How to Effectively Handle ‘Objections’ While Telephone Job Prospecting

Personal Branding

Editor’s Note: This blog is an adaptation of the chapter entitled, “Never Rebut an Objection—Roll with it!,” in “‘Headhunter’ Hiring Secrets: The Rules of the Hiring Game Have Changed . . . Forever!, by Skip Freeman.

What is your first “gut” reaction when you encounter an “objection”—“We’re not hiring right now,” “You need to call HR,” etc.—while telephone prospecting for a new job among hiring managers or the companies they represent? It’s to immediately rebut or counter the objection, right? “I’ve already tried to call HR numerous times and all I get is a busy signal,” you might respond, probably with even a slight edge of frustration in your voice. This of course would be a very normal, quite human reaction. It is not, however, likely to work in your favor or get you where you want to go—to land a new job.

In this blog I am going to review some of the more common objections you’re likely to encounter while job prospecting by telephone and then show you how you to effectively handle them by resisting the temptation to “push back” by offering a rebuttal or countering the objections in some other way. By learning to effectively use this approach you will brand yourself as someone who is different from and better than the typical job hunter who is perceived as “just someone else looking for a job.”

(Coincidentally, the suggested ways of handling common objections featured in this blog work best when you precede your telephone prospecting by the direct mail campaign outlined in these previous blogs: and

In my executive recruiting firm we coach all of our job candidates that the best way to handle objections they’re likely to encounter during their job hunt is, first, to think in terms of the martial arts, wrestling or similar forms of hand-to-hand combat. To be effective in these disciplines, one must learn to “roll with the punches” or other aggressive tactics and not attempt to “block” them. This same approach also works quite well with objections you’re likely to encounter during your job hunt. The basic rule is this: Never, never rebut or counter an objection, “roll with it.”

Let’s start with the number one objection you’re likely to encounter during your telephone prospecting activities:

“You need to call HR.”

The best way to handle this objection, which will occur often enough to become an issue, is by using a response such at this:

“Sure, I can call HR. But before I do, may I ask if I am the type of individual you could see making a contribution to your team?”

Notice that you made no attempt to block or rebut the objection. Rather, you “rolled” with it when you said, “Sure, I can call HR.” You merely agreed with the person making the objection, which they probably were not expecting at all. So, when you asked the follow-up question (“. . . may I ask if I am the type of individual you could see making a contribution. . . .”), the person is far more likely to work with you, at least for awhile.

Here is another, very common objection you likely will encounter while telephone prospecting:

“We are not hiring.”

An often effective way of handling this objection is by saying something like this:

“I didn’t necessarily think you were at this point. If someone were to resign, or when business increases at some point in the near future, am I the type of individual you would be interested in speaking with?”

This answer (as well as virtually all of the other suggested responses in this blog) presupposes, of course, that you have adequately and thoroughly laid out your credentials beforehand by initiating your direct mail campaign and including your credentials in it. Otherwise, you can say/ask:

“I didn’t necessarily call thinking you were hiring right now. What is the best way for me to get my information in front of you, so that if someone were to resign, or when business increases at some point in the near future, I will be “top of mind” in terms of being able to bring value to you in a position?”

At this point I can practically “hear” what some of you reading this blog are probably thinking: “This would never work in ‘the real world!’” “This is all merely theory,” “pie in the sky.” Au contraire! Admittedly, these approaches certainly do not work each and every time you use them—no approach works every time!—but they work often enough to seriously consider using them! How do I know? Not only do the job candidates I present to hiring companies effectively use them, as a “headhunter,” I also regularly and effectively use them when I am prospecting for “job orders,” i.e., positions companies want to fill, among hiring companies.

Here is an example of the type of objection I routinely hear during my telephone prospecting activities as a “headhunter”:

“We don’t use recruiters.”

The response of many “headhunters” to this type of objection would consist of an attempt to convince the hiring company why they should use “headhunters.” And, to be honest about it, that was the approach I took when I first started out in the business. It didn’t take me long, however, to learn that this approach, this response, was largely counterproductive and essentially ineffective. Nowadays, this is my typical response to the objection:

“I understand. Please tell me, when you have a very difficult position to fill, how do you go about filling it?”

Notice that I didn’t “push back” or “argue”! I merely chose to “roll with it,” by agreeing with the objection, i.e., “I understand,” and that’s what you should learn to do too. Otherwise you will automatically be branded as “just another job hunter” who can quickly become “a pain in the neck” to the company representative answering the telephone, someone to get off the phone as quickly as possible.

Let me share one more instructive example, involving an objection encountered with increasing frequency these days. Suppose the company representative you’re talking to says,

“You need to go to our website, see what positions we have open and then apply online.”

Sound familiar? Here’s a response to this common objection that can work well:

“Certainly, I can do that. By the way, may I ask you a brief question?”

Their likely response would probably be along these lines because only the rudest and most impatient of people usually would deny such a polite request:

“O.K., but please make it quick because I don’t have much time to talk.”

You then say something like this:

“What do you feel makes your company a unique place to work?”

Assuming you’ve not connected to one of the more disgruntled employees of the company, they may respond by briefly telling you why they like working for their company. Your response could then go along these lines:

“Wow! That sounds interesting and it sounds as though you really like working there.”

I’m sure you get the idea by now. Handled correctly, and with tact, as well as with politeness, you can perhaps get a dialogue going with the company representative, thereby setting the stage for the real goal of your prospecting efforts: Getting your information into the hands of a key representative of the company. Here is the approach you might take to accomplish that:

“May I send my information to you? I would like to be able to stay in touch with someone who is as excited about her work and company as you are. I’m sure you will agree, that attitude is somewhat rare these days.”

Now, she may or may not agree to accept your information, but nonetheless, you may have cultivated an “insider” with whom you can stay in touch, as well as one who may ultimately agree to “sponsor” you within the company if a suitable position should come open in the future.

I hasten to add that there are no “magic” words to use for overcoming all objections you may encounter during your telephone job prospecting activities. There is, however a “magic formula,” and here it is:

Whenever you encounter an objection during your job hunt, follow these simple rules:

  • Never, never “push back, i.e., do not become (or appear to become)  hostile or argumentative. That will only serve to alienate the company representative and brand you as a job applicant to be avoided at all costs.
  • Ask questions! That will aid you in getting an all-important, potentially productive dialogue going with the company representative.
  • Learn how to “lead the witness” and use this very effective approach during interviews and while prospecting. (To learn more about the elements of this approach see:

If you’ve already been searching for a new job in today’s extremely competitive job market, you already know that, in order to succeed, you must brand yourself as a candidate who is new and different from and better than the “run-of-the-mill” candidate. That means stepping out of your “comfort zone” and embracing—and then implementing!—new, different and better approaches and job hunting tactics, not simply following “the herd.” If you are just now entering the job market looking for a new job you soon will learn this fact. Otherwise, looking from a hiring manager’s perspective (or the companies he or she represents), you are destined to remain just another faceless applicant among a growing sea of faceless applicants, any given face virtually indistinguishable from all the others, with little or no chance of rising to the level of an exceptional candidate.


Skip Freeman is the author of “Headhunter” Hiring Secrets: The Rules of the Hiring Game Have Changed . . . Forever! and is the President and Chief Executive Officer of The HTW Group (Hire to Win), an Atlanta, GA, Metropolitan Area Executive Search Firm. Specializing in the placement of sales, engineering, manufacturing and R&D professionals, he has developed powerful techniques that help companies hire the best and help the best get hired.