Getting Around the Gatekeeper

The air has been thick on ERE and all over the recruiting space; thick with the din of ethics, legalese, and honesty and integrity discussions. What should you say to get around the gatekeeper without being deceitful? How much information should you reveal to the gatekeeper? How should you introduce yourself to the passive candidate when you call? What is ethical in sourcing and what isn’t? I am going to avoid all that and focus on two very important aspects of great recruiting: how to get around a gatekeeper without rusing (today’s article) and, once you get to the prospect or candidate, how you define the purpose of your call and then execute the art of recruiting (an article to come). This will be about tactics; a practical teaching session that any recruiter can execute immediately.

During my 12 or so years of recruiting and recruiting leadership I have learned a variety of tactics from some of the best-known names in the recruiting industry. Names like Sullivan, Radin, Leffkowitz, Adler, etc., read like a who’s who of recruiting consultants and teachers who have shaped my execution, teaching, and leading in the recruiting industry. The tactics and techniques I teach to my teams and that I will relay here come from my experience with what gets results and what the aforementioned recruiting industry thought leaders have taught me and many others. This article won’t discuss phone-call name generation or sourcing techniques, but that will likely come in a later article. Much of what I executed successfully as a recruiter, and now teach as a leader, was learned from Peter Leffkowitz in my TPR days. Those of you who have attended any of his seminars or training will recognize much in this article.

A Hypothetical Situation

You are conducting a search for a director of marketing or VP of marketing. If you’re a really great recruiter, you have competitive intelligence on a few candidates who you know are high performers. One of those high performers is a senior-level marketing professional at one of your competitors named Barbara Smith. You are now ready to make the call. Given the senior-level scope of your search, there’s a high degree of likelihood you’ll encounter your targeted prospects’ executive secretary or administrative support; the dreaded gatekeeper. Damn the man!

Want To Know How To Get Around a Gatekeeper? Hang Out With One

The first thing you need to do is get to know someone who has been a gatekeeper. Just about every organization has at least one gatekeeper or someone working in the company who did it in a prior life. Ask them how they did it. Understand how they were trained and what scripts they use. Listen to them apply their craft. Incidentally, hiring former gatekeepers to be recruiters is a very sound recruiting strategy. In order to get around the gatekeeper, it is critical to know the script almost all gatekeepers employ. Gatekeepers are taught to answer the phone in a very specific way, and the script pattern they use is designed to get as much information from the caller in order to make a decision about who to let through and who to block. Great gatekeepers are trained to block everyone unless they make a compelling argument for why they should be let through or the person they support has specifically indicated a caller should be let through.

Before we talk about how to design the call and get by the gatekeeper, we need to look at a typical recruiting call and the common script pattern a gatekeeper will likely use during their interaction with you the recruiter. As part of the call examination we need to look at how most recruiters, especially those in the corporate recruiting world, script their end of the call. Most TPRs are usually much better at this, though you wouldn’t know it by the voicemails and calls I have received from some of them recently. The background now set, let’s “listen in” on our hypothetical call:

Gatekeeper: Good morning; Barbara Smith’s office.

Recruiter: Good morning; Barbara please.

Gatekeeper: May I tell her who is calling?

Recruiter: Of course. This is Michael Homula calling.

Gatekeeper: What company are you with Mr. Homula?

Recruiter: Company X.

Gatekeeper: And the nature of your call?

Recruiter: Choke, gasp, uhhh, mmmm, aaahhh…

Read that exchange three more times. It is important to imprint this gatekeeper-recruiter give-and-take into your brain. It’s a dance, and you have to know the movements of the dance in order to effectively dance with your partner (the gatekeeper) and get around them. The gatekeeper script pattern outlined in this example is how the vast majority of them are trained to execute their craft of blocking you. It’s effective and often works very well. In order to know how to execute this call the right way, we have to first look at how it is done wrong. So, don’t read ahead. Stop right now and go back and read the exchange three more times, paying careful attention to the word patterns, the order and the rhythm of the call.

In the example above, our recruiter (played by me) did a few things right but a lot wrong. One thing the recruiter did do right was disarm the gatekeeper and build rapport by using her first name. Assuming you could actually “hear” this call, you would also know the recruiter mirrored their vocal pattern after the gatekeepers. In this example, I sounded like I belonged on the call. The call has to be delivered with confidence. As the “intruder” in this situation, you have to sound like you belong on the call. Too many recruiters feel some sort of guilt about making this call and therefore they sound guilty in their tone of voice. Using the proper tone and inflection, and using first names, sends a message to the gatekeeper — you should know me and I should be connected to Barbara. Some gatekeepers, especially in larger companies, may assume you work for their company (that you are an internal employee) or you are an approved vendor, and will pass you right along. Just think about how many employees or vendors there can be in some organizations. Executing this simple yet effective tactic may get you everything you need. Even though there were a few good points during this call, there was still a lot wrong. Namely, the gatekeeper got the recruiter off script and stuck them with a tough question: “What is the nature of your call?” This is a tough question for recruiters to answer and is often where the call ends or goes sideways. Many recruiters immediately begin to lie or employ some deceitful tactic to get put through. But that is not necessary. Try this exchange and technique on for size:

Gatekeeper: Good morning; Barbara Smith’s office.

