Talent Acquisition

Recruiters: Why You’re Probably Thinking About Leads Backwards

Imagine that you have two leads: the first is from a candidate you just qualified, who told you that they have just applied to a specific role at a specific company. The second is from another candidate (for the sake of argument called Dave) who you have placed in the past, and has just told you they’ve got a new job at a company, and has given you the hiring manager’s name for you to speak to. Which lead is better?

When I pose this scenario to recruiters, they tend to answer the first lead is better. When asked why, they often recognise the value of the second lead, but prefer the first lead because it is a ‘hot’ lead – it represents an active role that is accepting candidates, whilst the second lead is ‘cold’, so there is no work to be won. However, the problem with the hot, warm and cold terminology we apply to leads is that it forces us to think about leads backwards. We are judging them on the urgency of the lead itself, rather than the quality of the call that the lead will generate.

The hot lead:

The hot lead will generate a cold call. You don’t know who the hiring manager is, or, at, best, you only have a name after a few minutes’ detective work on LinkedIn. You have no introduction to the company, and as the lead is active the hiring manager will in all likelihood have a dozen other recruiters calling him, all giving him the same pitch: “We have a great candidate for your role” / “We only send a limited number of high-quality CVs” / “We specialise in these types of positions” etc. All of these could come straight out of Cold Calling For Dummies, and will fail to differentiate your voice from others. At best you’ll get a polite ‘thanks but no thanks’; at worst, a rant.

The cold lead:

In contrast, the cold lead is unlikely to have other recruiters calling and pestering the hiring manager, because the company isn’t actively hiring. You won’t be going in cold, you will lead your call with your introduction – “Dave recommended I give you a chat, he’s told me some stuff about what you guys get up to and it sounds really interesting”. This is basic networking; humans are most receptive to introductions when moderated by a trusted third party. Imagine a social gathering: you will feel a lot more comfortable chatting to someone if your host has introduced you to them, than if you go straight up and start making small talk. Furthermore, the person you’re chatting to will feel more comfortable, too. Yes, you haven’t actually won some new business today, but in two months’ time when that company are hiring again and you call back, suddenly your voice is different to the dozen other recruiters hammering the poor hiring manager’s extension. It is recognised, and trusted. Or, even better, when the manager realises that he needs to hire someone else, he picks up the phone and gives you a call!

Of course, any introduction comes with an unspoken caveat: “I am putting some of my reputation on the line to provide you with this opportunity, so don’t waste it”. Dave has a vested interest in you doing well because if his introduction is successful then his stock with, and influence on, his manager rises. Social interactions are transactional; we expect some benefit to come from us out of them. Imagine that Dave speaks to his new manager after passing on the introduction to you, and asks how it went. If he is told, ‘oh, he never got back to me’, or, ‘I found him a bit rude’, then Dave will be understandably upset. His reputation matters to him, but your actions have told him that it doesn’t matter to you. Dave’s ability to influence his hiring manager will have dropped just a little bit as a result, and the consequence is that he is unlikely to give you any more leads as he trusts you less.

Whilst the hot/warm/cold scale is useful when setting priorities for cold calling, it means that you are thinking about leads the wrong way. The main value in a lead is the warmth of the call it will generate. It doesn’t matter if the lead is ‘red hot’, if all you make are cold calls then you will spend a heck of a long time on the phone whilst getting very little out of it. The beautiful thing about a network is how its economics work. The bigger your network, the more potential value. The more effort you put into your relationships, the more value you will extract from your network, and that value will multiply and reciprocate within your network.


Anyone can be a phone jockey. Anyone can hammer the phone and make a hundred calls a day. But, the best recruiters I know, the ones who deserve the title “Consultant”, don’t do any cold-calling because they understand that recruitment is the business of human interaction. A cold call is the weakest form of interaction, and leaves next-to-no impression on the person with whom you are trying to build a relationship. A recruiter is a node in a social network, and the value of that network depends on the strength and number of connections to other nodes. The more work you put into developing your relationships, the more value you will extract from your network – and the more you will ultimately bill. So leave the cold-calling to the cowboys and other hacks, and forget about hot, warm and cold leads. The only thing that matters is a warm call.

Image: Shutterstock

By Andrew Fairley

Andrew Fairley has recently completed an MA in Management with The York Management School, focusing on strategy, innovation, HR, and organisational behaviour, and has just begun a PhD investigating the UK internet startup industry. Prior to this, he spent 2 years as a Recruitment Consultant, working with clients from SMEs to blue-chips, sourcing IT staff.  You can find him on Twitter or LinkedIn.