Testing the Gatekeeper

I get this email newsletter put out by David DeAngelo that touts his “Double Your Dating” portfolio of tricks on how men can meet women more effectively. I admit that I usually read the whole thing. Why? The guy is a genius at understanding human nature and ways of putting that understanding to work.

There are numerous parallels between what he describes in his world and the world of recruiting. In fact, a recent subject was on how women test men. I made it my own as to how “testing” applies to sourcing. Here are my tips on winning over the Gatekeeper if you regularly get tested yourself.

Do you routinely call companies only to have the Gatekeeper ask, “Who’s calling, and what is this call in regard to?” Has a Gatekeeper ever asked you if you’re a recruiter? Have you ever been challenged on the “excuse” you offered about why you’re calling? Have you ever had a Gatekeeper call you back and ask why you needed certain information?

Do would-be customers tell you, “Give me your number and I’ll call you”? Have you ever had a customer insult your work and/or integrity as an excuse not to pay you or to pay you for less than he originally contracted for? Have you ever had a “hard-to-please” customer who, no matter how many hoops you jump through, remains acrimonious?

Guess what? You were being tested!

People “test” each other to see how much control they have and, consequently, to see how strong you are. The paradox of “testing” is that if you comply with what the tester seems to want, you will usually FAIL the test.

Methods to Come Out on Top

There are ways to answer the tests and come out on top, but only if you can learn to master your own human nature. First, listen to what’s being said in the silences.

People test each other because they need to quickly understand what they’re dealing with, and some of them are not very nice about it. The fact of the matter is, though some of us may talk a very big game, far less of us can back it up.

What people are looking for in other people is character and personal identity. Do you have it?

People generally don’t want to hang around with people they can push around. There’s that paradox thing again. To cut to the chase, some of us can be pretty brutal ferreting out the losers from the winners. How does one tell the difference between the winners and the losers?

We ask. If there is any shade of doubt presented, we ask for further clarification. We ask so we may cipher out the strength and confidence from the weak and defeated. And, of course, we test in a way that doesn’t necessarily indicate testing.

Power is Irresistible

Testing gives you power, and that’s why sourcers “test” all the time. We test the temperature of the Gatekeeper immediately; we test our customers or our hiring managers to see how much push-back they will take; we test ourselves constantly.

We recognize the incoming test and we know how to deal with it, or more concretely, we know how to avoid it altogether.

When you call that company and the Gatekeeper says, “Hello, thank you for calling Great Big Corporation. My name is Sheila, may I help you?” you say, “Yes, Sheila, I hope so. My name is Maureen Sharib, can you please tell me who?”

What have I done? I’ve removed the mystery upfront. I told her who I was and what I wanted. I guarantee you, this one thing, identifying yourself upfront, is the single most powerful tool in a telephone sourcer’s arsenal.

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If you tell her who you are, she is not likely to ask you what your business is in calling. Make sense? If you don’t believe me, try it!

After you’ve explained your supposed mission repeatedly, and you can feel your tongue tied up in knots inside your mouth, she asks, “Are you a recruiter?”

So what have you done wrong? Yes, that’s right; you’ve said way too much. Hang up, shorten things drastically, and get back on the phone.

Right and Wrong Moves With the Gatekeeper

Has your phone ever rung mid-afternoon only to hear a familiar voice on the other end ask, “This is Sheila from Great Big Corporation. You called me this morning and said you were calling from our Dallas office. I called our Dallas office and you’re not listed in their directory; in fact, you’re not listed in our global directory. My boss wants to know why you needed our corporate directory e-mailed to you.”

I’m not going to go there; you know what you did wrong.

Have you ever had a Gatekeeper say, “I don’t believe you”? It happens, and it usually happens when you don’t believe yourself or in yourself.

Perhaps she says, “Give me your email address and I’ll e-mail you the info,” or “Give me your number and I’ll call you back.” This is happening because you’re not strong enough directing her to do what you want her to do. She feels the need to “test” you and you’ve let it happen by not being the one in control of the conversation.

I recently was an invited guest speaker on phone sourcing on Wachovia’s twice-quarterly “Community of Practice,” put on by their recruiting organization. The message of the Community of Practice is to provide shared knowledge and information regarding what is being done, each as individuals and as team members of Wachovia’s recruiting organization.

There was a speaker right behind me who said, “Whoever is asking questions is in control of the conversation.” He was speaking about how to speak with the true “passive” candidate, a subject upon which much more needs to be written.

If you allow that Gatekeeper to start asking you questions, you’re lost. You must be able to influence her with your voice, your tone, your attitude, and to comply with your requests.

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 TechTrak.com, Inc. You can contact her at Maureen at techtrak.com or call her at (513) 646-7306.  If she’s not on the phone she’ll pick up!

