Cold-Calling for a Job

The Cold Call

The cold-call, typically the preserve of obnoxious hard-nosed salesmen: double-glazing, insurance, ad sales, mobile phones; all wanting to pressure you into a purchase. However, the cold-call is not always bad, it’s simply a label denoting speaking to someone unannounced who you have no pre-existing relationship with. How else are you going to get people to know you and get to know people?

[One chap a colleague of mine phoned reacted somewhat brashly retorting, ‘if i want a curry, I’ll phone my takeaway ok I don’t need them bothering me – ergo I don’t want you bothering me’ – (or something to that effect). A fitting reply and excellent perspective would have been – ‘If you were hungry and a takeaway unknown to you delivered a delicious curry unannounced wouldn’t you be a happy bunny?’. [Think of yourself as that delicious curry that could satisfy a ravenous employer with a penchant for asian cuisine.]

Why bother?

1. Gathering information

In How to Make Graduate Applications 36% More Effective, I discuss how you can gain valuable insights into a company and market which you can then use to produce strong online application answers and impress at interview by contacting current senior level employees who more often than not are happy to promote themselves to ambitious lively young graduates.

Furthermore, you can understand how competitive the positions are and ask specifically what they’re looking for when they read a cover letter or application in order to decide whether to call someone in for an interview. When I applied to PA Consulting I understood early on that my chances were very slim as they were looking for a very relevant degree (engineering/ science) and ideally relevant work experience since the program I was applying to was heavily oversubscribed with 300 applicants for 3-5 places! A phone call like this, makes job-hunting life a lot more manageable and effective. The graduate recruitment manager was very helpful in telling me what skills they really want to see and gave me a bit of a pep talk about selling my self.

2. Finding out if there are vacancies

Some companies don’t always update their websites with current vacancies ironically perhaps because they get so much interest they don’t even need that level of advertising. Sometimes, they recruit predominantly through word of mouth and via referrals. You may even be able to find out if indeed they are planning to recruit in the very near future, such that positions aren’t advertised yet, but as soon as they come live, you’re there ready and waiting. Maybe you can even sneak a quick one in direct to the hiring manager.

3. Influencing the process

A call to HR before submitting an application may be extremely productive because you’re then not just a piece of paper and words, you’ve given them a voice and markers with which the recipients of your cv and application will undoubtedly use to form an impression of you. A great enthusiastic productive conversation can incite someone in HR to read your submission with purpose. I say this, because as a recruitment consultant, I would often speak to candidates who would call in before they submitted their cvs, and I would come away thinking that they were extremely strong individuals whom if had I just seen their cv, I may not have thought to call them and discuss things further.

Sometimes, no matter how good someone sounded on the phone, even if I knew they could be an excellent consultant in xyz firm, if they didn’t fit the spec on paper, I simply couldn’t present them for a role because clients were supremely fussy when it came to experienced hires. For graduates however, the story is slightly different, as all they’re really looking for a lot of the time is someone who has a good brain and can communicate well.

How to deliver a cold-call

1. Speak to the right person

It is obviously very important that you find the right person – don’t speech off to a receptionist or deliver your sales pitch cv to an admin person, however don’t treat anyone disrespectfully either. Find out who the right person to speak to is regarding your query by looking on the company website and using linked in to find names and job titles. If you want insider info for application forms, the senior the better – directors and partners. If you’re addressing cover letters or want to find out if a company has plans to recruit, ask to speak to the person who heads up graduate recruitment or recruitment in general.

If you’re asked what it’s about, be honest, tell them you’re applying or thinking of applying but wanted to get the name right and/or find out more about the business. Be friendly, tell them your name, use their name – if they like you they’ll put you through.

When I applied to BDO Stoy Hayward, I actually revealed all to the office manager as she sounded like she held all the keys. I treated her with respect and she arranged for someone to call me back! And someone actually called me about 2 hours later!

Finally, a QUICK TIP: try to speak to someone particular to the office you’re applying to – you might end up meeting and working with them!

