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Mar 25, 2019

Phone sourcing is probably where most of us are uncomfortable. I know I was when I started. How do you ask for the “Engineering Manager” without their name and get past the gatekeeper? How do you get more information over the phone, speaking to total strangers without coming across as unconfident? Especially when you know, you can’t help that person.

I’ve found that if I concentrate on getting to know the receptionists and admins of the individuals you want to reach while being genuine, speaking confidentially, and being honest will get you farther than you could imagine. I currently know five receptionists by their names, their grandkids, and I’ve gotten two of their family members jobs. They would have never given me their nephew and niece as a referral if I didn’t develop a level of trust with them first.

Know Your Audience

First things first: know their name. Once they give you their name, put it in your database as the receptionist or admin, whomever it is. I find that they cycle a lot too, so stay current. Keep notes on anything they tell you that’s personal. Once you know their name, ask for whomever you need. When I’m doing business development, I’ll ask “Who is your Engineering Manager?” in hopes that I will get the first name; I do this even when I have the managers name. Many times, I will learn of new Engineering Managers, or get a name utterly unrelated to what I was looking for but it’s information, and the information is power.

Have Confidence

Introducing yourself is important too. “Hi, my name is Joshua May, who is your Engineering Manager?” If they ask who you work for, I typically don’t lie. I’ll say “HireStrong” or “HSR” initials being for HireStrong Resources so I’m not lying. Usually just answering their questions confidentially and honestly without hesitation gets you past the gatekeeper. If they ask what’s this in regards to I typically go with “It’s confidential, but your manager will appreciate what I have to say, I can leave a voicemail if you want.” Now, remember, at this point all I want is names, but if I can get a hold of a person, even better! I can call back later asking for the name and hopefully don’t have to explain I am a recruiter trying to pitch someone, so they don’t transfer me to HR. (Sorry HR, love you guys, I don’t want to be one of the millions calling you, only until I know I can help you out, so I want to take some of your time).

It’s Just Lunch

The best times to phone source with the receptionist I have found to be during lunch. Usually, a temp is working or a new person. I’ve had many read down a list of names of Engineers or Managers, etc. Now I can call back later asking for everyone to make an introduction.

Develop a Relationship

Getting to know the receptionists, especially ones with your clients, is a great way to get passive intel from your potential clients or your clients themselves as they will tell you everything is going on in the company such as, “Jack just quit today.” But to develop this relationship you need to know their name, provide ice breakers in each call with casual chat. Right now it’s pouring outside, so maybe I’ll talk about that “dangerous drive to work” and ask how their commute was. Over time, you can get to know their family members names, their bus route, and find something in common. I speak to one about dogs, because I love dogs, and she’s got five.

Don’t Be Afraid

I understand their jobs are to be the gatekeeper, but I also encourage you not to be afraid of them. If you’re confident in what you’re selling, then that confidence comes through over the phone. Never lie; this doesn’t mean you have to admit you’re a recruiter in the first call. Sometimes I say, “It’s to discuss valves and chokes.” When you’re dealing with technical positions, I find using big words or products even we don’t understand a great way to get past the gatekeeper. They don’t want to admit they don’t know what they are talking about, so they likely will transfer you to someone in the department you’re looking for. Then you can introduce yourself to that person and start all over.

Asking for names from receptionists and admins is one thing, but what about from potential candidates or clients? I’ve had clients straight up refuse to introduce me to other managers within the company because they wanted me all to themselves, then try to take me to the shooting range with their daughter as a potential set-up. Well, how do I get this client who likes me so much to introduce me to his daughter to also introduce me to colleagues? Find the best candidates possible for him, and then find candidates for the other managers that will make him feel like he is doing his colleague a favor by introducing me to that new manager. In the end, we offer a service, and we must show love and exceptional customer service to everyone.

Handling Referrals

When you’re dealing with a client, and you want referrals, proving yourself first is essential. With candidates, I take a different approach. If I am cold-calling a candidate that I know I can help and I ask for referrals, I make sure they know that the candidate will have “first right of refusal” for a position I working on before I submit their friends if they are both qualified. I will tell them after they get the interview and I get feedback, only then will I submit their friends if necessary. I explain, “Sometimes clients need to see multiple people make a decision and if they don’t choose to hire you after the interview, then I’ll submit your friend to give them options. In the past, I’ve seen them hire both, but if you get passed on don’t worry you can make your friend happy by introducing them to me, and I’ll give you a referral fee.” I don’t typically offer referral fees, but I will if I have candidates competing with each other, so everyone wins. Otherwise, it’s a “free service” to candidates, and all I expect in return is “referrals.”

What about dealing with candidates who you know you can’t help, but you can help people they know. Be honest! Tell them why you can’t help them for that role. Whether it be tenure, lack of experience, whatever it is. Candidates appreciate honesty; give them advice on how to make themselves more appealing. I even will tell them who the company is sometimes so that they can apply on their own, or I tell them of other roles I know of with the Hiring Manager and explain what they need to do to make themselves better for the future of using a recruiter. Candidates appreciate when you explain that clients won’t pay you for them because of XYZ reason. I can’t tell you how many times my candidate is competing against an internal referral or applicant, and they always get the job. It amazes me, honestly.


In the end, phone sourcing is simple. Develop genuine relationships and be honest with your approach and your objective. It’s kind of like seeing a stranger on Facebook and you two eventually get to know one another because of friends or things you have in common. Little bits of information over time add up, and when you throw off someone because you know more about their personal life than they even know your name, you stand out, and now they know your name and know “your good.”

Good luck phone sourcing out there my fellow headhunters/recruiters/sourcers.