The Cold Call Is Dead – What It Means For Recruitment and The Job Search

By Hung Lee

I was cold called yesterday. It was, it must be said, a brilliant effort from a charity fundraiser from World Wide Fund For Nature – polite, well researched and perfect in pitch & tone. It was almost a shame when I delivered the inevitable to-the-point rebuttal that she was not getting what she wanted out of the call.

What does it mean if the perfectly executed cold call, delivered at a good time and to the ideal audience (I contribute annually to the World Wide Fund For Nature, and signed up recently to a campaign of theirs) fails so badly? It wasn’t the failure itself, bad enough a return to investment this was for the cold caller, it was the fact that it was never going to work.

Photo: ironrodart

The telephone has been a staple of the sales business for as long as there have been white collars at work. I believe that it has been on a long, slow and now accelerating decline as a sales medium. Indeed, as we all become more comfortable with alternative communication platforms now available to us, it could be that the phone call is already dead as a first contact medium. Here are a few reasons why:

1. It’s An Interrupt

We have a finite capacity to process information and we are rapidly reaching the upper limits of it. Since the advent of the social web the signal-to-noise ratio has become increasingly difficult to manage, with corresponding damage to productivity, erosion to attention span and near eradication of any ‘down time’ where no message is being sent or received. An unsolicited phone call pitched into the middle of this media maelstrom? You’d be lucky if it’s even noticed, much less picked up and answered.

2. It’s An Open Ended Resource Risk

There’s always been an inherent resource risk in picking up the phone. A connected call demands an immediate, open ended commitment on the part of the receiver. It’s not an email which can be scheduled for action later in the day, or a chat or text message which can be discreetly ignored. When the phone was our primary conduit to the outside world, it was mandatory to pick up in order to connect with the people we needed to. Nowadays, with a multitude of channels available to us, there is no longer any need to take the risk of an open ended commitment that comes with picking up the phone on an unsolicited call.

3. It’s Might Actually Work

The phone is declining as a sales tool precisely it can and does work. A paradoxical statement? Not when you look from the perspective of the business that’s being sold to. There is a high risk that decisions are made based on a sales pitch rather than the due diligence widely and economically available through other means. Quite simply, there has always been a tension between the agenda of the caller and receiver, and now the receiver has cheaper and lower risk options of discovering the services they need.

What Does This Mean For Recruitment & The Job Search?

This has profound implications for everyone in the recruitment industry or in the process of looking for a job. Recruiters and job seekers have always been united by a common challenge  – getting hiring managers interested in what they can do. If the phone call is no longer the sales medium it once was, then a recalibration of where resources need to be spent is essential if recruitment or job search objectives are going to be met.

Agents are going to have to find new ways of approaching prospective clients, or new ways to drawing them in. Job seekers can no longer expect any mileage from making speculative calls into companies, attempting to speak to this HR manager or that decision maker. New strategies and non phone based approaches need to take central place in what is becoming a nascent sales paradigm based on attraction marketing, online reputation management and personal branding.


The phone call isn’t dead, but the cold call certainly is. It’s no longer feasible to think you are going to be successful by interrupting people in their overloaded working lives, and forcing them into the choice of being rude or getting on with their day. Phone calls will continue, but as a second contact medium, to deepen relationships with contacts already made through other means.

Are you a salesperson, a recruiter or a job seeker? What do you think?

Hung Lee is the founder of Wise Man Ltd, a solutions company working in the space where social media and recruitment meet.


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Categories: Articles for Job Seekers, Articles for Recruiters, Current Affairs, Rectruitment Trends


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6 Comments on “The Cold Call Is Dead – What It Means For Recruitment and The Job Search”

  1. December 2, 2010 at 10:15 pm #

    Excellent article. As someone on the receiving end of these calls, I agree entirely… If an established firm even NEEDS to cold call, it tells me something about them. If they can genuinely deliver the kind of service they all promise then their reputation would be golden – and they’d have clients knocking down their doors.

  2. December 2, 2010 at 10:32 pm #

    Some very sweeping comments in here and whilst I agree that recruitment is one of if not the toughest sector for cold calling it certainly isn’t dead and I would suggest the problem is more to do with perceived lack of value rather than unsolicited calling. I deliver appointments and leads to clients every day that they would not have had without cold calling and the conversion rates still make this one of the top performing sales methods, and I’m never short of work. 🙂

  3. January 10, 2011 at 5:27 pm #

    Wrong. You are not a salesperson. Thanks to articles like this, *great* recruiters are gaining a competitive advantage, because they are using the phone. Person-to-person *voice* creates relationships, as do *in-person* meetings. You write this because, you don’t know the *art* of how to call someone you’ve never spoken with before.

  4. January 14, 2011 at 7:59 pm #

    I believe the PHONE does work and is very much alive. Most people have call reluctance because they are afraid of the “no” they wil get. Social media and blast emails are overdone and overrated. Tweeting and instant messaging are bigger interruptions. Emails that take longer than 2 minutes to read are a waste of time and emails with the point of the email in the beginning are the worst.

    If you know “a” pain that you can solve for the person you are calling and can deliver a compelling message in a few seconds, you have a chance for a successful call. My best prospecitng is the phone and in-person.

  5. Jim
    March 3, 2011 at 10:16 am #

    I disagree- The cold call will never die! This is – Most of my new business if initially from the cold call.

  6. March 8, 2011 at 4:59 pm #

    I completely agree with the previous comments. The cold call is an art form only perfected by a small percentage of those who actually attempt it. When done right, it’s the beginning of a fantastic relationship and, in an industry like the staffing industry, the pace moves so quickly that it’s moreso up to you to grab that next slice of business, as opposed to waiting on someone you’ve adequately serviced to refer it to you.

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