Ever seen those training providers that promise to help you unlock the secrets to cold-calling? 

Most of the time this “secret” turns out to be something inane like sounding really happy when you make the call or only doing it when the sun’s shining.

What seems to drive of most of the recruitment sales training I’ve ever seen is the fact that cold-calling is an omnipresent part of a recruiter’s life - and so they had better get good at it.

Frankly, I think that’s bullshit.

It’s bullshit not because it isn’t true, because it is. It’s bullshit because it doesn’t have to be true.

Cold-calling is probably the toughest part of the sales process because it’s time-consuming, it’s boring and repetitive and because it’s often hard to even get through to the decision-maker. The only thing that makes it a worthwhile activity is:

1. If what you’re selling has a high-margin, one-off sale price.
2. If the cold-call is the first step in a longer sales journey where the customer regularly buys an increasing number of products/services from you.

Recruiters can fall into either or both of those categories. 

The first is when they’re canvassing-out a specific and available candidate.

The second is when they’re broadly looking for jobs to fill.

Canvassing-out candidates can be a valid way of establishing some credibility with a potential client, but it requires some decent market research before any calls are made.  Many recruiters seem to struggle with this part. 

Assuming they do establish that credibility, what next? 

Invariably what the recruiter is looking for next is a regular source of new roles to work on - which brings us to the 2nd category.  More jobs.

The trouble with getting more jobs from more companies is that on average, a recruiter only fills about 1 in 4 of those they get given access to.  And I’m being generous here - for some it’s closer to 1 in 6. 

That means that around 80% of the time the recruiter is going to disappoint the client. 

“But sometimes I will fill some jobs with some of those clients!” I can already hear you saying. 


But all you are entrenching here is the perception in the client’s mind that your performance is somewhat ad-hoc and difficult to predict. 

If that’s the pinnacle of how your clients view you then I have some potentially bad news for you; You’re always going to have to be spending large chunks of your time cold-calling. 

The upside is that this is good news for the recruitment training industry

There is no secret to being good at cold-calling when all you’ve got to sell is probable disappointment.


Views: 3915

Comment by Robye Nothnagel on October 10, 2012 at 4:37pm

Thanks Mitch.  Love that positive karma - sending some your way too!

Comment by Sandra McCartt on October 11, 2012 at 4:43pm

It is seldom that i agree with you Mitch old shoe, but on this one i do and i find it funny that nobody seems to know what you are talking about.  Therein lies the rub about cold calling.

Comment by Mitch Sullivan on October 12, 2012 at 1:35am

I disagree, Sandra. I think you do agree with me quite a lot. 

You just rarely like to admit it because we're a bit too similar, which I think unnerves you a little.

Comment by pam claughton on October 15, 2012 at 8:20am


I'm not sure if you've spent most of your time on the agency or corporate side, but either way the world you've experienced cold-calling and recruiting in is very different from my reality.

I've been doing this for a long time now, over 18 years, so many of my new clients are referred to me, but I bring on plenty of new clients by targeted cold calls. As an example, I left a message on Friday for a hiring manager, and he called me end of day with the search to work on. I don't make a lot of cold calls though. When I call a company, it's either regarding a very specific opening or it's a company I've decided I want to work with and think they may be hiring marketing people soon. I research the company and the hiring manager before I make the call and my message is very specific.

My experience in filling jobs has also been quite different that what you mention. It's very possible to turn a new client into a great client. All you have to do is fill the first search they give you with a great person and that will open the door to more searches and allow you to go deeper in the organization. 

One of the nice things about recruiting is that you have complete control over how well you do. You can also adjust how you work according to how your client is responding...especially with newer clients you want to 'test' them. See how responsive they are after you send your first candidate or two over. If they are not getting back to you, stop working on the search and focus your efforts on one that is moving. You can always dive back in again if the client resurfaces, but I've seen many recruiters keep working on a dead job that goes nowhere, and when they finally hear from the client it's to tell them that the job is on hold or was filled internally. Yet they continued to spend precious time recruiting. 

The key is to focus most of your energy on your best clients, the ones that give good job descriptions and background info, and that are responsive. 

I think too that a big part of success with cold-calling is belief in yourself, confidence that you have something of value to offer and a genuine excitement to work with a new client. I admit it, I didn't always feel this way, but I actually like cold-calling and business development. I enjoy the challenge and love discovering exciting new companies to work with.

Comment by Mitch Sullivan on October 15, 2012 at 11:11am

Hi Pam, thanks for your comment.

This blog was really aimed at younger, less experienced recruiters than you who have yet to work out how to win more exclusivity from these companies they provide an ad-hoc, contingency service to.

From what you've said you sound like someone who does this already - hence the reason why you rarely have to make cold-calls.

Comment by pam claughton on October 15, 2012 at 12:00pm


I posted because I found your post rather discouraging to young people and wanted to show an alternate view. Everything I posted works just as well for new recruiters, and it's a great way for them to build their businesses. The glass half-full approach seems to work better than the half-empty one. Oh, and I still regularly make cold calls, but even new people can make less and have better results if they take the time to customize their approach and target who they are calling. 

Comment by Stacey Boyer on October 16, 2012 at 11:28am
Reminds me of Bill Hicks...

Comment by Bill Schultz on October 16, 2012 at 5:14pm

Pam, I too find this discouraging.   Fact is, cold calling is part of the learning process.  And conversations unveil information, contacts and a whole lot of other benefit.  Frankly, I don't care about a young recruiters fill ratio or whether s/he is living up to the contingency CLIENTS expectation.  I care about activity.  Cold calling teaches you a lot.  Many young folks that I trained went on to positions in Banking or Brokrage, insurance, etc.  And they tell me that they always have an advantage wherever they go because they have no fear of cold calling.  

Comment by Martin O'Shea on October 16, 2012 at 11:58pm

I think not having that fear of cold calling has a great deal of impact in terms of experience whether its in another industry/company or if its in their daily life. Very well written but have to agree with Bill and Pam very discouraging. 

Comment by Mitch Sullivan on October 17, 2012 at 12:23am

Just because it's discouraging, doesn't make it any less true.


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