Cold calling is when you contact a business directly to ask if they have any jobs available. It can be intimidating, but it gets easier with practise.
Here are 14 step-by-step tips, including a couple of handy tools, to improve your cold calling skills:
1. Make a list of contacts
Tap into your networks by making a list of everyone you know who might be able to help you find a job. Put their contact details on the list too. People you could put on the list include:
- Members of teams or clubs you belong to
Next, you need to:
- Get in touch with everyone on your list.
- Tell them you’re looking for work.
- Ask them for contact details for people they know who might be able to help, or businesses that you could contact.
- Add the contact details for these people and businesses to your list.
You should also think about:
- Businesses in your local area
- Companies you'd really like to work for
Track down their contact details (start by looking online or in the Yellow Pages) and add them to the list too.
2. Do your research
Before you call a business, do some research about what they do. Find out what's involved in the kind of job you're looking for. When you call you'll be able to show how much you know and prove you're right for the job.
If you can, try to find out the name of the person you should be talking to. They might be the manager, the business owner or someone from the human resources department.
If you do manage to find a name you should:
- Ask for them by name when you call
- Address emails to them by using their name in the subject line (e.g., "ATTN: Sue Kelly - Question about available jobs").
If you can't find out any names, you can always just ask to talk to someone about jobs available at the business.
3. Write a script
Writing out a script can help you remember what you want to say. It can also help you speak clearly.
Write a script for the way you plan on introducing yourself, explaining why you've called. You should also script the way you plan to talk about your experience and interest in the job or business.
For examples of scripts for cold calling conversations, download our cold calling sample scripts.
4. Make some practise calls
If you're worried about getting it wrong when you make the call, you could start by practising making a call with someone you trust. Here's how:
- Sit down with a friend or family member and pretend they're the person you want to ask for a job.
- Run through your script and ask if they have any suggestions.
- Keep on practising until you feel ready to make the call for real.
5. Work out when to call
Depending on the kind of business you're calling, there are probably good times and bad times to make a cold call.
It's a good idea to try to avoid calling during any busy times so that people have the time to speak to you properly. Generally speaking, it's best to call during the week (i.e., Monday - Friday). It's also best not to call at the start or end of the working day, or during lunchtime. That means making your calls:
- Between 10 and 11 in the morning
- Between 2 and 3 in the afternoon
If you aren't able to call at these times, because of school or work commitments, just call when you can.
You could make sure you're not calling at a bad time by asking the person you're speaking to if they have time to talk to you. If they say they don't, offer to call them back at a better time. And make sure you do call back when you said you would!
6. Get your gear together
It takes more than just a phone to make a successful cold call. You also need:
- A pen and paper so you can take notes
- A copy of your resume you can refer to if you need it (see our How to write a resume page for more about getting your resume together)
- A copy of your script
- A glass of water in case you get croaky on the phone
7. Dress to impress
Dressing as though you're going to work (or a job interview) and sitting at a table or desk can put you in a more professional frame of mind when you make your calls.
Your voice also sounds more confident and professional when you sit up straight or stand.
8. Stay focused
Staying focused is the best chance you've got to make the most of a call. Here are some tips:
- Find somewhere quiet to call, away from interruptions or distractions
- Let your family and friends know you don't want to be disturbed
- If you can, use a landline - the reception will be clearer and there's less chance of texts or calls coming through
- Don't put the person on hold to answer another call
9. Be polite
People are more likely to help you if you're polite. Here are some basic tips for minding your manners on the phone:
- Introduce yourself
- Find out the person's name (ask them if you have to) and use it
- Speak clearly - try not to mumble or "um" and "er" too much
- Smiling when you talk adds warmth to your voice
- Put the phone down if you need to cough or sneeze
- Before hanging up, thank the person for their time, no matter what the end result is
When you call, you might get transferred to different people in the same organisation. Remember to introduce yourself to each new person you speak to, explaining the reason for your call.
- If you get a voicemail, leave a short message (use your script if you need to).
- If the person you want to speak to isn't available, ask about the best time to call back.
- If the organisation won't give out phone numbers, ask for an email address or offer to leave your number instead.
10. Take notes
It helps to make notes about the calls you make. Write down every detail you can, including:
- The name of the person you spoke to
- Their job title
- Their contact details (email and direct phone number)
- When you called
- What they said to you
- What you told them you would do
Taking notes means you won't have to go over things you've already discussed if you end up speaking a second time. It can make you seem more professional and organised too.
An "action grid" that lists the businesses you've called, and what the outcome of the call was, is useful for keeping track of things. At the end of every call you can update your action grid with information from your notes.
Download a copy of our sample action grid and use it to create your own.
11. Review the call and confirm next steps
Before you hang up, it's a good idea to run through any next steps that need to be taken. This is a good way to make sure you understand everything that's expected of you.
For example, you might finish the call by:
- Saying you'll send your resume and call back in two weeks
- Double-checking you have the person's email address written down correctly
Once you've confirmed your next steps, make sure you note them all down on your action grid (see above).
12. Be persistent
If you left a message or sent through your resume, but you haven't heard back from anyone in a week or two, don't be afraid to call again. Chances are that person has been busy. Being persistent can demonstrate to potential employers that you would be enthusiastic and dedicated employee.
13. Keep your promises
Prove you're professional and worth employing by doing everything that you said you would, and doing it quickly.
- If you said you'd email your resume or contact details, do it as soon as you get off the phone.
- If you said you'd call back in a day, then call back in a day - don't call back a day later than you said you would.
Use your action grid (see above) to keep track of the things you need to do, and to keep a record of the dates you do them.
14. Don't get discouraged
Not every call is going to go well.
If you don't end up getting what you wanted, don't be shy about asking for advice about:
- Someone else who may be able to help you
- Another business you could contact about finding work
If nothing comes from a particular call, don't give up. Just work through your list of businesses to call, or start work on adding more names to your list.
The most important thing about cold calling is to keep on doing it until something works out. The more you do it, the better you'll get at it until it stops being something to worry about and starts being just another one of your job-seeking skills.
If you do manage to find out about a job that's available, congratulations! Now might be a good time to brush up on your job application or job interview techniques.
- Our Applying for a job pages have tips on writing resumes and cover letters
- Our Job interviews pages have tips on how to prepare for a job interview