Getting Past Gatekeepers!
21 Strategies for Reaching Decision Makers
by Craig Harrison
Does it sometimes seem as though hiring managers are residing in a
gated community? As a job seeker, you don't have to grope for the access
code. Learn how to reach decision makers so you, too, can enter the
gates of employment.
Let's face it; half the difficulty in getting a job is getting to the
decision maker to make your case. Traditionally there was a secretary
or administrative assistant to circumnavigate. Now there are electronic
nemeses as well: challenges like voice mailboxes and blind e-mail addresses.
The constant: it's still tough to get past the gatekeepers - those professionals
who "guard" the decision makers and often run interference
for them - to get in front of decision makers.
Gatekeepers (GKs), those entrusted with guarding the Decision Makers
(DMs) you wish to reach, can be your adversaries or allies, depending
on your approach. They serve as a filter or screen for their bosses.
Your challenge: to be regarded as important enough to be allowed into
their inner sanctum. Gatekeepers may be administrative assistants, secretaries,
voice mail systems, or main switchboard operators. They may also be
temporary workers or human resource representatives.
Here are my rules of thumb for "Passing Gate" and receiving
consideration by decision makers:
1. Turn Gatekeepers into allies: treat them with respect, humor, and
compassion. Their job can be tough too. They get it from both ends.
Regard them as people with their own personality, not as faceless obstacles
to be overcome at all costs.
2. Help decision makers look good in their boss's eyes. Can you solve
his/her problem? Let the GK know and they will "carry your torch"
for you. Let the GK present you as his/her solution to the DM's problem.
3. Recognize GKs as vital to your information-gathering mission. Learn
more about the DM, his/her department, recent trends, internal machinations
within company, from the GK.
4. Call at different times if your initial attempts are rebuffed. Learn
your DM's schedule & moods!
5. Calling before/after GK's shift will get you through directly. Many
Decision Makers work long hours and feel less pressured before/after
6. Use humor, creativity, and topicality to distinguish yourself from
7. Take the time to establish rapport with each person you come in contact
with. Whether or not they're the actual person you were wishing to speak
to, they are actual people ó deserving of your courtesy, respect,
8. Gather information with every call you make, whether or not you accomplish
your primary purpose in calling. Ask appropriate questions and gather
pertinent information on the decision maker, his or her schedule, what
else is happening in the department of company at the time you are calling.
You're also interested in insights into the psychological make-up of
the person you are calling. For instance, when is the best (and worst)
time to call? How do you pronounce your decision maker's name? Does
he or she prefer an informal name: "T" for Hortence or Condy
9. Utilize multiple forms of communication to make contact. Calls alone
may or may not result in success. Consider using calls, postcards, faxes,
and e-mails to make contact. Some candidates ask decision makers (and
their gatekeepers) what the best way is to communicate. Some managers
prefer e-mail, others formal letters or faxes. Once you know, play it
10. The phrase "returning his/her call" upgrades your call's
importance in GK's eyes. Use it to indicate past history.
11. When leaving repeated voice mail messages, list a different benefit
you provide or skill you possess during each message, as a way to both
qualify and distinguish yourself.
12. Don't use up entire voice mail tape. Make your messages succinct:
short and sweet.
13. Stay upbeat-even if it is the 10th unreturned message you're leaving.
14. Be creative/funny/distinguishable so as to get consideration. One
job candidate could never get her calls taken when she left her full
name. One time, when asked by the gatekeeper for her name, she used
a literary name from the television series I Claudius. She replied
"Clydemonestra." She nearly fainted when the gatekeeper then
asked her to spell her name. The Decision Maker, intrigued, took her
call and turned out to also be a fan of the same PBS series.
15. Humor works. Self-effacing humor and humor in solidarity with the
gatekeeper help open doors.
16. When all else fails, have your Gatekeeper call theirs!
1. Call and claim you're family, or claim to be calling from the police,
IRS or FBI. One candidate though he'd get through to an HR rep who was
from India. He told the receptionist he was a relative calling from
India. The rep's father had been sick and she, fearing the worst, dropped
everything to take this call, in fear the news concerned her ailing
father. Needless to say this candidate never worked for her company
as a result of his misguided stunt.
2. Become surly, rude, or sarcastic. It's a turn-off and suggests immaturity
and a lack of flexibility.
3. Avoiding filling up your recipient's voice mailbox with long and
detailed messages. Whether or not they are retrieved locally, it's inconsiderate
and shows bad judgment on your part. Instead show off your communication
skills with a short and pertinent "elevator" speech. If leaving
multiple messages vary your message, listing a different qualification
or benefit you provide each time you call.
4. Don't make the Decision Maker wrong for not being there to answer
you in person, or for not having responded yet. To you it may seem like
a simple thing to do (returning your call) yet consider the many priorities
busy professionals already have on their to-do lists. Believe it or
not, you're not the center of their universe!
5. Strive to make an impression. Using clichés and following
scripts leaves you indistinguishable from the competition. Show some
personality and spunk such that you'll stand apart from the crowd when
you call, and be memorable when they decide who to call back.
While cold calling can be a numbers game, the essence of calling is
a people game: treat others like the valued individuals they are, and
remain confident you're someone whose call decision makers will be glad
they took. The only Gates you may not master on your first call...Bill
As a self-employed speaker, trainer, and consultant on communication
topics, Craig Harrison is simultaneously a decision maker, gatekeeper,
and caller on a daily basis.
He is standing by to take your calls and e-mails (888) 450-0664, or
Visit his website at www.ExpressionsOfExcellence.com.
Reprinted with permission from Craig Harrison, Expressions
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