Over Confidence

Last week someone forwarded me an email for a company that was looking for a phone sourcer.  I contacted the solicitor and offered to put it out to the network of 1600 members in the MagicMethod Phone Sourcing group and I received a grateful reply that included:

I’m really looking for a seasoned pro with 2+ years who needs minimal mentoring but can take project direction on a continuous basis – multiple times a day…for a full-time manufacturing and a part-time DoD position. Pay depends on experience – of course.

I asked what the pay was for an “old, salty sourcer” and it sounded reasonable.

I laughed ‘cause I’m an old sourcer but salty?  Yeah, I s’pose that, too.

Anyway, I put the missive out and he began to get some inquiries.  He had a pretty straightforward “test” he was sending to the applicants: identify the VP of Product & Process Development and the Director reports at a company and find the e-mail address of a person at another company.

He gave the info in an Excel spread sheet and it included the telephone numbers of the two specific companies he wanted penetrated.  At the top of the Excel spread sheet it said:

Product Marketing Sample
Looking for the VP Product Development and of his/her direct reports.
They should all have the title Director Product Development

I thought it looked like it might be an interesting “challenge” and being as rusty as I am these days with so little phone sourcing work to do on a daily basis I took a stab at it.  I wanted to know the answers anyway in case any of my MagicMethod network asked me about the challenge so I could “help” them with advice on how to proceed.  Besides that, it looked like fun.

Not being accustomed to working in Excel (I find it too “jumpy” for fast phone sourcing work), I eyeballed the document and picked up the phone.  Knowing what titles are used at a specific company is a huge leg-in on any search, Internet included.  But this was a phone search – he wanted phone sourcers specifically.

“XYZ Corporation.  Melinda speaking.”

“Hi Melinda, this is Maureen Sharib.  Can you give me the e-mail address of so-and-so?”

Piece of cake – she recited it easily to me.  I repeated it back to her – slowly – to make sure I had it right.  It took about half-a-minute.  That part of the challenge was finished – on to the next.  This is where I got into trouble.  I think I was feeling haughty.

“ABC Corporation.  Delores speaking.  May I help you?”

“Hi Delores, this is Maureen Sharib.  Can you please transfer me to product development?”

“Which division?  We have many different divisions.”

Blowback.  I didn’t expect that after the ease of my first call.

Glancing at the Excel document I noted it was asking for “Interiors & Exteriors” so I blurted that out.

“Which?” she pressed.

“Interiors,” I grabbed, thinking I would start somewhere.

“One moment, please,” and before I could collect my composure Delores had me on hold in a transfer process.  The phone rang and rang and finally a VoiceMail answered.  “Amanda” informed me that she was gone for the day and would be returning tomorrow and in the event I was trying to reach so-and-so (I had no idea who so-and-so was) I should call Sheila at x4567.  Eyeballing the original telephone number of the company on the Excel sheet I dialed 1 (this was long distance) and the first six numbers – the area code and the prefix – and then Sheila’s four digit extension.  It rang through and another Voicemail answered, identifying herself as “Sheila, the Coordinator in Engineering” and informing me she was on the telephone and would be happy to return my call shortly.

I hung up.

Feeling giddy as I so often do on these chases I pushed back in my chair and noted Sheila’s extension.  Thinking that maybe, just maybe as they sometimes do, if I dialed x4568 directly (now that I knew the easy internal dial key to the company’s employees) I might hit someone else in Engineering so that’s what I did.  It rang and rang and another VoiceMail answered.  I hung up.  I then dialed x4569.  Another VoiceMail.  I hung up and redialed x4570.  A male voice answered.


“This is Maureen Sharib.  I am trying to reach so-and-so and Amanda is out for the day.  Can you give me his number?”


“So-and-so.  I am trying to reach the Engineering department.  Is this Engineering?”

“Yeah, this is Engineering but you have the wrong number.”

“I am sorry to disturb you.  Can you give me so-and-so’s number?

“Uhhh – sure.  Wait a minute.”

I waited while he fumbled with some paper.  He then told me so-and-so was at x4561.  Huh.  Close enough in the phone tree to think this wasn’t a fluke – the fact that Engineering was close together in the phone tree.  I wasn’t finished.  I asked, “So-and-so – he’s the VP of Product Development – right?”