2. Introduce yourself

Practice a neat concise intro with niceties. Use the person’s name: John, hi good afternoon. Give them all the info needed for them to decide if they want to talk to you in the first 20 seconds: My name’s Bob, I’m a graduate/ post-grad/ undergrad and I’m thinking of applying for the super duper role and was hoping to understand xyz, would you be able to spare 5 mins of your time, it would be much appreciated. As soon as you say you’re a grad, normally this sets people at ease, because it’s NOT a sales call!

Be polite, be friendly, be enthusiastic – engage the listener.

3. End with a positive note

Ask your questions, insert your knowledge when relevant keeping it very brief and always staying alert to the fact that this person probably has a hundred more important things to do, and respond to their answers appropriately so it feels like a proper conversation.

Thank them profusely: I really appreciate you taking some time out… it’s been a huge help… I know you’re probably incredibly busy, but I am very grateful etc etc.

Add some cheek/ charm: Hopefully I might meet with you in the near future… Hopefully if all goes well and everything matches up, I’ll look forward to speaking with you again etc. [insert personal touch far charm-ier than me]

Maybe even ask to add them on linked in And/ OR after the convo, simply send them an invite, again thanking them for taking the time to speak with you. This will hopefully make you more memorable and go some way to potentially building a relationship if appropriate and relevant.

Also, if you had a particularly fruitful conversation and see that it might have value, ask if it would be ok to mention that you had a conversation with so-and-so.

Remember, ‘S/he who dares…’


Networking 101 – Linked in 3-Pillars

Many faithful readers will know that I have a penchant for Linked in. It is a fantastically powerful social networking tool that can be harnessed for a variety of activities including job-hunting, information gathering/ research, lead generation, business development, marketing and advertising etc. However, as with most things, if you are planning to use Linked in, and since you’re reading this article I would strongly advise you do and assume you already are, you need to approach it systematically and strategically.

1. Know why you’re using Linked in

This may remain constant or is liable to change depending on your circumstances and propensity for adventure. As soon as you identify what you want to get out of linked in, you can then act with purpose. Knowing for example whether you’re job-hunting, building contacts, keeping in touch with acquaintances or acquiring information, will inform what groups you should join, what information you should present on your profile, what type of updates you should write, who you should aim to connect with and how you approach building your online network.

This will help you approach people online in an appropriate fashion and also invite interest from relevant contacts effectively, as you will set the tone by constructing your profile.

2. Participate appropriately

It’s not all me me me. Reciprocate. Get involved in groups. Once you join a group, the network of people you are able to contact and search increases. However, you want to start building some credibility in your online presence, whether it is by asking questions, beginning discussions, offering opinions and advice or publishing your own material. This will allow you to also network and build your contact base being sure to keep all your actions relevant to your purpose. Karma is real.

3. Build your brand

The first step is to appreciate the fact that you are presenting yourself to be found. Some people may first make contact with you through Linked in, therefore, what you have on your profile, what groups you are in, what discussions you’ve participated in, who has recommended you, whether you have 50 connections or 500+ etc. will all go towards forming an initial impression. There are options to illustrate your specialties and skills and even showcase presentations or link articles from a blog. I even have my linked in profile on my cv so that recruiters and employers can see my recommendations and learn a bit more about me through my professional online activities. I have also created a separate word document where I’ve pasted my recommendations so that for some online applications that allow you to upload supporting documents I provide my references.

Lastly, choose a good profile picture.


Linked in is a way to put yourself out there in the professional world. You can make far more connections and contacts than if you simply relied on the real world meet and greet converse networking model. A strong profile can supplement establishing a foundation for future visibility and exposure in whatever industry you’re pursuing and want to make an impact in. Some clear thinking and consideration early on will allow you to create a neat well-constructed and effective online presence versus one that is tacky and lack-lustre.

For quite a comprehensive resource, check out:

The Ultimate 10-point Strategy

10 steps to landing a grad scheme.