Recruiter: Good morning; who am I speaking to?

Gatekeeper: This is Jim.

Recruiter: Jim, good morning. This is Michael Homula calling for Barbara.

Did you see that? Did you see what I just did? What I did was employ a technique that Peter Leffkowitz calls pattern or script interrupt. Telling him my name before he asked for it changes who is in control of the conversation. Most gatekeepers have a script pattern they work from; there is a rhythm and flow to it, just like a recruiter’s script. Most of these script patterns include a component of asking for the identity of the caller, the company they represent, and the nature of the call.

These key questions happen early in the call “dance” and help the gatekeeper to fulfill their purpose. That purpose is to gain control of the conversation, determine the call’s level of importance, how valid the call is, gather information about the caller, and then block the caller if they are undesirable. By interrupting this script pattern, the recruiter now owns the flow of the conversation; the gatekeeper is pushed sideways and out of rhythm and becomes distracted from his script and its subsequent purpose. The result is that the recruiter improves the odds of getting through to the prospect/candidate. In other words, what I did as a recruiter in this example is change the pattern of how my information goes into the gatekeeper, which in turn knocks her off of her routine or script pattern. I have changed the texture of the call, as well as who controls it. In a very real sense, we have humanized the call and humanized the gatekeeper. Instead of dealing with Jim’s script, I am now dealing with Jim the person. Now that I have wrestled away control of how the information goes in and the texture of the call, it is now just two people who see each other as humans and not scripts. The playing field is now leveled.

Article Continues Below

About Those Tested, Experienced, and Grizzled Veterans of Gatekeeping

Even if you use the script interrupt technique outlined above, sometimes getting through can be very difficult, especially when dealing with a great gatekeeper (who, by the way, you should recruit). The conversation with this person often goes more like what follows, though please note that I am using a number of interactions I have had over the years with gatekeepers to create a general response here. Most keepers will use nicer terminology than this, but the substance of the message is legitimately the same.

Gatekeeper: Good morning; Barbara Smith’s office.

Recruiter: Good morning; who am I speaking to?

Gatekeeper: This is Jim.

Recruiter: Jim, good morning, this is Michael Homula calling for Barbara.

Gatekeeper: Mr. Homula, unless I know the purpose of your call, I won’t transfer you to Ms. Smith. Is that clear?

Recruiter: Ugh, ummm, choke, cough…

The key here is to not get confrontational with this gatekeeper. Lying, rusing or deceit is not really the best choice either, and can be illegal. This is what works best, based on what I’ve have learned from years of experience and training by the leaders mentioned above:

Recruiter: Jim, I appreciate why you’re asking that question. You see, my call involves a high degree of sensitivity and confidentiality. I believe that needs to start with Barbara. Once I speak with her, if she feels the sensitive information I have can include you then all of us can be involved in the communication. I just think we need to let her make that decision. Until Barbara makes that decision, the sensitive nature of my call means I should speak with her first.

The gatekeeper, knowing that their director of marketing probably deals with a lot of sensitive information, is likely going to transfer me to Barbara Smith or to her voicemail. There isn’t a gatekeeper in the world that wants be responsible for a sensitive and confidential situation not getting through. If Jim the gatekeeper puts me on hold to announce my call to Barbara, he will inform her that the nature of the call is sensitive and confidential, which will create a degree of wonder and urgency for Barbara.

Recruiting Is Sensitive and Confidential

The recruiting ethics police out there may want to argue that by declaring my call to be “sensitive” and “confidential” rather than revealing my identity as a recruiter calling to offer Barbara a better opportunity is scandalous, unethical, or even illegal. To that I query back in advance, what can be more sensitive or confidential than a recruiting call? Barbara — someone I know to be a high-performing director of marketing — is entitled to learn about other opportunities that may be better than her current situation. Barbara also has a right for any conversation she has with me, or any other recruiter for that matter, to be handled with a high degree of sensitivity and confidentiality.

Once I speak with Barbara, she can decide whether or not to continue speaking with me. Barbara is also the only one who gets to decide if she would like to share the nature of our conversations with anyone else, including her current employer. Her company does not have the right to make that decision for her and certainly neither does her gatekeeper. The days of indentured servitude ended long ago in this country and only the talent I am trying to reach gets to make decisions about their future. Stay tuned for a future article which deals specifically with the actual recruiting call. Too many recruiters make the recruiting call ill prepared.

