’t matter. You can say, “Hi this is so and so. I sent you a note recently.” In response to, “I don’t think I’ve gotten it yet,” you can say, “Well let me tell you what it said.” Have your note in front of you: That’s your script. So, you see, there’s no downside to calling a little bit prematurely — before the letter arrives. If you wait two weeks to call, you may be too late.
Time your call so they get your note and your follow-up call at the same time.
It’s now 4-1/2 minutes before 8:00
—just in case the time means anything to you.
Heard on a radio show in Jamaica
Someone Offers to Make a Call on Your Behalf
What if Martin, a networking contact, says he’ll call a few people on your behalf and ask them to see you? If you don’t know who Martin is contacting, you’re helpless. Say two weeks pass, and you haven’t received any calls from Martin’s referrals. Then you call Martin again and ask him if he had a chance to contact any of the people he promised he would. Pretty soon, Martin sees you as a pain. Martin was enthusiastic when he met with you, but now he’s back doing his work. He meant to make those phone calls, but life keeps interrupting him. To him, it doesn’t feel like so much time had passed, but to you the time is dragging.
What was wrong with this scenario? The ball will never be in your court if you’re waiting for someone else to make calls for you. If you had asked Martin to give you the names of the people he was planning to contact, then you could have immediately written to each person saying, “By now you’ve probably heard about me from Martin Radice.” Or “ By now, you may have received my résumé from Martin Radice.” And the rest of your cover letter would follow the standard Five O’Clock Club format. You could enclose your resume, and do a follow-up phone call later. You’ve got to ask for the list because if Martin doesn’t actually call the people while you’re sitting there, chances are good that it won’t happen – ever.
So, the next time someone volunteers to make a call or two on your behalf, ask who it is they’re planning to call and help them to help you.
Keeping Up Your Contacts After Landing That New Job
We tell our job hunters that after they land their next job they should make at least one networking contact a week. That’s not that much. That’s one phone call, or one lunch date, or one getting together for a cup of coffee after work. People who have a solid network in their field have quicker and easier job searches than those who are careless about staying connected. Those with no networking contacts have to start from scratch to build up their contacts, and that takes time. So write your long-term career plan and build your networking contacts now for the targets you plan to have in the future. That’s what successful people do.
Is this the party to whom I am speaking?
When Networking With Fellow Five O’Clock Clubbers
Club members and alumni are important contacts. The Club attracts people who are intelligent, proactive, and helpful. They know how to get along in a group. These are not your average everyday people. Club members expect you to know the process. So be prepared before you contact other members, such as through our LinkedIn group. Wait until your fourth small-group session before you start networking with other members. Then you’ll know your Two-Minute Pitch, and you’ll know what you want out of meetings with them. You’ll also know how to network by then. Five O’Clock Clubbers will bend over backwards to help you, as you will with other members who contact you. So don’t abuse or waste these contacts.
Most members contact each other through our LinkedIn group. Or you could write a letter or email if appropriate. And do your follow-up phone calls. Don’t ask for a job – ask for information and guidance! Email a thank-you note after a networking meeting. And if a fellow Five O’Clock Clubber opens the door for you to someone else, make sure you go through that door, and follow up with the contacts they’ve set up for you.
The moment you feel foolish, you look foolish.
Concentrate, block it out, and relax. Of course, that’s not always easy.
Michael Caine, Acting in Film
In all human affairs, the odds are always six to five against.
Take calculated risks.
That is quite different from being rash.
George S. Patton