Graduate job-hunting is incredibly difficult. Application forms are laborious and the entire recruitment process for many consulting firms is incredibly time-consuming and mentally draining, often spanning 1-2 months and beyond. Consequently, it makes sense to formulate a strategy to make this terribly stressful and emotionally turbulent time in a graduate’s life as efficient and productive as possible. I therefore present:

Consultinggrad’s 10-point GCS Realization Framework

(GCS – Graduate Consulting Scheme)

1. Understand Consulting

Of course the first step is to understand exactly what consulting is, its general subdivisions such as technology/ business/ strategy and finally who the main players are, eg:

“We help leaders make distinctive, lasting, and substantial improvements to the performance of their organizations. We tackle their most difficult issues and serious challenges.”

“One firm – a powerhouse of a commercial enterprise that does the right thing for our clients, our people and our communities.”

“Accenture collaborates with clients to help them become high-performance businesses and governments.”

Generally, firms aim to improve client businesses by increasing efficiency, improving performance and driving growth, by addressing business challenges and problems. Wonderful.

2. Write a cracking CV

Write a good cv with the mindset that you are now embarking on a quest to become a consultant. CV Rationalisation may be a good place to start, but also understand what competencies these firms are looking to identify so you can describe your experience and achievements in the right language.

3. Sign up to websites

Milkround is great for pulling up a list of consultancy companies currently recruiting. Gradfutures does very much the same thing. Set up a Linked in profile as well as you may come to love this social networking site as much as I do when gathering info on companies and making useful contacts across the industry. (Links are in the Blog Roll menu on the right)

4. Organise your objectives

Identify all the companies and schemes that you can and would like to apply to, then group them in terms of similar styles and capabilities ie. technology; strategy; business; accounting – (KPMG, PwC, Deloitte, EY; Bain, Booz, BCG; Accenture, CSC, Capgemini etc.). I would advise you keep a spreadsheet so you can track your progress as you may find that it quickly becomes difficult to manage. Eg.

5. Application stage i – online form

Apply to each of the firms making sure to keep a record of the competency answers you write for each as it will make subsequent forms easier and quicker. This is key to making sure you’re being as productive and efficient as possible. I found that after completing 2-3 application forms, I was mostly cutting and pasting from my stock-pile of competency answers. Yes, you will find some firms have some unique questions but you’ll be surprised how changing some syntax and the odd word can produce a suitable answer. Which reminds me, make sure you replace company names!! KPMG’s tremendous market credibility is not something you want to talk about in an application for PwC!

6. Application stage ii – Tests

Brush up on your GCSE maths skills (% increase/ decrease, ratios, currency conversions etc.) and get some practice in with the sites listed under the Testing section.

7. Application stage iii – Competency Interviews

Formulate and revise all your competency examples. Most of these firms have very similar competencies such as teamwork, communication, building relationships etc. so once you’ve done the work and preparation for one interview, you’re part way their already for the next, and so on. For help on competencies, take a look at the competency pages on the right in the menu.

8. Application stage iv – Assessment centres

Well done, give yourself a pat on the back for getting this far and take comfort in the fact that this is the final hurdle. You should be comprehensively clued-up on your competency examples and have researched the firm to the nth degree so that any further interviews will be a breeze. Tests similarly should not pose too great an issue. Check out Group Exercises for help on this portion of the assessment.

9. Offers

Compare and choose your future career. The usual things to consider: a) training and career progression b) salary and benefits c) company credibility and culture

10. Celebration

Smoke a fat cigar/ buy some shoes

Final Words

It pays to keep your job-hunting concentrated, as work and effort applied to pursuit of a job in one consultancy can be quickly shifted to focus on another. In this fashion you work efficiently and with greater ease than if you approached job-hunting dis-jointedly. It takes a great deal of effort to psyche yourself up only to be psyched out to then have to psyche yourself up again. It is exhausting, mentally and emotionally. By adopting the Consultinggrad 10-point GCS Realisation Framework you focus on creating as many opportunities as possible that will tend to mature at relatively similar paces. This allows you to focus on each stage of an application with as much undivided attention as possible.

Since you’re going to be helping companies improve performance, increase efficiency and accelerate growth, you might as well start closer to home.

