How to Get Past Phone Screeners

You'll invariably encounter phone screeners when placing follow-up calls for your resume. During your resume follow-up, you may need to push through these phone screeners (or gatekeepers) so that you can speak to the appropriate manager. Start with a charm offensive on every screener you encounter. Think of gatekeepers as human toggle switches that either pass you on to your target or off to oblivion.

Try the following phone techniques that have been worked out by legions of successful salespeople and recruiters since the telephone was invented:

  • Name identification: When you don’t know who the hiring decision-maker is, start easy by just asking a receptionist: “I’m trying to locate your company’s sales manager for Western Ohio. Who is that, please?”

    If the decision maker’s name is protected like a national security asset and you know the easily found extension for the sales department (ext. 123), call related extensions (121, 122, 124, and 125) and say to anyone who answers, “Oh gee, I was trying to call the sales manager.”

  • Readiness alert: Be prepared with your elevator speech (30-second summary of who you are and your selling points for the target jobs) in case the sales manager answers one of your calls.

    Breaking through digital walls is easier when you realize that gatekeeping scripts don’t vary much; almost all require your name, company, and purpose of call before the gatekeeper decides what to do with you.

  • *Ideal screen buster: The best tip is sailing in on the wings of a mutual acquaintance: “This is John Jason. Tim Pitman, a fellow professional of your boss, thinks your boss and I should talk.”

    If you don't have a mutual acquaintance, take charge of the conversation:

    • Sound confident. Hesitation, stammering, or any sign of nervousness will blow your cover.

    • Use first names. This establishes a connection between you and the screener.

      You: Good morning. To whom am I speaking?

      Gatekeeper: This is Lois.

      You: Lois, good morning. This is John Jason calling for David.

      Effect: The gatekeeper may assume you work in the company or are an approved vendor and pass you on.

    When you suspect a first-name-only approach is too bold for the situation, modify: “Can I speak to David (small pause), David Wintergate?” If the gatekeeper asks you to repeat who is calling, use the same formula: “John (small pause), John Jason.” The implication is that you know each other.

    But what if the gatekeeper is super diligent and wants chapter-and-verse detail on your call’s purpose? Try this:

    • Lois, I appreciate why you’re asking that question. You see, my call involves confidentiality concerning my mastery of a business process in which David has expressed an interest. I believe that needs to start with David and we can move forward from there. Please connect me. Thank you.

  • *New good buddy: By being friendly, sincere, warm, and humorous, and asking for help, you may convert the gatekeeper to an ally.

  • More screen busters. Screeners are trained to, well, screen calls, and they aren't afraid to do their jobs. Keep practicing your responses so that you sound natural as you speak.

    Here are a couple more ways to handle possible scenarios:

    • When asked for your company connection; say:

      I’m calling as an individual today.

    • When asked why you’re calling, skip phony reasons like “It’s a personal matter.” That wheeze falls on deaf ears. Instead, research pays:

      I understand that your boss has a mandate to cut costs. I’ve had serious experience with cost trimming, saving 10 percent and more. I think he’d get value in speaking with me for a few minutes. I need your help in arranging to speak to David.

      The “I’m here to help” approach allows the gatekeeper to present you as a solution to the hiring manager’s problem, not as a pesky job hunter.

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