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Getting Past Gatekeepers

21 Strategies for Reaching Decision Makers

By Craig Harrison

Does it sometime seem as though hiring managers and customers are residing in a gated community? As a job seeker or salesperson, you don't have to grope for the access code. Learn how to reach decision makers so you too can enter the gates of success.

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 hours.

6.  Use humor, creativity and topicality to distinguish yourself from others.

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 — deserving of your courtesy, respect and attention.

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 for Condelezza.

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 consultants/vendors/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 their way.

10.  The phrase "returning his/her call" upgrades your call's importance in GK's eyes. When accurate, 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's the 10th unreturned message you're leaving.

14.  Be creative/funny/distinguishable so as to get consideration. One professional 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, certain 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 Gates.

Click this link to buy Craig's "Bypassing Gatekeepers to Reach Decision-Makers"
special report as an e-book or in hard copy.

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 (510) 547-0664, or via craig@ExpressionsOfExcellence.com. Visit his website at www.ExpressionsofExcellence.com.

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contact Craig by email: Craig@ExpressionsOfExcellence.com
or by phone: (510) 547-0664.

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