By Wendy Donahue, Tribune Newspapers
1:00 AM EDT, September 20, 2011
Desperate to get your kid educated, your appeal granted, your screenplay read? There are so many gatekeepers in life, so few open gates.
Among the barriers to entry is the receptionist. Despite that title, when you ask, you rarely receive, at least not what you want to hear. The question is: How do you get past the rejectionist, and get an answer, good or bad, from the boss?
"Say: 'Look over there!' And then when the receptionist is distracted, bolt through the door," jokes Kerry Patterson, co-author of "Change Anything" (Business Plus) and other leadership books.
Still, getting over the stone wall requires some bravado. "You have to be a little aggressive," said Ellen Lubin-Sherman, author of "The Essentials of Fabulous" (Launch). "It's a game. You have to play to win."
Degree of difficulty: Hard
Tools needed: Chutzpah, resilience, organization
Step 1: Call and ask politely to schedule a meeting with the principal/employer/supervisor. Briefly state your agenda, framed in a way that repels an easy rejection or referral to a website.
So, instead of "I'd like to schedule a meeting with Ms. Ross about job opportunities" — to which the receptionist may reply, "There are no openings at this time" — try something like, "I'd like to schedule a meeting with Ms. Ross to discuss ideas I have for enhancing your website and increasing your revenue."
If the request is rebuffed:
Step 2: Plot a schedule of follow-up calls, and keep a record.
"Put on the calendar when you called the person and call back six days later or leave a short voice mail," Lubin-Sherman said. "Never ask the person to call you back. It's not going to happen. Say, 'Sorry I missed you; I am going to call you back next Wednesday at 2. I hope that's convenient.' When the clock strikes 2 on Wednesday, you'd better be on the phone calling."
Even if they screen the call, "these are meta-messages that communicate you are really serious about this," Lubin-Sherman said. "Pace yourself, and never let it get to the point where you're a nuisance."
Step 3: Some may find this objectionable, but Lubin-Sherman suggests that if you haven't gotten through yet, "pick up the phone and tell the receptionist you are returning the (boss's) phone call." She doesn't view this as a lie, but as part of the game. "Receptionists are trained to screen out all calls," she said. The boss might just be impressed if you penetrate the force field.
Step 4: Find a way to "run into" the decision-maker. A business trick is to find out where the target has lunch or an association she belongs to and go there. Or — "this is really sort of out there, but I know people who have done it," Patterson said — park near the target's parking lot.
As he arrives, cordially and quickly make your case. It may smack of stalking, "but your intentions are good," Patterson said. "You're trying to work it into their free time."
Parting advice: Remember, it pays to be proactive, Patterson said. On the recent first day of a business class that he teaches at Brigham Young University, he said one unregistered student approached him at the start, despite the fact the class was officially full, and pointed to an empty seat. So Patterson told the student to tell the department receptionist he had given permission for the student to join if no one was sick.
"I always admire chutzpah, rather than someone who mails in a resume and accepts an easy rejection," Patterson said. "It might be more annoying when it happens, but I have a bias for action."