“Uh.  Yeah.  We do product development here.” I wasn’t listening.  My heart filled with glee that I had discovered:

…product development
…the internal dial system
…the fact that “engineering” (product development) was closely aligned in the company’s phone tree
… that I had the VP of “Product Development”

I was so happy that I was hearing all that I was hearing I wasn’t listening.

I pressed on.  “Can you tell me, in case I can’t reach so-and-so now that Amanda is gone for the day, can you tell me who else I can try?  Does he have a Director reporting to him that I might try?”

With this last I had pressed too far and he went south on me, curtly telling me he was busy and he had helped me as much as he could.  I thanked him and hung up and dialed the next extension 4571.

Another male voice answered.

“Matthews here.”

“Yes, this is Maureen Sharib.  I was trying to reach so-and-so and Amanda is out for the day” (as if that matters) “so I would like to reach one of his directors.  Do you know who that might be?”

“You mean Charlie? He’s not in today either.”

“Is there anyone else that reports to so-and-so I might try?”

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“Well, Brian reports to him too but I don’t know Brian that well – he’s new.”

“Do you know Brian’s extension?” I asked.

“No, I don’t know his last name, either.  You might try Alfonzo though – I think he reports to Brian.  Alfonzo’s extension is 4582.”

“Is Brian one of the Product Development Managers?” I queried.

“He’s one of the Engineering Managers – yeah, we do product development here.”

I still wasn’t listening.  Or maybe better, I wasn’t hearing.

Sensing that this was going to take some time and needing some encouragement I emailed the Challenger and told him I had the email address requested and so-and-so’s name (I gave the initials JT) and he was the VP of Engineering and was I on the right track and did he know the size of the group I was after?

This came back: “No idea – where did that come from?”

My balloon deflated.

Another missive, as if he had an afterthought:

“Engineering is not the department we’re looking for.  The title on the sheet is a specific title at the company handling PD.  PD is a department that combines engineering and marketing and is responsible for product planning as opposed to brand and channel (traditional marketing).  I’m sure JT is a great guy, but the wrong branch for this project.  What’s the email address you found?”

My temper flared at this point and I had the thought that he could have told me this in the beginning.  I flashed off an irritated response that included the email address first before I started the willful lambasting:

Hint:  That piece of info below would help the sourcers who are working on this – Engineering keeps telling me THEY handle product development.

“…combines engineering and marketing…” —> that’s important!

Someone in Engineering told me Process Development is handled by each of their manufacturing divisions.  You sure the title is VP Product & Process Development?

He gently answered:

The important thing is that YOU asked and others have not.  Most of my job as project manager is fielding questions from researchers to tighten the results and show folks the right path for client success.   We don’t always have that info going in.  The questions should be asked early on.  Most of the time it depends on the company where that function lives.  The leg work is done in this instance because the Title has been found.  The group size has been determined.

Once I had regained my composure I looked again at the Excel document.  You know what?  He had told me and I wasn’t listening from the get-go!  Clearly, at the top of the Excel document, as I have indicated previously, were the words:    Product Marketing Sample

I wasn’t listening because I had ignored my own NUMBER ONE CARDINAL RULE in phone sourcing – set up your document the same way each and every time you do a search.  I had rushed head-long into this thing without reading the particulars because I was working with a document I was not accustomed to working with.  I always do my research in a Word doc into which I enter all the particulars of a search:

Search Number/Name
Job Description
Notes from customer
Target Companies

I had not done this in this case because, being filled with hubris as the queen of phone sourcing I’d thought getting a VP and Director reports at one company would be a one or two call mission – a slam dunk wam/bam affair.  I over-confidently thought I could plug the procured names into the Excel doc and email it back in a few minutes and impress someone.

I was wrong.  This had turned into an ordeal.

To my credit, once I realized my stupidity, I answered:

Of course, it DOES say: Product Marketing Sample – That’s what I get for NOT paying attention!

Back to the drawing board; I called back into the main number.  Delores answered once again.

“Hi Delores, it’s me again – Maureen Sharib.  Product marketing, please.”

And once again she transferred me.  But before she did I quickly asked who she was transferring me to and what the person’s capacity was.  The administrative assistant for the marketing group answered and identified herself as Nichole.  I said to her, “Hi Nichole, this is Maureen Sharib.  Delores transferred me to you.  Can you tell me who the VP of Product and Process Development is?”

