Getting Past the Gatekeeper – Scripts for Better Recruiting

Ahh, gatekeepers. The bane of every recruiter’s cold-calling existence. You’ve gone to all the trouble of locating your prospect’s phone number, gotten through several levels of call transfers, and finally, you’ve made it to someone who can either send you right to your target . . . or shut you down completely. Getting past the gatekeeper can be the hardest part of your recruiting process.

How to Get Past the Gatekeeper When Cold Calling

What do you do in this situation? You probably have a number of techniques up your sleeve. Maybe they work, maybe they don’t, but there’s always room to refine the process. You have to be better at your job than the gatekeeper is at theirs.

Our contract staffing customers and recruiting network members come across gatekeepers almost every day. We’ve enlisted the help of industry strategist Michael Homula to help you take your cold-calling game to the next level with successful recruiting scripts that focus on how to get past the gatekeeper. In coming months, he’ll be contributing guest articles to this very blog—make sure to subscribe for updates!

Today, we’ll be pulling some highlights and techniques from his fantastic article over on Peter Leffkowitz’ company blog. The article is directed at cold-calling passive candidates, but it’s just as applicable for business development calls.

The Hypothetical: High-Performing Candidate Barbara Smith

Michael gives us the following hypothetical situation:

“You are conducting a search for a director/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.”

The Problem: Many “Getting Past the Gatekeeper” Scripts Require Ruses

If you use a ruse to get past a gatekeeper, it can come back to bite you when you actually get through to your target. Some also consider it unethical, so it’s definitely a tactic to avoid.

The question is, what can you do instead?

Step 1: “Hang Out” With a Gatekeeper

As Michael says,

“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.”

Was anyone you know a gatekeeper in a former life? Find one, and ask them how they did it. What scripts and patterns did they use to screen calls?

You need to understand how gatekeepers are trained in order to prepare your counter-moves.

Step 2: Learn the Gatekeeper Dance

Here is the sample exchange Michael uses. It is this “dance,” or something similar, that most gatekeepers are taught:

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…”

What the recruiter in this exchange did right:

  • Spoke with authority and mirrored the gatekeeper’s vocal patterns.
  • Disarmed the gatekeeper by using Barbara’s first name.
  • Didn’t use a questioning ask—just told the gatekeeper who to connect him with.

These things send a clear message: “I’m important, you should know me, and I should be connected with Barbara.

What the recruiter did wrong:

  • Let the gatekeeper get him off-script with the question, “What is the nature of your call?”

For many recruiters, this is a tough question to answer effectively without being deceitful or outright lying. But what should the recruiter do instead?

Step 3: Take Control of the Conversation

Here, Michael employs Peter Leffkowitz’ technique of “pattern/script interrupt:”

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.”

These 4 short sentences open up a whole new set of possibilities. This is what the recruiter accomplishes:

  • Interrupts the pattern of the gatekeeper’s usual script.
  • Gets the name of the gatekeeper and uses it naturally.
  • Gives the gatekeeper his name before he is asked for it.

The recruiter is now dealing with Jim the person, and has greatly improved his chances of getting through to Barbara. He has flipped the script on the gatekeeper, who will be off-rhythm, disarmed, and distracted from his usual purpose—blocking the recruiter!

Now, this is not always enough to get you through. Sometimes you will run into a veteran gatekeeper who knows this trick and others, and is well prepared.

Step 4: Deal with the “Grizzled Veterans”

Most will use kinder words than these, but the substance of the following general response is the same. Michael relays this approximation from his own experience:

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…”

His advice is to remain calm when this happens. Do not be confrontational or deceitful. Try this instead:

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 she does, the sensitive nature of my call means I should speak with her first.”

Why this works:

  • Jim knows that the director of marketing likely deals with a lot of sensitive, confidential information.
  • Jim does NOT want to be the one responsible for keeping an important, sensitive situation from Barbara.
  • If Jim puts the recruiter on hold to announce the call, he will use the words “sensitive” and “confidential,” which will entice Barbara to take the call.

The Solution: Don’t be Deceitful—Be Honest

The nice thing about this method is that there is no ruse. It boils down to knowing the worth of your call (and the opportunity you are presenting) and holding your ground. As Michael puts it,

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. She 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.”

Don’t you agree? Let us know your thoughts on this technique in the comments!