How to do cold outreach to candidates (and not get a reputation for poaching)

You’ve started a recruitment campaign for a role and have decided that you don’t want to just rely on applicants to your job ad. You want to do some headhunting, too. But how do you go about doing effective cold outreach to the people you’ve identified without getting a reputation for poaching?

Let’s take a look at what’s involved in a cold outreach, and our tips for how to do it well.

What is cold outreach?

Even some of the best marketing for a particular role may result in little quality interest. Sometimes the best talent needs to be targeted via headhunting. Cold outreach is the action of reaching out to an individual who has not actively applied for a role but has a relevant online profile that you believe makes them a good prospective candidate.

Whether by phone or email, the first few sentences of your cold outreach is critical. Making the right impression and asking the right questions may just result in finding an individual that is open to considering a move for the right opportunity.

How to avoid getting a reputation for poaching

  • Do not contact multiple people from the same company. This will likely cause people to become aware you’re targeting their employees and potentially harm or hinder any future relationships with these companies.
  • Prioritise your current industry relationships. Within the industry your company may work closely with other enterprises in the same trade – some of them might, indeed, be clients. Keeping these relationships positive can often be more important in the longer term than filling your vacant role. Reaching out to easy targets may seem like the most effective option, but it’s worth thinking about how this will impact your workplace relationships in the long run, and whether it’s worth it.

How to do cold outreach by phone

  • Start by clearly stating who you are and why you are calling – you noticed their skills and experience in the industry and wanted to reach out and have a chat about their experience. This upfront transparency is critical to build some initial trust and will allow the candidate to feel recognised and comfortable with who they are speaking with.
  • Always check that now is a good time for them to talk, especially if you are calling during work hours.
  • Take the chance to get to know them and ask about their current situation. Taking a minute to ask about what they are doing for work, if they have been keeping an eye on the current job market, and whether they have been thinking at all about moving. There are many factors that could impact whether they would be right or even interested in what you have to offer – take some time to see if you can uncover this.
  • Where has their career path taken them? After enquiring about their current situation, you may find they are no longer in the position you thought they were in. Finding out how and why they have made a change could be important information in finding out their suitability for your role.
  • Are they happy where they are now? Some candidates are unhappy with their current workplace whether it be the environment, workload, or their duties. Understanding what is making them unhappy could allow you to pitch the benefits of your role or company if these benefits might be important to them. If the candidate says they are happy where they are now and not looking to move…
  • What is the ideal next step for them? For candidates that let you know they are happy with their current workplace, the call isn’t a waste of time. It’s still useful to find out what their ideal next career move is. This could be moving back into a role they enjoyed in the past, moving up onto a supervisory position, higher remuneration or finding entry into a whole new industry. Understanding this can help you build a connection for any future roles that may be more aligned to their career goals.
  • Let them know the details of the opportunity and gauge their interest, hopefully moving them forward in the recruitment process. If they’re not interested, ask if they know of anyone else who might be suitable based on what you’ve told them about the role so far.

What not to do:

  • Avoiding letting them know who you are. Be genuine and transparent in your interaction. Don’t be coy about who you are or where you’re from. Remember that you are interrupting their day, not the other way around, so be polite and respectful of their time.
  • Start speaking about the opportunity before building rapport or inquiring about their current workplace or lifestyle situation. Don’t bombard them with details about the opportunity before first building some rapport and getting to know the candidate. Without understanding where they are and their next ideal position, it’s difficult for you to know if they are even suited to your role.
  • Pushing an opportunity that they have stipulated is not ideal or in their continuing career plan. Offering an opportunity that clearly does not align with a candidate won’t be of interest to them, and if you continue to try to push it on them it will not reflect well on you or your company. As soon as they say no, respect their position and move on.