Getting Past the Gatekeepers

Your career will move at a snail's pace, if at all, if you're the type who sits at home waiting for the phone to ring. You also can't rely on the hope that if you send out resumes, someone will see it, be impressed and call to invite you over for an interview. That could happen, but if I were you, I wouldn't hold my breath. If you want to meet specific people and want them to know who you are, one of the best ways to make that happen is to take the initiative. Set up the meetings yourself. It's not quite as easy as it sounds, and it often requires all five of my favorite "P" words: passion, persistence and patience as well as being pleasant and positive to make it happen, but it's done every day. Keep in mind, however, that your first step will most likely be getting past the gatekeepers who guard the people you want to meet.

The person you want to meet is most likely a busy person, and her time is stretched thin. She probably has an assistant (sometimes two), and there may also be an office receptionist, all of whom are responsible for screening calls and keeping countless numbers of job hunters at bay. If she spoke to everyone who called looking for a job, she'd never get her work done nor have time to talk to the people essential to her current projects. Those guarding her domain are the gatekeepers. Unless you have a direct connection to the person you want to meet or have been recommended to her by someone she knows, you'll first have to win over her assistant, or you go no further.

This concept isn't difficult to understand, and you'd think everyone would just automatically get it, but they don't. Individuals just starting in the business (without connections or recommendations) call producers, directors and the heads of departments and/or companies every single day. They can't get through to them, their calls are not returned, they get discouraged and they get nowhere. Here are some tips to help you get somewhere:

• Know the assistants' names before you call (you can ask the receptionists).

• Briefly introduce yourself and be precise about why you're calling.

• Thank them for their time and help.

Before you call anyone, know what you're going to say. Keep it short and to the point. In other words, make your point quickly.

Write out what you're going to say ahead of time, and practice saying it several times until you're comfortable with the words. No one's going to have the time or patience for a long, drawn-out monologue or a stammering, insecure voice on the other end of the phone.

If an assistant works in a stressful environment, he might be stressed himself, curt, maybe even rude. He may also put you on hold five times before you can get two words out of your mouth. Keep in mind, though, that he probably gets about a gazillion calls like this every day from people just like you who want to set up a meeting, submit their latest demo CD, have their script read, or apply for a job. But don't let that dissuade you from giving it your best shot. If you're doing everything right and it's still not working, put that Teflon coat on and persevere (call at least once a week and kill him with kindness). If an assistant tells you his boss is too busy right now (she might be in the middle of a project), ask when might be a better time to call. The assistant may suggest you call back in a week or three months. Whenever it is, make a note to check back in with him at that time. Your patience will usually pay off. Most assistants do respond well to a pleasant voice on the other end of the phone. And who could resist someone who makes them laugh (you can do that, right?)

I've worked on both sides of the fence. Having been a gatekeeper who shielded my supervisors from unnecessary calls and interruptions, I've also been won over by many whom I've helped get meetings that wouldn't have happened otherwise. On the other hand, I'm still very much among the legions of those who must on occasion solicit the help of assistants.

Appreciate what an assistant can do for you, and do something nice for him in return: a thank-you note for taking the time to talk with you, to help you get a meeting, to refer you to someone else to talk to. Maybe even slip a Starbucks or Blockbuster gift card in that thank-you note. Everyone wants to feel appreciated. And don't think of it as buying their help as much as you are earning it by being thoughtful. Years ago, I worked with a young man who sent flowers to all the assistants he wanted to win over, and I always laughed to myself thinking him quite the brown-noser;

but brown-nose or not, this guy got in to see more producers and executives than anyone else I knew. His investment paid off.

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