‘Know your enemy’ – Interview success the Sun Tzu way

‘It is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.’ – Sun Tzu

It is fairly obvious that it is imperative you know your cv intimately and that you have compiled a mental catalogue of neat structured examples to demonstrate clearly defined competencies.

However, this is only half the battle

But what of knowing your enemy? Certainly you have reviewed and researched the company’s website and done your homework, but to sustain the metaphor have you given the same level of thought to your opposite number, the individual warrior who will confront you directly in battle? I am of course talking about your interviewer.

Sure, for assessment centres, companies are likely not to know much in advance who exactly will be assessing you or perhaps will be unwilling to tell you. However, for individual interviews you are likely to know who to ask for at reception or should at least inquire as to who you will be seeing. For my interview next Friday with a technology consultancy I know exactly who will be interviewing me, and I know what practice area he sits within and what his background is.

Therefore, I have an inkling as to what he might quiz me on, what he is most knowledgeable about and therefore what he might find most interesting to discuss. I’ll certainly swot up on his specialism slightly more than the other two areas I’m being interviewed for. In this way, I should hope to control the interview a little more than if I go into it without this information.

Additionally, I have some relevant questions prepared particularly since I’ve found out my interviewer used to work for a company I recently had an assessment centre with. Possible rapport-builder?

Intelligence gathering

  1. Company’s website search of interviewer’s name
  2. Google search (people’s favourite)
  3. Linked in (I love linked in)
  4. Facebook
  5. Any relevant contacts you have

Of all the sources above, Linked in is always my first port of call as it, in my opinion, has the best quality professional profile information out there and has served me well on more than many occasions.

Now go win a hundred battles.

Relevant posts: Linkedin grad guide-get networking

Does gaming have a place on your CV? (Or even in the office…)

No. Yes. Maybe. Huh?

I once heard a story from an ex-colleague who had stumbled upon a cv one fine morning in which the typical key skills and qualities section comprising Leadership, Organisation, Communication skills etc. had been populated by a combination of real life experiences and achievements and quite bizarrely, instances and accolades drawn from The World of Warcraft.


It was fantastic for a good chuckle but sadly, not quite the right sort of stuff that one could justify presenting to a client. What the devil was this chap thinking when he sat down to write about his skills. Sure, if I recall correctly, he wanted to be a programmer or technical support person of some kind, but it wasn’t just as if he had talked about his penchant for gaming in his personal interests as a way perhaps to illustrate his passion for all things technical, but he had actually integrated it into the critical main body of the cv AND had used his gaming ‘experiences’ to illustrate non-technical competencies.

Goomba or Genius?

First reactions naturally were to strike this fellow off from the national register of the clinically sane. But upon reflection, could this be considered a turn of brilliance in leveraging a miss-spent youth (and adulthood potentially) to demonstrate valid skills? I don’t recall if he was a recent graduate, I like to think he was, but is it not the case that employers, and others, often highlight the general lack of practical experience concerning competencies such as leadership and communication symptomatic of isolated study-intensive degrees?

That’s what Internships are for.

Yes, like a normal person you can do an internship or two and even get some part time work during your studies that will give you real world practical experience of dealing with people, organising stuff etc. but let’s face it, that’s nowhere near as fun as playing computer games.


Although it seems absolutely ridiculous to try and pass off your ability to pwn (slang for ‘own’ aka ‘absolutely dominate’ for the non-gamers here) at Call of Duty or Command and Conquer etc. as grounds to get a job, arguably there is significant value in intelligently identifying the relevant skills learnt and experiences gained in the virtual world and subsequently bridging the gap so that these qualities can be suitably translated and applied in the real world. For example, let’s consider The World of Warcraft with this in mind (courtesy of Wired magazine):

When role-playing gamers team up to undertake a quest, they often need to attempt particularly difficult challenges repeatedly until they find a blend of skills, talents, and actions that allows them to succeed. This process brings about a profound shift in how they perceive and react to the world around them. They become more flexible in their thinking and more sensitive to social clues. The fact that they don’t think of gameplay as training is crucial. Once the experience is explicitly educational, it becomes about developing compartmentalized skills and loses its power to permeate the player’s behavior patterns and worldview.

