Much has been written about how critical networking is to the job seeker. I don’t dispute that networking is helpful to identify jobs early, even before they are posted, and helpful to warrant a second look by the prospective employer, as I’ve seen many times firsthand as a recruiter. However, networking takes time, and sometimes you can’t wait for a warm introduction. Maybe you have to reach a fast-growing company NOW because they are building up their new location. Maybe your dream company is a start-up with a small team or just the founder so you don’t have a lot of options of people to know. It’s okay and can be very effective to reach out cold to decision-makers. Cold calling is not just for sales anymore, but can be very effective for jobs.
Identify the decision-maker. Unless you are looking for a job in HR, you do not want to cold call recruiters. They are not the ultimate decision-maker, and they get called all the time. So their fuse is short, and they’re not the most direct route anyway. Instead you want to identify the person who would hire for the specific role that you want, most likely the person who would be your boss. So if you want to be a finance manager somewhere, you need to know who runs the finance department.
Approach the decision-maker ideally by email. While I use the term cold “call” to denote this action of contacting someone with whom you have no referral or other introduction, you don’t literally have to call – i.e., use the phone. In fact, I don’t recommend the phone as the first point of contact because it’s disruptive for the person on the receiving end, and it’s harder for the candidate because you are live – no drafts, no copyediting. With email you can refine your approach, checking for brevity, clarity and the correct tone. You also can include your LinkedIn hyperlink with your email signature, which effectively forwards your resume without the presumptuousness or potential virus of an actual attachment.
Customize your communication to match the decision-maker. When I coached a client who was interested in venture capital on how to cold call a portfolio manager, he sent a brief, 3-line email about an investment area he wanted to discuss. The 3 lines was appropriate because venture capitalists are notorious for brevity, so anything longer would have been out of place. The choice to pitch an investment idea, rather than himself as a candidate, is appropriate because his job would be to identify and evaluate investments so his email effectively serves as a sample of what his contribution on the job could be.