Saturday, November 08, 2008

Cold Calling for Interviews

Today I thought I’d give you an update on the progress of the non-fiction book I’m working on for TSTC Publishing. The book will be called TechCareers: Automotive Technicians and the due date for me to turn it in is January 1, 2009, a date that hangs over my head like an anvil supported by string.

Every day I work on the book, needless to say. I’m also setting up interviews. I hope to include profiles from around 12 interviews, some I’ll conduct in person and some via email. The head of the AT department at TSTC spent time with me and showed me around their classrooms and work areas, which was quite helpful. He’s also given me contact information for two instructors at other colleges.

I’m also cold calling instructors, employers, working techs, and trying to hook up with students. (If you are a student in a postsecondary automotive technology program, email me.) So here’s my advice for those of you who have to do cold calls.

Write out an introductory letter about you and the project you’re working on. Keep it by the phone. Write out your questions that you would ask in a face-to-face or email interview. Keep it handy, also.

When you make the call, listen to how the person says his name and then write it down phonetically or in a way so you will know how to pronounce it yourself.

Talk about your book project and tell the person about yourself and why you’re doing the book.

Before you hang up, try to get a commitment from them either for a one-on-one interview or an email interview. Whether you get that commitment or not, offer to send them an email about the project (and possibly the questions you would ask).

Then follow up with the letter and/or questions. (That’s another reason to have the question and letter already written. You don’t want them to wait days to hear from you.) Make sure that you include in the introductory letter a sentence that says you would welcome their recommendation of other people you could contact to interview. Personalize the letter.

If all you get is their voice mail, leave a message. Leave your name and phone number and why you’re calling. Tell them you’ll call back tomorrow or in a few days. If you know their email, send them the introductory letter. Follow up as you said you would.

If you’re doing multiple interviews, start a calendar. Hang it on your wall. Update it.

If someone says no, move on. If someone emails you, email them back. Let no one slip through the cracks or drift away unnoticed.

Okay, that’s it from me for now. What is your advice for cold-calling interview subjects?


  1. Good stuff. One of my background career experiences is in sales, all aspects. Telesales, cold calling, recruiting, network marketing. All of your list is stuff I used to train new recruits with. Also, when you first get someone on the line, respect their time and win their ear (more easily) if you start off with, Hello, Mr/Mrs. So & So, my name is (you) with (your company) and then ask politely, "Do you have a minute?"

    People like having the option of whether or not to listen to you rather than having to be rude to clip you short because they actually DON'T have any time right now. Often timers they will say no, no time right now, but could you call back in an hour? Then they will really listen to you.

  2. Good advice, especially keeping notes handy by the phone and your qualifications so you don't forget anything.

    Morgan Mandel

  3. Thanks Marvin. That's a good opening to remember.

  4. For me, keeping my notes handy lets me talk without stumbling or hem-hawing,

  5. Helen,

    I've found that sending an introductory letter to pave the way for the call can be very helpful. The letter, especially if it is on some sort of letterhead, tends to put people at ease by lending a sense of legitimacy to the project. In the letter you can introduce the project and if a mutual acquaintance suggested the person, say so. Then just let them know you'll be calling to follow up. This tends to put people at ease because they are not caught off guard when you do call.

    The other thing is a long shot. When people say they are not interested, send them a note thanking them for their time on the phone. Make sure it includes your contact info. That way, if they have second thoughts, they can contact you. It can happen.

  6. Good suggestions Charlotte.

    For most of the people I'm trying to reach, I only have phone numbers. But I definitely agree, if you can send an introductory letter first, either via e or snail mail, that's the best and gives you your best shot at connecting with the subject.

    When I cold call someone, I try to get their email so I can send them the introductory letter. Once they have that, they're much more likely to agree to the interview.

  7. Great post, Helen. Good luck with your project. Those deadlines can be very stressful, but they also charge us with energy (and fear!) and keep us going.

  8. I totally agree Mayra. I admit, I've been messing around with so much extraneous stuff that I haven't been doing much writing. This project is teaching me that I need to go back to being disciplined and focused. I hope to maintain this focus after the book is finished!

  9. Good post, Helen. I earned my living conducting interviews for a number of years. It took me six months to get one with Louis L'Amour and only because I sent him a copy of one of my books and told him who the other writers were that I was also interviewing. He must have been impressed with my choices because he finally agreed. Persistence wins out nearly every time. :)

  10. I am impressed Jean. How did the interview with him turn out?

  11. Hi Helen,
    These are superb suggestions for cold-calling. You've been very thorough. All I would add is what I bet you already do naturally. Be sure to be cheerful and enthusiastic in your opening as well as considerate of the other person's time. For instance, you want to come across as professional AND friendly/approachable/flexible.

    I would not advise calling near lunch hour nor at the end of the day when folks want to head out the door or wrap up their daily business.

    For the sheet(s) of notes, I'd add a section where you physically write or type in blank lines so that you can easily fill in the blank by scanning down to that area. I also use such information sheets when I return calls to potential clients. Filling in the info, even for a speedy notetaker like me, sure eases up the pressure and I find I sound more natural on the phone.

    Plus, those "blank" areas jump out at me to ask about later in the conversation and fill in then, if the other times didn't cover that info. I definitely include plenty of space to write other info, from hobbies mentioned to favorite colors. (I am an artist who likes to write, so these are used for me to market myself in art right now.) Personal interest goes a long way in establishing common ground for a good interview and networking.

    As I said when I first visited you recently, I want to write professionally again. Thank you for these nuggests of info and your site.


  12. (nuggets)- You will find that I don't have time to proofread blog comments I make, but I definitely do so for business writing! :)


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