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by Debra Feldman | March 31, 2009


When you are looking for a new job and someone says, "gatekeeper," you probably envision an imposing, powerful figure and that "uh-oh" feeling sends chills down your spine. Better methods for managing corporate gatekeepers may change your experience from failure to success and transform your attitude from reluctance to confidence. The strategies discussed below can help you begin to enjoy dialoguing with gatekeepers.

Gatekeepers are guardians. Their job is to block intruders and protect their boss from unwanted interruptions. You are a stranger. Your unsolicited request, therefore, is a suspicious contact and the gatekeeper's antennas are up. Surveys reveal that cold calling is a very effective way to learn more about potential openings and initiate a relationship with a potential employer. This applies to accessing posted jobs as well as pursuing networking connections to get on a hiring manager's radar for any future opportunities. Calling and connecting directly with the hiring manager allows candidates to bypass standard screening practices and pushes them further along in the recruiting process.

Gatekeepers stand between you and hiring authorities. When gatekeepers thwart your access, you are out of the running before you start interviewing. No wonder gatekeepers wield such power and candidates feel threatened. Fight them and you lose. Quit and you can't win. The best solution is one where you are able to enlist their assistance to warm up their boss for your contact.

If you and the boss or you and the gatekeeper know anyone in common, that person would penetrate the gatekeeper and establish an introduction and good rapport for you. No mutual contact? The gatekeeper can be the missing link, personally introducing you in full accordance with the boss' rules!

Look at this from the gatekeeper's perspective. They risk their job every time they screen a call. Gatekeepers are expected to evaluate proposed contacts and determine which have value to the boss and which will not be productive. It's a delicate balance: keeping the riff raff out but not turning away anyone the boss would want to meet. The gatekeeper is evaluated on triaging decisions. She may be fired if she's too lenient and grants the wrong people access or if she bans appropriate contacts and the boss misses good opportunities. This double-edged sword is your golden opportunity: prove to the gatekeeper that you are a potential asset and they won't take the chance of misjudging you; they will send you through and let the boss decide for himself. Your strategy is to convince the gatekeeper that it would be far worse to exclude you than to pass you on to her boss. Creating a situation where the gatekeeper recognizes that they will benefit by assisting you - that the boss will be thanking them for discovering you - is the best way to achieve results.

Impress the gatekeeper as a worthy connection, a potential asset, an authentically nice character and someone that the boss will like. Demonstrate to the gatekeeper that you are a low risk and will not make trouble for them. You will not betray their trust, you will not make the boss angry and you will not be a problem. Your behavior should speak for itself. Be respectful and polite. Appreciate their responsibility and cooperate with their requests. Be sensitive to their needs and respect their time. There's a pretty good probability that if the boss is a decent person, they would not tolerate a jerk at their front door, and vice versa. The boss gets feedback. If they allow an assistant's poor conduct, question if this is the right environment for you. It's your first clue about this company's culture.

A potential employer is more likely to be attracted if your strong credentials are backed by a winning personality that fits their team. First impressions count. Begin cultivating a positive relationship starting with your first phone interaction with the gatekeeper. Be approachable. Have a sense of humor. Address her by name. (If you don't know it already, research it!) Say good morning or good afternoon before giving your name. Find out how their day is going. Engage them. Pique their curiosity about who you are - your rare demeanor distinguishes you. Ask if they have a few minutes to help you before launching into your message. Your tone of voice is just as important as the words you choose. Don't lose sight of the goal in front of you despite any of the obstacles you encounter: an appointment with the gatekeeper's boss.

A few simple prescriptions generate trust and credibility for unsolicited callers. If the gatekeeper tells you they are busy or if they sound harried, do not punch through. Leave gracefully, ask when would be more convenient and call back later. The gatekeeper doesn't know anything about you except what you show them, but you can get more information to help your cause. Call early in the morning and ask the receptionist when the gatekeeper is usually at their desk. Then phone outside of their usual hours to leave a short introductory message. State your name and explain that you want to set up a telephone meeting with the boss. Give your phone number, leave your name again and repeat the number. Wait two business days to see if you get a call back. You may be able to avoid cold calling to introduce yourself if the gatekeeper or the boss calls you! Add something enticing to the voicemail to intrigue them and promote an interest in learning more.

Capture the gatekeeper's attention. Ingratiate yourself from the beginning. Be courteous and extremely patient. Do not lose your cool. Approach this as you would any business challenge. Say your name, and reason for your calling. Prepare to a compelling introduction related to your initiative. These may include that you want to network, are seeking advice, saw a position advertised, read something the boss wrote, attended a presentation, found them on the Internet, etc. Your goal is to meet with or speak to the boss. Ask for it. "Is the boss available for a phone conversation now?" Chances are likely that the gatekeeper will ask questions designed to find out your potential value to the boss. Don't be caught unprepared. If you are transferred to the boss, have your notes outlining your benefits, value adds, relevant accomplishments handy. If you are successful connecting, send a thank you e-mail to the gatekeeper for their assistance as well as to confirm arrangements.

Actions, even over the phone, speak louder than words. How you respond to the gatekeeper's practiced tactics further defines you as a prospect. If you are not greeted with open arms, your answer goes like this: "No problem! I didn't expect to be able to reach him right away but was hoping you would be able to help me. (Stand up. project with aplomb and smile when you say this so it comes through in your voice.) When's a better time for me to call back?" Still not offering you an appointment? No surprise. You haven't delivered a value proposition making it clear to the gatekeeper that if they screen you out and the boss finds out later about this missed opportunity they could be in deep trouble.

The first simple request didn't do the trick. You didn't pass through the barrier. You don't have an appointment. Time to pull out more facts favoring your request. Prepare more measurable data on a topic important to the boss, deliver more charm and dangle a carrot stick in front of the gatekeeper. Do not be intimidated. Stick with your mission. Stay focused. No reason to give up. The scenario is playing straight out of the gatekeeper's manual. Proceed forward persisting creatively and passionately. When do you sign off and move on to the next? When you are told, "We are going to pass on this." Don't expect to "win" in just one or two calls. Statistics document it may take up to nine attempts. It's not how quickly you schedule an appointment or how soon on the calendar, but actually meeting. The more positive interactions, the better for creating interest and a likable relationship. Avoid behavior that may turn off the gatekeeper. Your pre-employment conduct is a strong indicator for the employer on your suitability.

Exceptional follow up, good luck and a compelling message are essential. Establishing an appointment is your number one priority; you don't know what is happening on the boss' end. Travel, vacation, illness, deadlines, client problems, other crises may all defer action. It is a delicate balance between out of sight and forgotten and pestering so much they want to forget you. If you seriously want this meeting, stick with the program. If phone calls are not returned or e-mails are not acknowledged, maintain regular contact. I've seen months and unreturned calls pass and then the gatekeeper or boss is finally persuaded to help some perseverant soul. You are a passive victim only if you choose to be one.

Persuading the gatekeeper to connect you. Let them ask questions. Listen for information that you can use to increase your potential value to them. Address their needs. Don't deliver a monologue about yourself. Your words and behavior convey that you value their time and want this collaboration. Remember that you don't need a grand slam, just a base hit without any fouls or strikes against you.

Follow directions. Lucky you! The gatekeeper has agreed to put you on the boss' calendar. She asks you to send a resume. Find out if she prefers that you e-mail it to her or to the boss directly. Keep it short, limited to a single screen if possible. Make this appointment uncomplicated for the gatekeeper. You want the gatekeeper to tell the boss how nice you are, not set off alarms that you are difficult or that would give the gatekeeper second thoughts about keeping you on the schedule. Send this within 24 hours. Your message should not tell them what you want, but should focus on your potential contribution and unique value. Make sure you use quantifiable and measurable descriptive phrases illustrating your abilities. Prove your merit with hard evidence of the savings you achieved, the giant account you broke, the profits you added and the team you managed. Whet their appetite.

Don't ignore signals. The means does not justify the end. You want to find a good fit, not just suiting your talents and matching your career goals, but an environment where you'll be able to flourish comfortably. Caveat emptor. Don't get hung up on winning regardless of your investment. The gatekeeper test can predict your future success at this company. Move on to other prospects when your gut tells you this is not working. Maximize your job search resources by exploring other new opportunities that may be a better match. You can always loop back if something else doesn't break in the meanwhile. One thing is a definite: companies and their personnel change.

)Debra Feldman, 2006

E-mail: Debra Feldman.

Debra Feldman is the JobWhiz", a nationally-recognized expert who designs and personally implements swift, strategic, and customized senior level executive job search campaigns, banishing barriers that prevent immediate success. Her gift for Networking Purposefully" and cold calling - executed with high energy and savvy panache - connects candidates directly to decision makers, not HR. Learn more about her groundbreaking techniques that compress job searches from months to weeks. Contact Debra now at to expedite your executive ascent!


Filed Under: Job Search

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