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9 Comments on “Testing the Gatekeeper

  1. Maureen, insightful post as usual. it is indeed all about control AND it starts with your voice inflection. As the labor market gets tighter each and every call [or failed call] counts for more. It’s been my experience that very few people practice their voice and if they did they’d increase their hit ratio by 100-200%. the psychology of the dance with the gatekeeper is so critical. People forget – as you aptly point out – that they assume their power when you appear to be acting in a subservient manner AND are quickly put in their place if they sense you’re a higher authority. Nice piece. i’d love to see more articles like this.

  2. As a veteran recruiter with almost twenty years within the industry, I ‘ve always admired Maureen’s various articles on sourcing over the past several years. Her recent article on ‘Testing the Gatekeeper’ was outstanding because it reminded me of the basics I sometimes have forgotten to do. She mentions that ‘testing and selling ourselves’ is a must inorder to get thru the gatekeepers. Maureen reminds us that its all about the ‘psycological process in our communications skills’ that gets us our results! I appreciate Maureens wisdom and industry knowledge…and her examples are right on target of how we project ourselves over the phone. This is something all of us (entry or senior level) should be monitoring ourselves on.

  3. In being a successful sourcer for almost 20 years now, I can truly appreciate this article. Although I would have loved to read a more in depth article as I am always intrigued with brilliant people such as Maureen, I am reminded that the principle’s of sourcing are very basic. Honesty, directly asking for what you want and confidence are the foundation to sourcing. However, I would like to add something that is rarely spoken about, attitude or for lack of a better term ‘how you are feeling before you make that call’. Although, it is important to work through the times you do not ‘feel like working’, it is equally important to monitor when your mood is not in the right place to make those calls. If you are truly disciplined with your work habits, in my opinion it is important to monitor your mood before making your calls. A positive, confident, firm and friendly state of mind will overcome any objections, mis-steps or poor choose of words you may have created. Stay positive, believe you can and you will find that the person on the other line will reflect the light you are sending. Thanks for your great work Maureen. I always look forward to your articles.

  4. Brilliant article, Maureen. As an amateur actor before I became a recruiter I learnt very quickly the positive impact of effective vocal use over the phone. I also fully endorse the technique of identifying yourself upfront. When I started using that technique many years ago I found it completely wrong-footed the Gatekeeper to such a degree that I inevitably got what I needed from the call. More articles like this, please!

  5. Two ideas in this piece call for a response. First, the author recommends hanging up when asked if one is a recruiter. Even if politely done, this doesn’t seem very forthright. You initiated the call; the least you can do is complete the transaction, professionally and with integrity. Second, the author seems to be acknowledging that deception is an acceptable tool in recruiting (the example of the recruiter posing as a fellow employee to get what he wants). If these are examples of standard practice in our profession, then I think I know why recruiters are held in such low regard in some quarters.

    I am new to executive recruiting, and so I may have missed the author’s meaning. I certainly hope so, and I look forward to comments that would show that I misinterpreted these points.

  6. When I said ‘hang up’ I do not necessarily mean just hang the phone up! The original paragraph, before editing for publication, stated:

    ‘After you?ve explained your supposed mission ad-nauseum and you can feel your tongue tied up in knots inside your mouth and your heart beating like a jack-hammer inside your hollow chest and a dark, heavy feeling in your gut and she asks you, out of the blue, ?Are you a recruiter?? what is it you think you?ve done wrong? Yes, that?s right; you?ve said WAY TOO MUCH. Hang up, shorten things drastically, and get back on the phone.’

    Curious, though, that you would take this to mean that I recommend rudeness. In the future I will be more careful in my writing.

    You misunderstood if you interpreted what I said to be
    ‘acknowledging that deception is an acceptable tool in recruiting’. If you read the sentence carefully, you will note that I said, in reference to someone misrepresenting themselves:

    ‘I’m not going to go there; you know what you did wrong.’

  7. Professional sale people have been employing the ‘getting through the Gatekeeper techniques’ for years. If you want to learn some good strategies that you can adapt to your sourcing tactics, get a good book or video on sales techniques. Personally, I prefer to answer a question with a question (usually without missing a beat or long delay) to ensure I understand the tone or scope of the question when a Gatekeepr questions me with ‘Are you a Recruiter?’ I’ll say something like ‘Why? Have they been barred from calling your company?’ Or, ‘Why? Are you getting a lot of calls from Recruiters lately?’ I guess one could even answer ‘Why? Are you planning on leaving that fine company of yours?’

  8. Maureen makes many excellent points about tone of voice and power. Don’t forget what the purpose of the gatekeeper is: not to keep people out, but to let the right people in. As a recruiter, you need say the right things to make yourself the right person. Gatekeepers can become some of your best allies should you know their role and use it to your advantage.

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