Develop Confidence When Placing Calls to the Gatekeeper

When I was a baby sourcer, I was filled with all sorts of terrifying fears about what I would say, what I would do, what would happen IF that Gatekeeper asked me any questions! I laugh now at my (mostly) unfounded fears, but I understand this is a common thread that runs through all telephone names sourcing discussions:

What happens when?

I ask you back, what happens when WHAT? The likelihood is that she is not going to ask you anything if you’ve approached her as you should be approaching all your telephone names sourcing calls: with confidence, with precision and, most important, with a routine.

The routine thing we’ve been discussing lately on the boards. You know, the “always identify yourself (name only), repeat her name back to her, and ask for precisely what it is you want (in most cases)” part.

Moving beyond that, though, what’s up with this confidence thing? How can you be confident when you’re making your calls into those companies that seem so terrifying?

Tap into Your Belief System

Instead of assuming she will not give you the information you seek (because of your own preconceived notions), turn the tables and ask yourself why wouldn’t she give you the information you seek? It’s a misconception that all Gatekeepers are sensitized to our “motives” and armed to the teeth with defenses. The great majority fall into that general population who has never heard of telephone names sourcing.

You tell me, if the greater percentage of recruiters has never heard of it (and this is true) why would their Gatekeepers have heard of it?

It’s just not true. The faster you lose this “excuse” from your perforated bag of defenses, the faster and better you’re going to get on in the Recruitosphere (a big call out to my friend the Recruiting Animal who coined this terminology).

Telephone names sourcing is a head game, so determine what responses you can elicit from the head of that Gatekeeper. Most of the time she is completely unaware how the information she so freely gives out can be used.

“But isn’t that ‘manipulating’ people and isn’t that a bad thing?”

Is it? I suggest you reflect upon your own value systems and decide for yourself.

“It’s a means to an end.”

Yep, it sure is.

“It’s unethical.”

Is it?

“It’s tricking people.”

Is it, really?

Setting up unfair terms of social exchange is the basic problem with manipulation. I’m suggesting here that “unfair” does not have to be a component of telephone names sourcing.

I do not believe telephone names sourcing “sets people up” for unfair exchanges. If I ask a direct question, knowing where it is I need to go, and I get a direct response, then there is no “manipulation” at all. Instead, it is simply an exchange of information.

If I choose my words carefully (which I do) and approach her cautiously and carefully, using all my powers of observation, and say very little to her (which I usually do), I am pretty much assured of this valuable information exchange. Notice I did not say “powers of persuasion.”

I don’t see the Gatekeeper as my enemy. She is the first voice of that company I am penetrating. If I can’t get the information from her, I know there are many ways around her where there stands a very good chance that I will get the information I seek. There’s always a way in!

I believe I have an obligation to do a job for my customer, and because of what I do someone just might, down the road, yes, just might, receive an opportunity that may or may not be better than the opportunity they have at the present time.

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It’s up to that person to decide, and I see telephone names sourcing as a good thing in the world. In the real world, people are chewed up and spit out by commerce every day. Telephone names sourcing avails some of them with the chance to not “land” so hard if and when that happens to them.

It also pays well.

Similar to recruiting, telephone names sourcing is very much like sales. The buyer doesn’t usually buy the product as much as they “buy” the salesperson. In most instances where there is a salesperson involved, what gets bought doesn’t usually get bought unless the buyer “likes” the salesperson.

When you’re telephone names sourcing, you have three to five seconds to make that happen.

That is not a lot of time! Here are some basic things that can be accomplished in three to five seconds:

“Hi, Louise, this is Maureen Sharib.”

Or perhaps this:

“Hi, Louise, this is Maureen Sharib. Can you please tell me who??”

Or this:

“Hi, Louise, this is Maureen Sharib. I hope you can help me.”

Or maybe, even, occasionally:

“Hi, Louise, this is Maureen Sharib. I have Mike Jones as the Operations Manager there. Is that still correct?”

What I’m suggesting here is that the first thing the Gatekeeper hears in your voice is your tonality. If it’s pleasant, she’s going to continue to listen to you, and if it’s palatable to her ear she’s going to begin to pay attention to what you say.

If you’ve removed the mystery in the call by identifying yourself upfront, and she doesn’t have to take the time to ask you “Who’s calling?” you’ve eliminated several wasted seconds from your approach. Being honest about who you are, and by being direct by asking her exactly the information you seek, will get you much farther, much faster than any long, drawn-out imaginary tale about your mission that could land you in serious trouble.

