SKILLS FOR CAREER SUCCESS Reaching the Hiring Manager and Getting Past the Gatekeeper

by Judit E. Price
The job search process is often a long and frustrating exercise. While rejection is disheartening, for many people the greater frustration is their inability to even reach the right people. It is one thing to lose, after all competition is heavy. But not having a chance to even play in the game can be even more frustrating. So what can a job seeker do to increase the odds that you can play? How do you get your name or your resume or even your voice in front of that critical HR person, recruiter or even the hiring manager to promote your skills and get that coveted interview? Well, it isn’t easy, but getting past the gatekeeper, the receptionist, secretary or assistant is crucial to increasing the odds that you will be considered.

In most cases both the manager and the gatekeeper view screening calls and mail as both necessary and beneficial in ensuring the efficiency of their operation, eliminating a constant cacophony of sales people, fund raisers, misdirected job seekers and others who would “waste their time.” To these people you are one of the great mass of unwelcome intruders, and until you change that perception, you’re lost.

While we strongly discourage dishonesty, which can have serious negative repercussions, there is a point at which being too candid and straightforward can be harmful in trying to get to the right person. For example, rather than explain that you are seeking a job (a word you should never use), saying that you are looking for information or help is both appropriate and frequently successful. When gatekeepers perceive that you are trying to sell something, that’s when they get defensive. But, ask for help or information and people can be remarkably supportive and informative. The key then is positioning yourself to tap into a natural propensity that people have to be helpful.

That means the approach is critical. You don’t want to alert them that you are a job seeker who wants to talk to their manager. Rather, enlist them as an ally approaching the problem from a more general perspective, looking for guidance and information. Find out the gatekeeper’s name and be bold in asking for help directly. You would be amazed how a personal approach and a little informality can set a tone that sets them at ease and keeps the guard from coming up.

Naturally, you have to provide a plausible reason for the call. Rather than say you are calling to talk to the manager, be somewhat indirect. “I understand that Mr. Smith may be looking for someone to help him solve a special need and I just wanted to let him know that I can help.” The key elements are in treating the person with respect and dignity, creating a connection by enlisting help in solving a problem for their supervisor, and providing a reason for why the gatekeeper might want to help you. Remember, at all times you are speaking with a professional and an individual, a resource who can help you solve your problem, not an impediment.

A little guilt can also be helpful. After multiple unsuccessful calls, and after you have established some rapport with the gatekeeper on a first name basis and confided in them, they may feel guilty and put you through.

Calling at odd hours can also be effective. Gatekeepers are usually 9 to 5 employees, with a lunch break. Managers frequently arrive at work early, work beyond 5, take lunch at their desk, and even frequently work on Saturday. Consequently, these odd hours can be an excellent time to call. Not only are they often available, but these times are also lower pressure times, without the normal hassle associated with 9 to 5. As a result, the manager may give you some quality time to discuss the job. You may even have the opportunity to review your career web portfolio over the Internet. Building one is easy and inexpensive. That would generate real interest. At the very least you can request an appointment for another more convenient time. Now you can call the gatekeeper and set up an appointment.

Opinions on voice mail vary. While we do not recommend leaving multiple voice mails, we do recommend one or two, where you identify yourself and describe why you would be the best person for the job. If you do eventually reach the right person, you can assume there is now some degree of familiarity with you and your credentials, and you can move on to substantive matters such as the proof points of your messages. And, by the way, people tend to respect persistence as long as it remains professional and doesn’t go too far, such as 20 or 30 calls.

If you use voice mail your pitch must be the best it can be. So, prepare it carefully, practice, practice and practice, but never read it from a script (unless you are a professional actor), because people can tell.

Networking can also help. When the gatekeeper or manager understands that someone they know knows you, you immediately have a certain amount of credibility you didn’t have before. Consequently, good networking, establishing rapport and good preparation can go a long way in getting you the face time so critical to finding that special job.

Finally, don’t be afraid. Pick up that phone, dial the number and speak into it. You may not succeed, but if you don’t get the tryout for the team, you will never get to play.