Debra Feldman

Turn Gatekeepers Around

Six strategies to soften gatekeepers and find success in meeting the right decision-maker.

October 22, 2009
by Debra Feldman

Want to convert your encounters with corporate gatekeepers from frustrating to fruitful? Do you know the correct techniques to win over even the most sullen of administrative assistants? Good manners go a long way if backed by the right strategy and a strong value proposition that can’t be ignored.

Gatekeepers are their boss’s designated agents and are responsible for limiting unnecessary, potentially wasteful interruptions and unexpected interference that may negatively impact their manager’s workflow or productivity. Any unsolicited — meaning uninvited inquiry — requires screening. If you don’t know the boss, then you have to show the gatekeeper it is okay to give you an appointment, schedule a meeting, provide an e-mail address, switch you to voicemail, etc.

The gatekeeper uses criteria developed to evaluate requests. If you pass the test, you are referred to the boss. If not, you are turned away. The value proposition you initially present to the gatekeeper has to satisfy predetermined needs or be intriguing enough to captivate their attention affording you the opportunity to elaborate on your interest and justify your request as an exception.

Working With Gatekeepers

Here are six ways you can increase your personal odds that gatekeepers will grant you access. Start with the premise that the gatekeeper is not an enemy but, like you, is a professional trying their best to fulfill an assignment, keep the boss happy and get rewarded for a job well done:

  1. Offer a low-risk, high-reward situation. Do your homework. Plan your presentation so it is clear, compelling and engaging. Pique the gatekeeper’s curiosity. Be ready to address the gatekeeper by name, to inquire if they have a few moments for your call and how their day has been. Listen. Do not charge forward just because you didn’t get voicemail. If they hesitate, sound busy or are juggling other lines, offer to call back, even before you leave your name. Ask if there is a more convenient time to call back.
  2. Convince the gatekeeper why you need an appointment. The gatekeeper is balancing two competing choices: granting too much access to the wrong applicants or being too stringent thereby excluding individuals that their manager would want to meet. Their job (and livelihood) depends on how well they interpret the screening criteria. If the gatekeeper believes it would be more detrimental to keep you out than to let you in, you have won!
  3. Interact and invest in a relationship. Speak respectfully, be polite. Make small talk. Ingratiate yourself and it is more likely that your proposal will sound attractive. Be likable and you’ll get the attention. Communicate your value clearly, engage in a dialog and explain more about your business.
  4. Follow the gatekeeper's instructions, cooperate and be pleasant. Not only do you have to have a high quality concept and credentials, but your personality has to be a fit. If you are asked to e-mail a request, do it within 24 hours or less before you are forgotten. Don’t be argumentative. Smile as you speak. If you are not cooperative, it may be construed that you are not worthy of their manager’s time and your request can be sabotaged pronto. Be patient and helpful. This gatekeeper may be your new supervisor’s administrator or even your own right-hand person some day!
  5. Gatekeepers can become your personal liaison. If you win the gatekeeper’s support, she or he can become your ally advocating for you, squeezing an appointment for you into a booked calendar, speaking to the manager, giving you hints on how to make your meeting more positive. If your encounter with the gatekeeper is negative, reconsider your goal. If the manager condones unprofessional behavior, do you really want to move forward with this?
  6. Timing is critical. If you don’t succeed, try, try, again. Make your own luck. Don’t be discouraged if your first approach isn’t wholeheartedly embraced. Re-group and after an appropriate interval, attempt another connection revising your presentation, enhancing your value proposition and using better timing. Persistence and creativity pays off. Follow up is key to making progress.


Start using these strategies today to soften gatekeepers into giving you that appointment and landing that job!

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© Debra Feldman, 2009

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 cold calling, executed with high energy and savvy panache, connects candidates directly to decision makers, not HR. Network Purposefully™ with the JobWhiz, and compress your job search into mere weeks, using groundbreaking techniques soon to be profiled in Forbes magazine and featured in an upcoming syndicated television series. In addition to writing columns and conducting workshops for several revered professional associations, Debra provides career guidance to alumni of top-tier business schools. Contact Debra at www.JobWhiz.com to expedite your executive ascent.