She did and then I stabbed at her.  “I understand he has six reports.  Can you tell me who they are?”

And she did.  And it was just that simple.

Can anyone tell me why they think it was so simple after all that I had been through?  I’d like to hear why you think Nichole was so helpful.

Maureen Sharib has been a “Socratic sourcer” her entire sourcing career; from the moment she first picked up the faxed list of Silicon Valley high-tech companies that was her target list to “phone source” in 1996 to today she has instinctively followed this method of investigative sourcing using (mostly) the telephone.  She is a proponent of sourcing as a synonym for success and envisions the craft moving away from a dangerously drudgery-paced life-form existence to an exciting investigative/competitive place within organizations where practitioners co-exist within a framework of market research, human resources, and C-level future planning. She owns the phone sourcing and competitive intelligence firm TechTrak.com, Inc. You can contact her at Maureen at techtrak.com or call her at (513) 646-7306.  If she’s not on the phone she’ll pick up!


4 Comments on “Over Confidence

  1. Maureen, please allow me to take a stab here on why Nichole was so helpful. She was helpful to you for these reasons, ALL of which YOU taught me in my darkened cube at Walmart Corporate:

    – female, probably young given the unique spelling of her name, honest and likable like most gatekeepers. She’s in the business to answer people’s questions, regardless of stupidity at times, and to be sweet about it. Forever helpful to you this sunny day, my name is Nichole; what is your command?

    – she simply answered your deliberate, direct, easy question. You gave her a precise number. Ah, she knows that number. Ding! Here ya go, Shariby!!

    – you mimicked her tone, inflection, pitch. You so know you did. She liked you. You always sound like mom. Nichole likes her mom.

    – 2 simple questions = 2 simple answers and she gets back to figuring out how to do summations in Excel using that dang Sigma symbol.

    – Bet you sounded a bit ‘tired’, a bit weary from no one, including Delores, really trying to help you. She knows Delores and where Delores hides to smoke during each of her breaks. Oh, nasty habit she thinks in the back of her mind. Oh, but I like Delores and I’m helpful so I can help Delores with this one.

    – people (especially us women) have an innate ‘need’ to help people. So, when people preface… well, just about anything with “Can you please help me?” Or, just simply asking “Who is yada, yada, yada?” people will answer you.

    -Maureen, when was the last time you asked someone “Can you please help me?” and they looked at you and replied curtly, “No.”? It doesn’t happen. Although, we sourcers always have the inborn (inbred??!) FEAR of rejection. It’s just part of our nature. Yikes.

    – so, like you told me… over my shoulder while in my (very small, glad you gave me a breathmint ;->) Walmart cube “Teresa, if something happens that scares you, hang up.”

    – You waited for sweet Nichole to ‘spill’ till you hit Abudanza. So, I wrote the word on a piece of paper and taped it above my phone. S-P-I-L-L. So, after you asked Nichole a very concise question, you just shutup, didn’t you? And, that’s a bit hard for you. But, you do it in a very powerful and commanding fashion. Silence scares people, especially on the phone. (okay fine, OR on a first date)

    – Randy Maez, Senior Management Recruiter at Walmart fortified this for EXACTLY the Nichole’s of our sourcing world. He told me to tell him exactly what I was saying when a person answered. We had worked out this little deal and we were diggin it. When, I would hit Abudanza, I would put the person on hold, stand up on my chair, and peek over my cube wall to Randy. Hey boss, gots me a live one here. Take it! Line two! We rocked as a team. He GOT sourcing. So, as any good employee, (great boss though!) I told him. I muttered something and he commanded me to shutup. Yes, the person in the adjacent cube peered over. Oh my, my boss just told me to shutup. Nichole answered your question because you poised yourself, shot your arrow, and shutup, right? Am I gettin’ close her, Maureen… cause its the middle of the night and I’ve been dialing for dollars??! I digress. And when Nichole went silent on ya (think submarine here), you thought the word ‘spill’ in your weary mind, over and over. I don’t utter another word. Now, don’t me wrong, I’m doin’ your ‘stinkin’ thinkin’ in that Nichole is transfering me to legal where they will call my boss and demand my death. No, Nichole is simply reviewing her handy lil’ roster (Sweet Delores made a copy for her on Nichole’s first day in engineering! Do I hear ‘promotion’?)