Michael Homula has over 10 years of high performing recruiting and recruiting leadership experience in third party as well as corporate recruiting.


34 Comments on “Getting Around the Gatekeeper

  1. I ageee witht he tactic but I believe you should ask the gatekepper, ‘to whom am I speaking?’ it’s better English and you will raise the ingretity of your call by using proper grammar; assume the gatekeeper uses proper English and knows the difference!
    Dee Vitale

  2. This is an important topic of our craft. I think that the true talent of getting around a gatekeeper is difficult to be conveyed in written form and I appreciate your effort. I’ve attended Peter Leffkowitz’s seminar and listened in on some of his calls. If his calls were transcribed, most readers would not be able to turn around and have the same success as Peter. The nuances of how to work each call comes from training and mostly experience. The difference between a good recruiter and a poor one is the drive and grit each has to get what they are looking for. Apprentice recruiters will stumble and be unable to get past the gatekeeper but with persistence and determination, instead of cowardice, they too will succeed. As you mentioned, the key is in the confidence, tone and inflection of the recruiter. When stumped, novices cave in an quickly look for a way to get out of the call. Experienced recruiters anticipate and confidently respond to whatever the gatekeeper throws at him or her. I don’t think there is a golden ticket script to use to get through, as every call is different, however, I believe that we need to share more about pattern interrupts and a topic I have not yet seen in an ERE article, using Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) in recruiting. Anyone out there who uses NLP in recruiting?
    In my experience, I’ve had more success getting past a good gatekeeper by calling when the gatekeeper is out to lunch, on break or has gone home. When recruiting high level executives, I make a list and war dial between 5:05pm and 5:30pm when the gatekeeper has left and the executive is still working. Another way is to search for a home number of the executive.

  3. Okay from this Recruiter: Ugh, ummm, choke, cough…

    There are some very good points here in this article, in fact many that I Personally outlayed 3 different times in the past 3 mths…

    By the way, it has also been mentioned over and over again by ‘the Ethics Police’ that what we do and the material we hold is VERY sensitive, and should be at all times kept HIGHLY confidential.

    What I also find interesting is the comment ‘Lying, rusing or deceit is not really the best choice either, and can be illegal.’

    Could it be that the Ethics Police Actually did know something of which they spoke?

  4. Mike,

    Great suggestions for anyone in a sales role. Thank you. I’m looking forward to the next article in the series!

  5. So much of what the Homulator speaks of comes from the sales side; to this end, I’d suggest that those interested in improving their skills to check out:

    Ari Galper’s Unlock The Game (
    Jeff Gitomer’s Sales Caffeine newsletter ( – free e-zine)

    …BTW, both are heavily NLP-oriented.

    Recruiters – have you ever considered going out on sales calls with your best sales people to observe how they do it? Then debrief after a sales call? There’s gold in this hill.

    One more thing really makes this process that much easier: Know your product inside and out. I mean, REALLY know it.

    The Recruiting Edge ( is up and running (with two Edgy ERE-eans in charge)

  6. Cold calling and sourcing candidates takes skill and practice, like all other talents. Screeners know how to deal with external calls, and do so very effectively. So one method for dealng with screeners is to get the screener into ‘internal call mode.’ If you ask: ‘Is (s)he there?’ when the screener answers, the screener often goes into whether or not the person is available instead of the ‘external call’ script and all the questions we get that we don’t want to deal with. In my experience, variations of a comment or question that suggests an internal call works. Given all the ERE comments about ethics and integrity, I am personally comfortable with this approach from those perspectives as well.
    Bill Broderick

  7. Like the UK and US (two great countries divided by a common language), so are recruiting and sales. We both need to CLOSE to succeed, must have a fertile PIPELINE behind that effort to facilitate the needed frequency of closes, and must PROSPECT (generate leads/source) to seed that pipeline. Any of this starting to look familiar (or for some, creepy)?

    Having sold to recruiting professionals for a long time and I realized that about 15 years ago. Steven Levy’s post is right on, but I would consider going a bit farther.

    I would suggest that core sales skills (prospecting, questioning, presenting, objection-handling and closing) should be every recruiter’s Basic Training. Much in the same way the military makes every new recruit go through the same basic training regardless of their ultimate functionality, so should all recruiters go through basic sales training.

    Though there’s much else to learn to become a successful recruiting professional, a solid mastery of the basic skills of selling will provide anyone seeking to enter the profession a solid foundation on which to build your craft.

  8. Recruiter minus sales skills = HR.

    Recruiting as a TPR is a full blown sales profession. Nothing less.

