Twenty years ago, there was this job hunting strategy that almost everybody used — and that successfully led to tens (or hundreds) of thousands of people getting hired, each year.

It was called pounding the pavement.

Now to a younger professional, who didn’t grow up with this phrase, this technique might conjure up visions of attaching I-5 with a ball peen hammer.  That’s not quite the idea, however.  It really just meant you sucked up your courage, printed out a few resumes, and went out to introduce yourself to some companies and inquire if they had any positions open.

These days, it’s a lost art.  Virtually no job hunter seems to be using this technique as part of their marketing mix.  I had a client come in the other day, for example, who said she’s been looking for work for six months in the advertising agency field.  I said “Great, how many agencies have you contacted so far?”  She said 12.  When I then pulled up a screen showing her that there were over 250 of these types of agencies in the Puget Sound area alone, which meant she hadn’t given 238 of her best potential customers the chance to say “yes” to her, she was rather speechless.

The bottom line is that a direct marketing attempt of any form (e.g. a cold call, unsolicited e-mail, walk-in visit, etc.) can be expected to have a very low response rate.  Perhaps only 1 out of 20 companies, at best, will give you the time of day or hold a meaningful conversation with you should you approach them in “cold turkey” fashion.  But wait, what’s the response rate of NOT attempting to contact them in the first place?  That’s right.  Zero percent.

Additionally, one has to make a distinction between just calling employers at random, with nothing interesting to say, versus doing some careful selection of the organizations where you could potentially add the most value — and where you have something interesting and highly relevant in your professional toolbox to talk to them about.

For example, if you were a sales professional with a strong background in the food industry, you might build a list of some firms in that sector and hit them up with a script like this:

Hi John.  You don’t know me from Adam, but I was doing some research on the specialty foods sector here in Seattle and came across your company on LinkedIn.  I hadn’t heard of you guys before, so I wanted to give you a quick call and introduce myself.  I’ve been a pretty successful sales professional over the years with products similar to yours, such as Theo Chocolates and Sahale Snacks,  and while I realize you likely don’t have any openings right at this exact moment, I figure it couldn’t hurt to at least introduce myself in case some needs opened up down the road.  I’ve got a pretty good track record of opening doors and getting some sizable deals closed.  So I just wanted to bounce that off you, for what it’s worth, and if you ever want to get together and talk shop about the industry, let me know.  I’d be totally up for it.  Thanks for your time.”

Again, is a pitch like this guaranteed to work each and every time?  No.  Half the time? Probably not.  But if you catch that one struggling or expansion-minded business owner, at the right time, he or she might at least be willing to grant you an audience.  At that point, you never know what might develop.  You either plant a seed for the future, when a suitable need arises, or perhaps they can refer you along to some other useful contacts who might be in need of your talents.

So if you still envision direct marketing or cold-calling as a completely desperate, random, unfocused form of communication where you’re just begging people for a job, your perceptions might be in need of some updating.  If you pick your targets carefully, and take the pressure off (per the script above) by letting them know you DON’T expect them to have an immediate opening, you never know when your confident outreach effort might lead to a great opportunity.

In contrast, I got a call today from an individual who works in an industry where cold-calling actually IS still a common marketing practice — the financial planning field.  A Merrill Lynch adviser left me a rambling voicemail message that sounded something like “Um, your company is exactly the type of company I can help best, given your size and such, and I’d love to together to talk about your financial plans from the standpoint of solutions and such.

It was pretty awful.  I felt sorry for the guy.  It was clear he didn’t have the first clue about my background, what my company did, or anything about me — despite his feeble attempts to convince me otherwise.  He was just dialing for dollars, fast as his fingers could carry him.

So I called him back, out of pity, and said “Hey, I’m just a one-man operation, which I’m guessing you didn’t realize – and I’m not even close to the target audience you’re trying to reach.  But I also know that cold-calling sucks, so I just wanted to get back to you and tell you that I did get your message and hope you end up being successful, even though I’m not a good prospect for you.

The guy laughed and said I made his day, since yes, the company he was with was literally forcing him to make 50 cold calls day, right out of the phone book.

Don’t let this one bad example scare you off, however.  Conducted properly, cold-calling and other forms of direct marketing can be highly effective techniques for both job hunters and sales professionals alike.  You just need a little bit of courage — and a lot of preparation!



Something like that.