    – Nichole answered your question because, come on, engineering doesn’t get a whole lot of calls, especially from women. And usually, Nichole has no clue what the answer is…. Ah, but this. Oh, she’s got this. Snap!

    Maureen, your answer is this. Nichole answered your question because you understand, on an integral level, the science of social engineering. We are social engineers and this CAN NOT be taught; it can only be honed and gently refined. That being said, you can teach someone tools. But, if they won’t pick up the phone, you can’t make them. Been there, tried it. No can do.

    I’ll shutup and head home now; very little progress this night:

    I once called into a company looking for someone in IT. Finally, a guy in the IT dept. picked up. Ugh. “Hi, Greg. Boy, I’m sure hopin’ you can help me out here. I’m almost at my wit’s end and my boss needs this info SO yesterday. Are you the only one left over there too on this Friday afternoon? I’m with ya, brother. So, who is the manager of IT network security?”

    Then, I shutup, like a good sourcer should. Silence awaited me. Wait… easy… wait for it… steady now, easy as we go. But, there was an unusually long pause. Yikes! Then, I received a response which in my 14 years of recruiting, had never received.

    Greg told me this. “Teresa, you are a social engineer.” Then, HE shutup.
    Oh my! Mayday, mayday. Cap… over here, SOS. I repeat, SAVE OUR SHIP. Abort, abort. But I didn’t. I was too shocked to hangup, honestly. Someone out there had just called my bluff. Who this be???

    Greg was a very highly skilled, top security-clearance full-on IT Network Security officer for a very formidable company in constant fear of many… countries… of being hacked. Then he told me that for years he had been awaiting this type of call. No headhunters (hate that term) had ever reached his phone before. And then, he detailed for me this social engineering thing. What it was, what it’s all about, and how he’d finally encountered a ying to his yang. “Teresa, allow me to be blunt here. And no, don’t be scared. We’re cool. I get this… might dare I add, probably better than you will ever know, understand, and comprehend. I stake my entire career … and reputation… on keeping people like you, Teresa, OUT of my company. And, I will endeavor to always do it, continually. I, like you, am passionate about what I do. You’ve been doing this for some time but you’re still a bit scared. Yes, I heard it in your voice. I’m trained to listen… and to think. I am also a social engineer. But, I’m your enemy and well, that’s okay. Neither of us would have a job if we thought otherwise, right?” Greg and I became very good friends. Even tried dating for a bit! When I would wear out at 4 in the morning, Greg was the person I called. And, he got through EVERY SINGLE time. He taught me to keep being passionate about what makes me happy and gives me kicks. SOURCING. And, to do it each and every time with abundant ferocity. And then, as quickly as he came, Greg vanished. Yep, into thin air. No trace.

    (Shally and I might argue on Skype tomorrow on if that is truly possible).


    So Maureen, you NEVER know if Greg or Nichole is going to pick up. And, we are in a social and inprecise discipline. There are really no guarantees to this type of work. Sometimes, it’s the first call or first email or first online search, etc. And then sometimes, you pull an all-nighter, completely lost (yes, it’s 3:24A.M.). And, you’re in the middle of nowhere. Alone and a bit forgotten. And no one has a clue as to the places you’ve been, the sites you’ve seen that day.

    Ah, but we always come back for more, don’t we Maureen? And you call sweet Nichole yet again… tomorrow morning (right after her first cup of coffee at about… 8:43A.M. Deliberately before she has a chance to remember that dang Sigma icon in Excel) Watch the clock, Maureen. Wait for it… steady. Okay now! Pick up the phone! (thx. greg)

  2. Wow Teresa. I am so totally blown away but all you just said. Just like I was that day I met you at Wal-Mart. When someone asks me what does a phone sourcer “look like” I always think of you. You get 100% on this one!

  3. OK – this was probably one of the best posts I’ve read. I have prided myself on my cold calling/sourcing ability but have never been able to explain “what I do” to people who look at me with a blank expression when I say I source for talent. “Huh??” I especially loved the part when Teresa started to date her blind cold call! Wow – I cannot even describe how creative, fun and informative this exchange was for me to read. Thank you, both, for making my week!! It also emphasized all of the hard work we do – without anyone really understanding our function – except they see us constantly on the phone. U guys Rock!!!

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