    Corporate recruiting is an internal job function that requires sales skill I suspect to be any good.

  9. Anthony is right. Yes I said it. We should all document this day in history when we may have seen eye to eye on something.

    He said ‘Recruiter minus sales skills is HR.’ He is dead on the money!

    I must say though, whether TPR or Corporate, great recruiting done right is full blown sales no matter the channel you are doing the recruiting in. The issue is that the vast majority of corporate recruiting teams aren’t very good and aren’t paying for the right behaviors in their recruiters.

    Unfortunately, most corporate recruiting functions don’t pay recruiters for what they produce or the quality of the after hire performance. If they did then the recruiter would behave and perform more like a high performing sales professional. Virtually all corporate recruiting teams only pay a base salary regardless of production or quality. That makes it an HR role rather than a true recruiting role.

    TPR gets paid for what they produce and, to some degree through gaurantee’s on the placement, for the after hire quality of performance. Why then are we so surprised when the better recruiters are in TPR and that they make more money?

  10. As this subject is of interest to us telephone sourcers every day of our lives, it immediately caught my attention and held me enthralled as I read it. Then I came to this piece of advice:

    Try this exchange and technique on for size:
    Gatekeeper: Good morning; Barbara Smith’s office.
    Recruiter: Good morning; who am I speaking to?
    Gatekeeper: This is Jim.
    Recruiter: Jim, good morning. This is Michael Homula calling for Barbara.

    Maybe it’s in how I’m asking, I’m quite sure it is, but when I ask presumptively ‘Who am I speaking to?’ as in the script above, I’m usually met with some very frosty, ‘Well, WHO am I speaking to?’ back. Again, I say I’m quite sure it’s in HOW I ask, or maybe it’s because I’m a woman speaking to (usually) another woman and a man asking this question of a woman might get a more accommodating response than a woman asking ? you follow? I have an idea that men and women approach and have different results in telephone sourcing because of their sex. Anyway, I am interested in what others think about this bit of brazenry and if it works for them (I like it!) and what am I doing wrong? What’s the magic dust that needs sprinkling before the call is made?

  11. Maureen,

    I, too, have experienced this gatekeeper exchange and believe the female-to-female conversation works a bit differently. And I have dealt with some VERY brazen responses.

    My experience has also disproved a few other things:
    1. The notion that most gatekeepers are only gatekeepers and do not know the business they are in.
    2. That the person answering the phone is a receptionist.

    I have been asked for very specific and technical information as the gatekeeper tries to asses who I am and what I need. Although I have been successful in getting past many of the ‘interrogations,’ I am not managing to get my call put through to the person I actually need to speak with.

    In addition, I have been caught off guard by owners and managers answering the phone. I am now better at anticipating this, but I still struggle with dialogue that works.

    When the gatekeeper IS a receptionsist, no matter what I say, I often get transferred without knowing who I am contacting or the role the actually play in the firm.

    Any advise would be most welcome.

  12. Diane,

    You said, ‘In addition, I have been caught off guard by owners and managers answering the phone. I am now better at anticipating this, but I still struggle with dialogue that works.’

    What kind of companies are you usually calling into? That would better help us assess the possibilities. Quick guessing, it sounds like you’re calling into smaller companies – one way to get around this is to stab around/beyond or below the main number – sometimes the pathway to the individual desks of a company’s employees lies right here – a good hint is to look at the main number and the fax – many times the direct dials will lie in between or somewhere around…if the fax is not listed, call and ASK ‘What’s your fax number?’ Usually this gets an answer without too much ado.

    You go on to say, ‘When the gatekeeper IS a receptionist, no matter what I say, I often get transferred without knowing who I am contacting or the role the actually play in the firm.’

    One way of heading her off at the pass is to quickly say, just when she finishes saying ‘One moment please,’ and is about to transfer you, just as she hits the last word ?please,? ‘May I ask to whom you are transferring me?’ She will usually tell you if you ask politely and then push just a tiny tad further and ASK, ‘And can you tell me, please, what is it she does, is she the department’s Administrative Assistant?’ If she says ‘No, she’s the Manager of the department you’re looking for,’ then, well, all and good. Press on, as if you could care less. ‘Well then, can you tell me, does she have an Administrative Assistant and can you transfer me to her?’ A couple things happened here – you backed down her suspicion level by backing down on the level you?re seeking, AND and you’re beginning to direct her actions – when you come back to her, which you invariably will, you can ask her advice once again, gently prodding her to give you just a tad bit more information…and so it goes. In one-three calls back to the same receptionist you can have a department’s manager, the department’s Administrative Assistant, one, two, three, maybe ALL the department’s members, depending on how patient and helpful she is. It?s all in how you ASK!

