Can You Hear Me Now? Engaging with Candidates on the Phone

Everything you’ve ever wanted is on the other side of fear.
— George Addair

Giving someone a call, time and time again, comes out on top for one of the most successful of channels for candidate engagement. Besides talking face-to-face, it’s one of the more traditional routes of communication. Producing a direct connection with the sights set on gaining their immediate attention. Compared to the more passive latter of reaching out via email and it’s typical 24-48 hour wait time.

According to a survey done by Social Talent, 50% of recruiters stated that when using the phone to engage with passive candidates, their response rates were 40% or more. While in contrast, for the ones that used the more passive Linkedin connection request, only 22% of recruiters surveyed reported 40% or more for their response rates.

Even the Global Recruiting Survey in 2016 gathered that using the phone is the most effective channel to utilize when contacting with candidates. Ringing in with a 44% response rate compared to Linkedin’s only 35%.


See what i did there?

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To make sure you are hitting success when utilizing the phone to connect with candidates, you have to be quick on your feet. Remember, there is no real do over with a phone call. You can’t retract your phrasing and or rewrite your message before sending if off as you can with email. You need to be confident, prepared, and a master improviser for when an unexpected card gets played.


First Impressions matters

We all know this. You know this, your boss knows, even your Grandma knows. Trust me, go ahead and ask her. First impressions DO matter. Typically within the first 5 minutes, a person will get a general idea of who you are and what your intentions are. To make matters a little more intense, cut those 5 minutes down to around 30 - 45 seconds when trying to connect with a prospective candidate on the phone. Talk about pressure.

You are probably thinking well doesn’t that just come off as a being a bit judgemental, well yes and no. It’s honestly just human nature gauging the unfamiliar territory in front of them. Where your mind makes the assessment as to whether it needs to fight, flight, or perceive the engagement as non-threatening. Basic psychology. Though a random phone call isn’t going to kill you or pose an immediate danger to your health. It’s just natural instinct to look out for your well being on all levels in regards to events you didn’t plan for.

Therefore what you say first and how will either make or break your connection with a candidate before it even gets started. People are busy with their everyday lives and you’re technically a stranger disrupting that, no matter how great the opportunity is. So think before dialing in.


WHO'S calling?

As data shows us, out of all the calls recruiters make to candidates, a swift and direct phone call has proven them more success. So what about the rest of the candidates who refuse to get on the phone? Untapped talent simply because these individuals just don’t pick up. So how do we convince them to give a complete stranger a chance. That’s why you’re reading this blog right? To better understand how you can get more candidates engaged on the phone? I could regurgitate another list of do’s and don’ts, but how is that going to help if no one is talking about the baseline when it comes down to that icebreaker.

Take a step back and think, what are the things you are doing right now that lead to your calls never starting or throw back to the dial tone? Put yourself in the candidates shoes. Could you be calling at terrible and inconvenient times? I tend to do that to my sister. No matter the time of day, somehow i always catch her in the middle of something.

Chances are when trying to engage with passive candidates they could already be at work. If they are about to head into a meeting, chances are they are not going to have the time to chat. So be proactive about when you decide to punch those digits. When reaching out, try to call them at the top, mid or bottom of the hour for eg. 9 am, 9:30 am or 10 am.

You could even consider dialing 30 mins before normal work hours, around 8 am. Even after work hours from 5 - 7 pm would increase your odds in connecting. With passive job seekers it’s almost like playing marco polo, listening to their lines ring hoping to make contact. With active job seekers it’s easier to connect because they are typically already tuned into the rhythm or prepared to open an ear to recruiters.

Feeling ANXIous?

Sometimes i get nervous when i have to make a cold call, or to even answer unfamiliar digits flashing across my screen. Is it possible that when we get hung up on the idea of making sure we pitch this new role perfectly, that we become oblivious to a candidate’s potential phone anxiety?

If you sit and think, most people are scared of uncertainty. You can say that the majority of individuals don’t enjoy being put on the spot without advance notice. When you are cold calling a candidate, you are an unexpected stranger doing just that. Talk about awkward, especially if they answer and you’re not confident as to why you reached out to them in the first place.


A little food for thought, around 80% - 90% of communication is considered non-verbal. It’s believed that 55% of communication is comprised of your body language, 38% is contributed to your tone of voice, and around 7% is directed towards actual words spoken.

These aren’t exact percentages, but you can see why phone anxiety may cause someone to throw an immediate safeguard up or dismiss you completely. People are left blinded to your non-verbal communicative markers. That can be intimidating and makes it harder to gauge your intentions. They are relying solely on your verbal expression to determine the type of connection you wish to initiate.

If you’re uncertain about the connection, then they will be uncertain about engaging with you now or in the future.



Before you reach out to anybody, start by putting the candidate to the forefront of your mind. This call is all about them and not you. You are merely the messenger. If you want make those first moments count, no detail is too small. Take the time to thoroughly read up on everything you can on the candidate. Pinpointing any obvious triggers and organizing details you can utilize in order to nurture a personalized connection.

When engaging with the unfamiliar, people are going to look for what resonates with them. You need to give them something and give it to them confidently so they will open their door just a bit more. Just remember, not everyone is receptive to the same triggers. So you are bound to slip up if you try to place them all in the same box.

This seems to be a given, but make sure you know the role you are filling and how you think it correlates to that specific candidate. This can dramatically improve your odds from the start. People don’t want to engage in conversation that doesn’t make sense. That be like selling someone shoes that don’t fit. These boots are made for walking, but not if they are two sizes too small.

When you get candidates on the phone, you should always ask them WHY they are open to new opportunities. This question will help you to understand their pain points and guide you on how to soothe them. For example if the answer is money, then you should pitch the compensation. If location is of important, then you can put and emphasizes on that. You want to discover what it will take for them to consider leaving their current arrangement.

Initially, this first call is only meant to break the ice and peek the candidate’s interest. The goal is to set up things up for a longer more detailed conversation later on. Even though you’re not going to get down into the nitty gritty now, the candidate is going to want a generalized idea as to why you’re even bothering them in the first place. The beginning to every great relationship is mutual understanding and trust.


Keeping track

Expanding on the idea that not everyone is cut from the same cloth, personalities vary, and everyone does indeed dance to a different beat. It’s imperative to make sure you are documenting all interactions you have with candidates. Especially when there is the possibility you might be engaging with them again in the future. Think of it like a drawing a map and the candidate is the treasure. You don’t want to forget where you buried the treasure, so as long as you create a proper map you will know the way back.



You are bound to get rejections, that is inevitable. Not every passive job seeker is going to be open to exploring new opportunities that you have to offer in particular. Why? Well that can vary from person to person. Someone else could have offered the solution to their problem. It’s not necessarily you, but them. It revolves around what is driving the candidates needs at the time. So i wouldn’t take it personally.

Even if they don’t click with you the first time, that’s okay. Everything you do, with that moment forward, should contribute to the goal of driving the positive development of that relationship. You should always think of the bigger picture. Think about what the candidate wants and how they want to be engaged with on their terms. That is just how people are. What can you do for me, and can you do it when i want it. By leaving a positive impression, you almost guarantee that they might be open to listening to you down the line when it clicks with them. Opportunities are always knocking, sometimes the timing is just off.

As a team, we aim to bring insights, passion and innovation to the recruiting process, offering an exceptional experience for our clients and candidates. When you work with Alltech, we’re with you every step of the way.

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