Correct technique and good manners turn interactions with corporate gatekeepers from frustrating to fruitful. Gatekeepers are not meanies; they are their bosses' designated agents charged with limiting unnecessary, potentially wasteful interruptions and unexpected interference that may impede bosses' workflow or productivity.
Any unsolicited, meaning uninvited, inquiry requires screening. If you don't know the boss, then you have to show the gatekeeper that it is OK to give you an appointment, schedule a meeting, provide an email address, switch you to voice mail, and so on.
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.
So the value proposition that you initially present to the gatekeeper has to satisfy predetermined needs or be intriguing enough to captivate his or her attention, allowing you the opportunity to elaborate on your interest and justify your request as an exception.
Here are six ways you can increase the odds that gatekeepers will grant you access. Start with the premise that the gatekeeper is not an enemy but, like yourself, a professional trying their best to fulfill an assignment, keep the boss happy, and get some reward for a job well done.
- 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 whether he or she has a few moments for your call. Listen. Do not charge forward just because you didn't get voice mail. If he hesitates, sounds busy, or is juggling other lines, offer to call back even before you leave your name. Do ask if there is a more convenient time to call back.
- Convince the gatekeeper that there is no reason not to offer you an appointment. The gatekeeper is balancing two competing choices: granting too much access to the wrong applicants and being too stringent, thereby excluding individuals that the boss would want to meet. Her job depends on how well she interprets the screening criteria. If the gatekeeper believes it would be more detrimental to keep you out than to let you in, you have won!
- The more interaction you have, the more invested the gatekeeper becomes in a relationship. That relationship, by the way, contributes to a desire to help you and be a part of your success. So 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 more atttention, when you will be able to more clearly communicate your value, engage in a dialogue, and have the chance to explain more about your business.
- Follow the gatekeeper's instructions, cooperate, and be pleasant. Not only does your concept have to be high-quality, but your personality has to be a fit. If she asks you to email a request, do it. Send it out within 24 hours or less before you are forgotten. Don't be argumentative. Smile as you speak—it will come through in your voice. Your demeanor tells her that you are not going to cause trouble. If your are not cooperative (difficult to manage), she may conclude that you are not worthy of the boss's time and sabotage your request. Be patient and helpful. This gatekeeper may be your new boss's administrator or even your own right hand someday!
- Gatekeepers can become your personal liaison. They can warm up the boss on your behalf and facilitate the impossible.If you can win the gatekeeper's support, he can become your ally advocating for you, squeezing an appointment for you into a booked calendar, talking you up to the boss, giving you hints to help your meeting be more positive. If your encounter with the gatekeeper is negative, reconsider your goal. If the boss condones unprofessional behavior, do you really want to move forward with this?
- 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. Regroup, and after an appropriate interval attempt another connection, revising your presentation, enhancing your value proposition, and using better timing. Persistence and creativity pay off. Follow-up is key to making progress.
Take the first step (it's free).
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