    The trick is to be the one doing all the ASKing and keeping her following your gentle directions. This is done by keeping her just a little bit off balance, as Michael recommends in his excellent article.

  13. Maureen:

    It’s so rare to see actual practical advice on the forum that I just had to write and thank you on behalf of the youngsters.

    I’m with you on the phone number range–the best way around the gatekeeper is exactly that–go around her. In large corporations there are thousands of extensions and hundreds and hundreds of friendly folk willing and ready to tell you all you need with minimal encouragment.Companies, or departments that have policies or a ‘climate of fear’ about talking to recruiters can be the most fruitful–you can get a home number with very few calls.
    You can sometimes narrow your phone ranges down by segmenting areas of responsibility of the key executives listed in the annual report or web site.

    good hunting

  14. Thank your Maureen. Appreciate the tips!

    After reviewing your suggestions, I must admit that I need to improve my calm and confidence when making these types of calls. I have to rid myself of the ‘it’s now or never – don’t blow the chance to get into this firm’ attitude.

    (Your guess is correct. Many of the firms I call into are smaller and flat in structure. I recruit sales people for industrial firms and deal with a lot of rep firms and distributors.)

    Thanks again.

  15. Maureen is on of the best in the business at getting around gatekeepers, competitive intelligence gathering, names sourcing etc. I have used her with tremendous results and I am honored she is commenting on my article and offering amazing advice like she has here. Thanks M!

    I think Maureen raises an interesting point that has not yet been talked about here. That is the role of gender in the recruiter/gatekeeper give and take and, to take it one step further, the role of gender in the recruiter/candidate dance. I don’t know the answer but think there may be something to this. I seem to have an easier time with female gatekeepers than male gatekeepers. Anyone else have thoughts on this?

    I do believe the exchange Maureen references from my article is all about tone and Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP). If you aren’t familiar with it do a google search on it and you will learn more than you ever needed to know. Here is what Maureen was referencing:

    Gatekeeper: Good morning; Barbara Smith’s office.
    Recruiter: Good morning; who am I speaking to?
    Gatekeeper: This is Jim.
    Recruiter: Jim, good morning. This is Michael Homula calling for Barbara.

    Interrupting the pattern by asking ‘who am I speaking to?’ has to be done with the proper tone and inflection. If it is ominous and too direct you will get shut out. If it is light and inquisitive – like you genuinely care to know who the person is – you will have a higher degree of success with this technique.

    I believe you have to mentally prepare yourself for every call. Imagine the call going well, imagine the GK giving you what you need, imagine yourself anticipating their every move, put yourself in a frame of mind to work with the GK not against them.

    Just a few thoughts! Sorry it took me a while to get back into this discussion. That darn work thing!

  16. My firm has been doing research (sourcing) for over ten years. While many have great ideas for sourcing, the most effecctive way to source is to have a database of information built up on the companies you are going into. Educating your reseacher on a company is Key and having the information is also a key. The only way you can get this information is through work. It takes years of work to understand a company and keep up with it’s changes, but if you do alot of sourcing, it makes all the difference. Investing the money and time before you pick up the phone is key, but is only cost effective if you do high volume research or sourcing. Otherwise you do what you can with the phone. Lewis

  17. Lewis,
    such an excellent point. Research is indeed the most important aspect of our job. It indeed does make our job easier, and the problems of getting past the gatekeeper does indeed become a moot point.

    I?ll try to draw a picture here ? Let?s say there was mission to find a bushel of apples, and the one who brings back the Sweetest, biggest, and the most wins.

    Due to lack of Knowledge Many of us will immediately go for the obvious ? targeting the low hanging fruit which is rarely the sweetest or biggest ? the same fruit that all the competitors will be also going after. Soon the Tree becomes Barren and doesn?t produce anymore. Now what?

    But, with more knowledge ? say you were to do some research ? find out where there is a Grove of Apple Orchards; in that orchard who has the best apples and of course the Most in one location.

    Of course we don?t call the orchards to find out who has the best (a common mistake in recruiting) ? why not?? Well because of 3 points ?
    1 ? the orchard will be slammed by calls of course by all the other competitors calling and they will get scared of being raided, so they are very protective – as they need their product for production for Cider, Apple Sauce or such like –

    2 ? If you get someone that is not as savvy in the office they could of course then say they of course have the best apples and come on down ? and now you are met with all your competitors raiding the apples

    3- The Orchard has not been doing well, the apples would be better off making cider or the orchard may have been picked dry already.. so when you get there you find that you took a wasted trip. Time that could have been best spent elsewhere.

    So what do you do instead? – Well, I would go beyond the obvious – I would try to See the Apples for the Trees – What Do I mean ?
    Well I would call instead the Fertilizer Companies (gee the Company is spending money on Fertilizer, that means that the apples are sure to be healthier
    The Boxing and Container companies ? they will know which orchard often uses the most at one time.. Hmm lot?s of good business means more production, which means better apples. More than likely
    The Apple Juice and Sauce Companies ? Especially the ones who have the Best juice and Best Apple Sauce ? they can direct you to the orchards they buy the apples from.

    Not only will they direct you to the Orchards, but quite often they will give you the contacts they work with.. Wow ? Names, names and more names to get past security when you need to go pick those apples. And all from a few calls!!!!!! YEAH!!!!!!

    Research Works, I promise ? give it a try – you will find that you will be able to pick better fruit, more fruit and win the competition in less time and less effort.

    Happy Harvesting!!!!

  18. Michael, I think I get this. Instead of asking (presumptively, like I?m probably guilty of ? my husband tells me I would have made/would still make an excellent drill sergeant in the Marines, and he was one) and sounding ominous, and probably haughty in the least and bossy in the worst, as you point out, I should soften my barrage. But Michael, I think I am light and inquisitive, but maybe not. I?ll watch it in the future, but asking to whom I?m speaking isn?t one of my ordinary onslaught techniques. But I?ll try and report back the results.

    I absolutely agree with you about preparing yourself for every call. Your imagination is your greatest asset here ? picture the gatekeeper sitting at her desk, imagine yourself standing in front of her, watchful of her every move, as you say. The direction of the call is eight times out of ten in your head. Not bad odds.

    Lewis? advice is dead-on also – for high volume research or sourcing a database of information built up on the companies you go into is invaluable. Some companies seem to turn up on multiple jobs time and time again, so a dossier on a specific company each time you go in builds pretty quickly. I notice Lewis uses that dreaded w word ? work! That?s what it takes, and like he says, it makes all the difference!

    I love these discussions – thanks!

  19. One other avenue that we seem not to have touched on is actually getting to KNOW the gatekeeper and then nurturing and developing them into a helpful resource.

    This is time intensive, takes patience, and some genuine skill in communication and perception (meaning your ability to be perceptive).

    I have spent years in the same industry, frequently contacting the same companies. In one case in particular, my relationship with the gatekeeper was such that our conversations literally became:

    GATEKEEPER: Good morning XYZ.
    ME: Good morning Linda (not her real name, protect, yada yada yada). This is Todd Noebel.
    GATEKEEPER: Oh, hi Todd. So who do you want to try and steal today?
    ME: Linda, I’m crushed. I never steal anyone, I just help them decide to walk out the door.
    GATEKEEPER: (cynical laugh) Yeah, sure. Just remember, one of these days you need to help me.
    ME: You just let me know when you’re ready.
    GATEKEEPER: One of these days. Ok, who is it today?

    Granted, that is the exception, and far from the rule. That said, you can establish some rapport. Ask about local weather…or better yet, offer a comment about some local news (avoid politics of course). It also breaks the call pattern. Each time you call, try to gather some nugget about the gatekeeper. How long have they been there, do they like the company, why? Use short discussions, one or two comments or questions. Respect that they are busy…and tell them that you do.

    Again, maybe I am old fashioned, but a dialogue works infinitely better then a monologue. No, it does not always work, but when it does…


  20. There are a lot of great replies to the age old problem of getting past the gatekeeper. Tone and inflection are absolutely crucial to set the stage for the exchange. You have 5 seconds to build rapport. If you approach the call like you are visiting the dentist, the response will be in turn.

    Don’t forget with every gatekeeper there are many passwords that work. Keep in mind that the strongest entrance is not always the best point of attack. Can someone else in the company transfer you to the direct line? Is is possible that a cell phone number can be uncovered by a colleague, direct report, someone in the mailroom, etc. Of course!

    Research is planning the attack and executing strategic strikes. Recruiting is full blown sales and your kill. Keep the two seperate and you have a battle plan.

  21. Todd –

    Excellent point! I’ve been following this post closely out of pure interest, b/c nothing gives me instant satisfaction like getting past an excellent gatekeeper.

    In my previous position (in another state/market), I had gatekeepers that I was extremely good friends with – and some I never even met! Just developed good relationships over the phone, and before you know it… they’re slipping me names and numbers, and referring me to everyone. I filled many positions through those ‘friends’ of mine.

    Brittany Dean

  22. Todd B,

    You raise an excellent point. We need to remember the distinction between a sourcing call and a recruiting call.

    Some habits die hard – when I first got in the business I ran a full desk – marketing, sourcing, recruiting, interview management, negotiations, etc. From Job Req to paycheck.

    That said, sourcers could likely benefit from establishing gatekeeper relationships just in case they need to fish in the same pond again.