Recently a gentleman approached me during a break in a seminar I was giving in Austin. He said, “You know, Maureen, what you say is true. Telephone names sourcing is simple. But it’s not easy.”

I couldn’t agree more. Adding to simple, I would also suggest telephone names sourcing is direct, FAST, and beats the heck out of some of the recruiting methods in use today. Try it. You just might like it.

Maureen Sharib has been a “Socratic sourcer” her entire sourcing career; from the moment she first picked up the faxed list of Silicon Valley high-tech companies that was her target list to “phone source” in 1996 to today she has instinctively followed this method of investigative sourcing using (mostly) the telephone.  She is a proponent of sourcing as a synonym for success and envisions the craft moving away from a dangerously drudgery-paced life-form existence to an exciting investigative/competitive place within organizations where practitioners co-exist within a framework of market research, human resources, and C-level future planning. She owns the phone sourcing and competitive intelligence firm, Inc. You can contact her at Maureen at or call her at (513) 646-7306.  If she’s not on the phone she’ll pick up!


13 Comments on “Develop Confidence When Placing Calls to the Gatekeeper

  1. ‘Simple but not easy’ pretty much says it all. The initial phase of my career was built on effective sourcing. When I first started in this business I had to do all my own research to identify candidates to develop my own call lists at a start-up retained search boutique that had no candidate database, and I learned quickly that utilizing a collegial, friendly and assumptive tone while asking simple, direct questions of gatekeepers dramatically improved my results. Later, when I worked in the research department of an international retainer firm I got better results than my colleagues by making my calls with that same frame of mind. In this kind of work it is axiomatic that how you say it is at least as important as what you say, and that applies to recruiting as well as sourcing.

  2. I agree with everything Maureen states.

    One things that bothers me these days about phone sourcing names is how many companies (especially companies in the niche industry I work in now) that no longer allow me to dial a general number and zero out for operator assistance. When I go in totally cold and need to find the name of an exec or mgr. , this is often a pain in the neck. Many companies have opted for a phone system that is automated and if you don’t have an extension or name to dial by (dial by name often doesn’t work-but, that’s another strory!) your out of luck and have to choose the customer service option where you often have to hold for many minutes along with the normal customers of the organization.
    It was not this way 12 years ago when I started out .
    Back then you could always get the receptionist on the line and sweet talk her in to getting you to the right person.

    just my experience thoough

  3. I completely agree that the tonality, the attitude is very important to make the source call. But if she’s using:

    ‘Hi, Louise, this is Maureen Sharib.’

    Or perhaps this:

    ‘Hi, Louise, this is Maureen Sharib. Can you please tell me who??’

    Or this:

    ‘Hi, Louise, this is Maureen Sharib. I hope you can help me.’

    Or maybe, even, occasionally:

    ‘Hi, Louise, this is Maureen Sharib. I have Mike Jones as the Operations Manager there. Is that still correct?’

    Why not try China? See what she can get.

  4. Why not just develop rapport with the Gatekeeper?
    He/She will be much more likely to give you the information that you are looking for if you develop rapport from your first words.
    Unlike most ancient sales techniques that do not work, (Nice fish on the wall. Did you catch that? Ditto for bowling trophy, picture with golf buddies, etc.)there are new communication technologies the have taken us into the 21st century.
    Fact! People do business (exchange information???) with people they like and people they trust.
    Who do they like and trust? Poeple who are most like them.
    Talk like the gatekeeper talks (speed, volume, tonality, pitch, etc)and you will begin the rapport-building process immediately. (Do not mimick, just adjust your voice to be more like theirs.) If she says ‘Hi’, you say ‘Hi’. If she says Hello, you say ‘Hello’. Do something, regardless of how insignificant it may seem, to be more like her.
    eg. If you talk slower, his/her mind will loose you. If you talk too fast, he/she will not be able to keep up. People process information and respond to that information at their speed (volume, tonality, pitch, etc.)not yours. The more you are like them, the more they will trust you and give you the information that you request.
    It is easier to share information with someone you like and someone you trust than with a stranger.
    Does it work 100% of the time? No, but then, neither do I. Imagine how much your business would improve if you were able to increase the number of times you got through ‘THE GATEKEEPER’ by an extra 5-10%.

  5. Dan,

    If ‘building rapport’ with the gatekeeper works for you, that’s great. I wish I could be that smoothe.

    My approach is the same as Maureen’s. It is a business-friendly approach that indicates I have a legitimate reason for calling, and I respect that the Gatekeeper has very limited time. I almost invariably get put through to my party without having to schmooze anyone.