…the process of becoming an effective World of Warcraft guild master amounts to a total-immersion course in leadership. A guild is a collection of players who come together to share knowledge, resources, and manpower. To run a large one, a guild master must be adept at many skills: attracting, evaluating, and recruiting new members; creating apprenticeship programs; orchestrating group strategy; and adjudicating disputes. Guilds routinely splinter over petty squabbles and other basic failures of management; the master must resolve them without losing valuable members, who can easily quit and join a rival guild. Never mind the virtual surroundings; these conditions provide real-world training a manager can apply directly in the workplace.

That is identifying the skills, and this is Stephen Gillet, a senior director at Yahoo, bridging the gap:

I used to worry about not having what I needed to get a job done. Now I think of it like a quest; by being willing to improvise, I can usually find the people and resources I need to accomplish the task.

(Source: Wired Magazine)

For some in-game footage to help ground some of these ideas click below (watch the whole thing, you won’t be disappointed [needs sound]):

In Conclusion

I don’t think we’re quite at the stage where employers will necessarily base their hiring decisions on what level you’ve achieved on World of Warcraft or how many harrier air-strikes you’ve called in, though perhaps if like Mr T. you hacked into the game and created a Night Elf Mohawk class (‘Mr condescending director’) then that might impress, but otherwise keep the gaming achievements off the cv.

The real value is to be had in unobtrusively applying gaming skills learnt to real-life activities, and if you have a particularly boring job, sprucing it up by imagining you’re on a quest.

Share your thoughts below.

A Process Map 4 Success – The Importance of Mistakes

A friend sent me the following quote and I, like him, felt that it’s worth sharing:

*What is the Secret of SUCCESS. . . ? “RIGHT DECISIONS”
*How do you make Right Decisions. . . ? “EXPERIENCE”
*How do you get Experience. . . ? “WRONG DECISIONS”

This is the reason why you may be asked for examples of when you have made a mistake, and if you regret anything and what lessons you took from such instances. Companies want to see that you have the potential for success.

Everyone has made mistakes. If you haven’t, then either you have failed to recognize your mistakes and therefore missed opportunities for improvement, or you simply have not been challenged sufficiently. Therefore think hard, look deep and never pass up the chance to become a better person, however tough that might be.

Wearing a 2.2 shouldn’t be embarrassing

But it often is.

Ok so you’ve missed out on the 2.1. Lots of companies won’t want you to even visit their website. However, many are open to applicants with 2.2s as long as there are extenuating circumstances that you can explain and/ or you have some substantial, ideally relevant work experience.

For example, if you were setting up your own company or heavily involved in extra-curricula activities, you may be able to present yourself in a way that manages to dispel the stigma and rash negative preconceptions around the 2.2. And/ or you might have had a string of bad exams for various reasons – poor teaching, ill health, bad technique etc.

1. Get a letter

To manage this, you might try getting a letter of mitigation/ recommendation from your director of studies or faculty head that explains your circumstances and substantiates your abilities, effectively describing you as a 2.1 calibre student.

2. Explain to HR

The next step would be to contact someone in HR and explain your situation while also selling yourself concisely. For this you will need to prepare a brief punchy verbal cv. Communicating a bit of passion won’t hurt either. Build a rapport with this individual as they may ultimately sponsor your application through the cv-screening phase. Of course, you will need to impress with answers on the formal online application form. How to Make Grad Applications 36% More Effective has some tips on how to do this.

3. Use relationships and references

If you are a big people person and have strong references or recommendations from relevant people you may have worked with during internships or a perm job then this too can strengthen your cause. Having a linked in account or other similar online presence will make it easier for you to showcase these accolades, as people tend to sit in front of computers a lot and are nosy when it comes to online networking profiles. Check out Linked in Grad Guide – Get Networking for some help and tips.

Thank god some blue-chips accept 2.2s: