Getting Past Gatekeepers To Decision-Makers
Does it sometimes seem as though hiring managers or key decision-makers are residing in a gated community? As a job seeker or sales professional, 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 or make your sales quota.
Half the difficulty in getting a job or making a sale 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. How to get past the gatekeepers - those professionals who "guard" the decision-makers and often run interference for them?
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 switchboard operators. They also may be temporary workers or human resource representatives.
Here are my rules of thumb for "Passing Gate" and receiving consideration by decision makers:
- Turn Gate Keepers into allies, treat them with respect, humor and compassion. They have a tough job. Regard them as people with their own personalities, not as faceless obstacles to he overcome.
- Help the decision-maker look good. Can you solve her problem? Let the GK know and the GK will "carry your torch" for you. Let the GK present you as his/her solution to the DM's problem.
- Recognize GKs as vital to your information-gathering mission. Learn from the GK more about the DM, his/her department, recent trends and changes within the company.
- Call at different times if your initial attempts are rebuffed. Learn Your DM's schedule and moods!
- Calling before/after the GK's shift will get you through directly. Many decision makers work long hours and feel less pressured before or after-hours.
- Use humor, creativity and topicality to distinguish yourself from others.
- Take the time to establish rapport with each person you come in contact with. Whether or not they're the actual DM or GK, they are actual people - deserving of your courtesy, respect and attention.
- 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 or 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 the decision-maker's name? Does he or she prefer an informal name: "T" for Hortence or Condy for Condolezza?
- Use multiple forms of communication to make contact. Consider using phone calls, postcards, faxes and e-mails to make contact. Ask decision makers (and their gatekeepers) for the best way to communicate. Once you know, play it their way.
- Use the phrase "I'm returning his/her call" to upgrade your call's importance in the GK's eyes.
- When leaving repeated voice mail messages be brief, and list a different benefit you provide or skill you possess
- during each message, as a way to both qualify and distinguish yourself.
- Don't use up the entire voice mail tape. Make your messages succinct.
- Stay upbeat - even if it's the 10th unreturned message you're leaving.
- 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.
- Humor works. Self-effacing humor and humor in solidarity with the gatekeeper help open doors.
- When all else fails, have your Gatekeeper call theirs!
- Call and claim you're family, or claim to be calling from the police, IRS or FBI. One candidate thought he'd get through to an human resources manager from India by telling the receptionist he was a relative calling from India. The manager's father had been sick and fearing the worst, she 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.
- Become surly, rude or sarcastic. It's a turn-off and suggests immaturity and a lack of flexibility.
- Fill your recipient's voice mailbox with long and detailed messages. It's inconsiderate and shows bad judgment. Instead show off your communication skills with a short and pertinent "elevator" speech.
- Blame the decision-makers for not being there to answer you in person, or for not having responded yet. You're not the center of their universe!
- Strive to make an impression. Using cliches and following scripts leaves you indistinguishable from the competition. Show personality and spunk to make you stand apart from the crowd 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.
Craig Herrison is a Toastmaster in California.