    I have an AE here who struggled for months, thinking he had to ‘establish rapport’ with Gatekeepers. It only seemed to make them comfortable enough, or bothered enough, to ask, ‘And, why are you calling?’. His connection rate was around 10%. When he finally stopped trying to schmooze, and began acting like he belonged, they stopped asking him why he was calling.

    Like I said, if it works for you, great. Oh…I just have to ask…who is ‘none now’, which was in your signature block in the employment info line?

  6. Jim,

    Perhaps you misunderstood my intent in my previous response. There is a whole new body of knowledge in the realm of human communication that is improving the way that people relate to and communicate with one another.

    There is no relationship between rapport building and schmoozing. My wife and I, my children and I, my customers and I, my former employees and coworkers and I, have a great amount of rapport with each other without schmoozing. We simply communicate well, and recognize that the needs of the person that we are communicating with are more important to them than are ours.(Rapport)

    I also use a business friendly approach. In addition to respecting the Getekeepers very limited time, I also respect the Gatekeeper. You stand a much better chance of getting cooperation (and respect) if you first give it.

    I seldom get asked ‘Why are you calling?’ and my rate of getting through is extremely high.

    Oh yes, you really got me with your last dig , who is ‘none now’?
    Executive search is a second career for me, Jim. After a career in the financial services industry as a financial advisor, branch manager for NYSE member firms, VP of Sales, I retired at the age of 49. Previously, I was the Director of Career Planning and Placement in a mid-size university, and, after having successfully recruited, hired and trained many people in the securiries industry, I thought that this combination may be a good fit for a second career in the Executive Search industry.
    I was employed by a firm for 2 months in which I obtained 8 job orders with signed fee agreements and 10 others with verbal agreements just waiting for Fee Agreements. I only had 3 sendouts. This was done strictly by making 80-120 cold calls per day and ‘schmoozing’ with Gatekeepers. I had no names. Last week I was fired because I didn’t have enough sendouts and no placements. As I have no basis for comparison, I am assuming that my performance was very poor.
    I am now trying to determine if this industry is a good fit for my skills, or if I should look elseware.
    If working hard and building strong relationships with hiring managers and prospective candidates are the qualities needed to build a successful desk, then perhaps this is a good fit.
    If rudeness is a necessary quality, perhaps not.
    Jim, as someone who is obviously very experienced in the industry, I would welcome any career advice from you.

    Thank you for your input.

  7. I sounds as if your previous employer is trying to build whole team of Kobes (earlier post) . We would consider that a great start, and I don’t think any of us here did that well after just 2 months. If you are a very nice person, (our main requirement), I am sure many of us would love to have you. Jon

  8. Dan,

    Great response!! I knew I’d get you with the ‘none now’ question. Too funny…

    Your achievements are impressive, and I know you will continue to rack up a great track record. I hope to hear more from you on this forum.

  9. Jonathan and Jim,

    Thank you for the feedback. I have found that most of the members of the ere network are very generous with their information and opinions. It helps ‘nubies’ like me make better decisions.

    Jonathan, I am a nice person (just ask my wife and my dog) and was beginning to think that it was detrimental to success.

    If you have contacts in the Detroit area that would consider talking to a 60 year old rookie (and nice guy), I am still unemployed and would love to talk with them.

    Thank you again,,,,,,,,,,Dan

  10. Hi Maureen,
    I am a Corporate Recruiter for an IT Co. in Miami, FL.

    I’ve been asked by one of my Hiring Managers to search for Product Managers that have a background in the Medical/Financial and/or commercial software industries.

    I’d really appreciate your input as to how I should go about starting this search. Would you say once I call into the targeted companies I should call the Gatekeeper and in a very confident voice say, ‘Hi …. , this is Michelle …., and I’m calling to speak to your Product Manager that oversees your ……line? I’m afraid if I say this they might not necessarily know who to put me through to so they will ask me questions and in the process become weary of me and not give me the information.
    Any suggestions?

    Thank you,

  11. Michelle,

    Better (very) late than never!
    1. If she says her name when she answers say it back to her.
    2. Tell her your name.
    You can then ask what you demonstrated above but if she doesn’t know (and she may not):
    3. Ask her to transfer you to product management (maybe technical marketing).
    4. Ask her who she is transferring you to.
    5. Ask for the person’s extension (in case you’re disconnected).
    6. Allow her to transfer you. You’re likely to hit VoiceMail.
    7. Zero out back to her (or call in again) and tell her you hit VoiceMail – is there “anyone else you can try…”
    8. Work her for as much info as you can by asking one question at a time and respectfully following her suggestions.
    Tell us if it works.

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