  23. A few more comments.

    Lewis is so on the money it is almost worth paying for his thoughts. Not that I will pay but he is on it. Sourcing isn’t just about names. It’s about the right names. His apple analogy is great and I personally identify because I often use a similar analogy with recruiters about going after the best candidates not just candidates. Anyone can generate names, it takes a true professional to really SOURCE for success and find people how are great.

    Todd hits on one of my favorite themes. It’s The Relationship, Stupid! You build rapport and relationships you get all the names you ever need. Having gatekeepers in your network and having a relationship with them matters. I am reminded of the movie Strange Brew (of of my all time favorites) in which Bob and Doug McKenzie try to get into the brewery and have to get past a nasty little cuss of a gatekeeper. How did they do it? They did needs analysis (in their own sort of demented way), built a relationship and then gave something to the gatekeeper to get the information they needed. In her case it was a jelly donut (‘want a donut? it’s a jelly!). Oh if it were only that easy.

    The point is best made with an analogy. It’s like a checking account. You can’t withdraw more than what you put in, right? The withdrawal must be equal to or less than the deposit. Using the gatekeeper or candidate scenario you have to give in order to receive. Now you don’t have to give money or gifts or even jelly donuts but you do have to give time, information, advice etc. in order to withdraw.

    Oh hell…this is now going to be a blog post because I just can’t stop.

    Sourcing is, perhaps, the most critical function of any truly great passive candidate recruiting team. Which is why I am building a sourcing team now at Quicken Loans to support our newly designed passive candidate recruiting team!

    I digress….this thread is great and I am very honored that all of you feel compelled to contribute in such a positive and productive way to the dialogue and to comment on my article.


  24. Michael,
    no disrespect to Lewis, cause I did enjoy what he said – Now I realize that we have had some conflict in the past but this is not the first time that I was not acknowledged as the poster on something I have written.

    As an author I am sure that you may recognize that it takes much time and effort – and it is nice to know when your effort is recognized.

    With that Said, thank you for the Indirect Compliment.

  25. Certainly not intentional Karen.

    My sincere apologies. The analogy is brilliant no matter who made it but I always want to give credit where credit is do.

    Thanks for calling this to my attention.


  26. Maybe I didn’t speak enough about the gatekeeper relationships. And I am certain that not enough emphasis is placed on the relationships of many people that you cross in your quest for ‘the perfect candidate.’ Have you ever noticed how much easier it is to talk with someone the second time you meet them? You don’t have that much more to talk about than you did in your previous encounter, but yet somehow everything is just more at ease.

    The same applies with your gatekeeper relationships. Again, don’t forget the gatekeeper is anyone with a key. My ‘friends’ in Norway, Puerto Rico, or Singapore can attest to how great of ‘friends’ we are. After they meet you, then they ‘know’ you. After they know you, they can trust you and want to help you. Friends do anything for friends. It’s a true testament to human nature.

    Don’t forget, you are on the phone. Let that alter-ego shine. Be the person you have always wanted to be. Better yet, be the person your ‘friend’ wants you to be. Just remember to hold up your end of the friendship.

  27. I really like the comments made by Todd Burkhardt.

    As an executive, I am very thankful of the people who keep things moving for busy executives! That attitude shows in my voice, and in the attention I give the person to whom I am speaking.

    I also take control of the time at which I will speak to the boss. I am regretful of not being able to share the nature of my call, but it is not critical so please don’t interrupt his/her meeting. It is important, however, so when, in the gatekeepers opinion would be the best time to reach him/her?

    There aren’t many who don’t respond to acknowledgement and appreciation, and they usually pass me through immediately when I call back.

  28. Getting Around the Gatekeeper – is definitely a hot topic here in Russia too. I really liked opinions above. Although my 1,5 year experience is much shorter then anybody else?s in this discussion, I can share what works for me when I know the name of a senior or TOP manager I?m trying to rich and a recruiter-resistant GK gets on my way.

    1. Pretend you are a client of the company. (Identify your self to the GK as an existing client, and make up an adequate ?nature of call?.)
    2. Pretend you are a competitor of the company. (nature of call may obviously be confidential)
    3. Pretend you are from a famous insurance company, and leave your name and mobile number.
    4. and more?

    Of course it is not only about what you say, but also about how you say it.

    Actually, at the sector where I currently work (big 4 seniors and managers), the biggest problem is precise sourcing. When you have the name – Getting Around the Gatekeeper is rarely a problem, especially when you are equipped with a few tricks.

    Any way, I?m interested if those approaches I mentions above might be useful in the US.
    And would really appreciate your advises on that matter.

  29. Allen,

    Thanks for getting involved in this discussion all the way from Russia. Amazing! ERE is connecting recruiters from around the world.

