How to Get Past a Phone Call Screener
Fraulein Frieda, Guardian of the Gate
Most companies have a "Guardian of the Gate"—a person who rises to the level of mythological beast blocking your entrance when you are simply trying to get through on the other end of a phone call. As hard as you may try to get inside, this person keeps cutting you off.
"Who is calling?"
"What is this regarding?"
"I'm sorry, but we don't have any openings at this time."
"Just send your information to Human Resources and they will call you if there are any openings."
Whew! The Fraulein Friedas of the world can be a true pain when you are trying to get to the Hiring Manager. It could be on your first call or (worse yet) when you are on step #2, directly calling the Hiring Manager. Along comes the screener, trying to keep you from reaching your target. Do not give up easily. Following are ten nifty ways to get past Fraulein Frieda.
The 7:30/12:30/5:30 Rule Technique
The best way to get past the Guardian of the Gate is to avoid him or her altogether. The 7:30/12:30/5:30 Rule states that if you call early in the morning, during lunch, or late in the afternoon you will likely get someone who is not nearly as good at screening as the person who normally screens the calls. You can often gather all the information you need, since this person is not a true Guardian of the Gate.
Remember that extension number you asked for prior? Many companies have automated call forwarding which allows you to enter a person's extension during the off hours. That extension number can usually put you through directly to the phone on the manager's desk.
This is also an excellent approach in reaching a Hiring Manager who has been hitherto inaccessible. Why? Because if you are in management, you likely start early, work through lunch, and/or work late (or possibly all three). Many managers end up answering their own phone at those times. For all they know, it's their spouse calling to ask them to pick up something on the way home.
P.S. If you are calling a different time zone, make sure to adjust your timing accordingly.
P.P.S. This is also a great way to reach a Vice President or even the President of the company, when the situation calls for it. Keep The 7:30/12:30/5:30 Rule handy for future reference—you may need it in your career when you find yourself reaching higher within a company.
The Everyone-Loves-to-Hear-Their-Own-Name Technique
If the Guardian of the Gate uses his or her own name in answering the phone, simply reply,
"Oh, hello, _____, this is _____. May I speak with _____?"
The sound of his or her own name can be disarming, and he/she will often send you through to your target contact.
The Ad Infinitum Call-Waiting Technique
If you are told that your target contact is on the phone, simply reply,
"Oh, that's fine. Will you please put me through as soon as that call is completed?"
If the Guardian of the Gate says it may be a while or that she already has other calls waiting, reply,
"Oh, that's okay—I don't mind holding. I'll be working on some other projects while I'm on hold."
The Spelled Name Technique
If you are making a second attempt to get past a Guardian of the Gate who previously asked for your name, as soon as you recognize her voice, beat her to the punch by saying,
"Hello, this is _____. That's _____ (then spell your last name). Could you please put me through to _____?"
It's rather strange, but sometimes by spelling your name it disarms the Guardian of the Gate. He or she has to stop what he/she is doing and write down your name. And since you have called before, your name will likely be vaguely familiar, although he/she may not be sure when and where he/she heard it before. This is one time when having an unusual last name can truly work in your favor! Usually this will gain at least a check with the boss, and sometimes even fully unlock the gate. Try it!
The Importance-of-This-Call Technique
The classic screening line from the Guardian of the Gate is:
"May I ask what this call is regarding?"
If you are calling based on a referral, you can reply:
"_____ asked me to call _____."
"This is a personal call." (if the referral is personal, not professional)
Otherwise, the best overall reply is:
"I was informed that I needed to get in touch with _____ directly."
The reply may sound nebulous at best—but amazingly, it often works. A truly astute Guardian of the Gate, however, will follow with:
To which you reply:
"I was advised to only discuss this matter directly with _____."
…and that would be a true statement. Who advised you to do this? I did. Right here and throughout this section of material on our site. You have read it, so consider yourself advised. Stick to your guns, even during that uncomfortable long pause that you may be forced to endure. Sure, it all sounds like a game and in a way, that is exactly what it is. Keep playing until you find and hit your target.
The Unanswerable Question Technique
Another way to get past the "May I say what your call is regarding?" screen is to ask a technical question that Frieda will not be able to answer. If you have done your homework, you should have access to the industry buzzwords that can make this a very valid inquiry, one the Guardian of the Gate would likely not know the answer.
The best way to do this is to ask a question that would further qualify your potential interest in the company. An example question for a Computer Science grad seeking to reach the Network Manager about networking positions might be:
"I needed to ask _____ what the primary development languages are which your company is currently using. Can you help me?"
Probably not. Once you get through to the Software Development Manager, you should still ask that question, then follow with how your background can potentially benefit them. For example:
"I recently received my BS in Comp Sci and have been programming in Java, C and most recently in Python. Is this the type of experience your company would usually look for in the area of software development?"
This technique is something of a gamble. But if used intelligently, it can launch you through to the Hiring Manager.
The Instant Best Friends Technique
If you are someone who has a gift for making friends with the friendless or have been known to strike up conversations with total strangers, feel free to reach out and make an instant friend. Even Fraulein Frieda is open to gabbing now and then. An especially effective tactic is to ask for his or her advice on how to reach the Hiring Manager. If you are sincere in your approach, you may gain an ally in the very person you previously considered your greatest roadblock.
The "Better Than Leaving a Message" Technique
Instead of leaving a message for a Hiring Manager (who will likely have no idea who you are), it may be better to reply:
"I may be difficult to reach today. Could you give me a time when it would be best to reach _____?"
Then let the person know you will call back and ask if they would please let the Hiring Manager know you will be calling at that time. You are much more likely to get through.
The Best Time to Call Technique
If the Guardian of the Gate tells you that your target contact is in a meeting, out of the office, or otherwise unavailable, reply,
"When would be the best time to reach _____?"
If they say the target contact is very busy, ask for an approximate time. Then tell them your name (only) and let them know you will call at that time. Then make sure you do.
The Voicemail Messaging Technique
Another quick and easy response to the Guardian of the Gate who wants to take a message is to ask whether the manager has voicemail. If so, ask to be put through to it. You get to dictate what goes into the message rather than the person who is attempting to screen you. Voicemail is always better than a scribbled note and has a greater professional obligation for response.