    I am only going to offer a few thought because I am sure there are plenty of people here who are far smarter than me on some of the legalities of what you propose. Karen M. – are you reading this? If so, I think your insight would be valuable.

    Bottom line Allen, several (if not all) of your suggestions could get you into legal hot water here in the US. Even if they don’t, using tactics like what you recommend certainly won’t make you any friends in the recruiting community and you might have some trouble sleeping at night because of ethical fairies that will haunt you in your dreams.

    Lying (we call it rusing here) is really not a good option both legally or ethically. Posing as a customer, famous insurance company or competitor is pretty low level in my book. I know there may be those of you out there who can’t believe you just read that from me but contrary to popular opinion there are lines that even I don’t cross. I will push the envelope and try things 99% of recruiters won’t but lying is not one of them.

    Don’t get me wrong, there was a day in my recruiting life when I resorted to those tactics. I am not proud of those days and fortunately have moved beyond them. Great recruiters don’t need to rely on the tactics of rusing and flat out dishonesty.

    Can you operate in the ‘gray areas’ and still remain ethical? I think you can. But Allen, going to the dark side as you propose with these methods would not work well here in the USA. They may be fine in Russia but would not work here. I would be curious to hear from you on what laws govern business and/or recruiting in your country.

    Thanks again for offering your thoughts. Though I disagree with the tactics you propose I am grateful you took the time to read my article and felt compelled to get involved in the conversation. Thanks!

  30. An interesting theme seems to have emerged on this topic.

    The newer one is to recruiting, the more focus there is on getting around the gatekeeper.

    The more seasoned the recruiter, the more focus there is on getting the gatekeeper to give you a key so you can have admission when you need it.

    Perhaps we should drop the word (and concept of) ‘around’ and simply focus on ‘Getting the Gatekeeper’. No doubt we would be more effective.


  31. Michael,
    Thanks so much for asking me to post to this topic. Like I mentioned to you in my e-mail I am nervous about approaching this subject Matter. Last year I got dragged through the mud and back from many who appeared to be intimaded by the legal (dreaded word) implications that does surround our Career.

    I will address this but please understand, that though I am not a lawyer the information that I do disclose has been heavily researched. The EEOC, FTC and other Agency?s are always willing to discuss these details as well ? even allowing callers to remain anonymous.

    So I will Not give an in depth review of the law as the information can be found easily on the internet but please note that it can mean as much as illegally securing marketing plans, customer lists, product information and any company sensitive data including employee lists and names.

    Allen, Michael is correct. Ruse Calling or lying to gain information about companies is indeed illegal in this country ? it falls under Federal Law via the Federal Trade commission ? Antitrust, unfair competition, trade secrets, and of course and the Uniform Code Acts of many states (which ever is most stringent will supersede) ? The laws are in place to give the steps that an employer can take to prevent an unauthorized disclosure, and the remedies available in the event of an unauthorized disclosure

    Colorado for example recently rewrote their act to remove any ambiguity from the Federal law. It also mentions Fraud and Deceit in trying to gain access to this information… The Colorado Uniform Trade Secrets Act Under the Colorado Uniform Trade Secrets Act, C.R.S. ?7-74-101, et seq.,
    ***In Colorado under the Uniform Code – A trade secret is the whole or any portion or phase of any scientific or technical information, design, process, procedure, formula, improvement, confidential business or financial information, listing of names, addresses, or telephone numbers, or other information relating to any business or profession that is confidential in nature – Misappropriation of a trade secret consists only of the improper disclosure or acquisition of a trade secret ? though I have mentioned Colorado, please note this law is federal.. I utilized Colorado as they took the ???s out of the Federal and allow a better understanding. Also there are many states who have also implemented similar rules as well.. Also note the state you are Calling into or representing which has the Strictest law will be the one that will apply.

    A secret is one that a Company has Determined is a secret and that they are Limiting access to what THEY determine as confidential information to a need-to-know basis ? so if one has to lie to get to know it, then that is Confidential information to them.

    Non-American researchers who are focusing on US companies should also be cautious to operate within legal and ethical boundaries. In reality, so much information is available through legal means that taking illegal actions really does seem well unnecessary and not a viable Move.
    Anyone who is collecting information on American Companies should be aware that there are also other several regulations that can ultimately impact their efforts. One being the Economic Espionage Act, passed in 1996, which defines many areas of economic espionage as a criminal offense. Even if you are working for another American Company.

    I apologize for the length of this post, but I wanted to get offer a thorough expalanation.

    Karen M
    By the way please also check out the following Links which also describe how the Ofccp can also affect our recruiting efforts… This ALSO include recruiters who recruit for companies Who are government contractors.

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