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Diary of a Recruiter

By:  Lloyd Gordon, business development director at Maximus

Today's topic: Getting past the gatekeeper

The fact is, I didn't become a million pound biller by waiting for people to call me. Sales calls are a bread and butter activity for every recruiter, but so often fail to reap rewards. It's important that you learn to love sales calls, and that means developing nifty techniques for getting past common blockers. Think of it as a challenge, with you as the intrepid explorer, attempting to navigate past a range of fiendish obstacles.

Firstly, motivation and persistence are key. No-one ever achieved anything worthwhile by being half-hearted and easily put-off. Whenever you call, be aware that you're likely to hear the usual array of instant knock-backs: 'We don't use agencies', 'we have a preferred supplier list', and 'there is no recruitment budget'.

Feel free to make a bingo card for yourself and silently tick off the top knock-backs if it keeps you cheerful. But immediately spring into action. It's vital that you are prepared to hear these responses, and that you have a range of subsequent strategies up your sleeve.

'We don't use agencies'

If you encounter a reception gatekeeper with a great line in no-nonsense brush-offs, go to evasive tactics. This individual has years of knock-backs behind them and won't be charmed or wheedled into playing nicely with you. Neither will they put you through to the decision maker. So ask to be transferred to an unlikely department. The warehouse is ideal. These guys (or girls) will usually then transfer you to the decision-maker without query. They simply won't care. Three cheers for the warehouse teams - the inadvertent friends of recruiters!

For your back-up plan B, pretend to be someone else. Yes, this is particularly crafty, but you are on a recruitment mission, and no administrative gatekeeper is going to thwart it. Pretend to be a solicitor and you'll be whizzed through instantly. Remember, however, that impersonating an officer of the law is an offence...

'There's no recruitment budget'

You should have done your research here. If the target company has implemented a new project, or are advertising, then a 'BUDGET' alarm will be ringing in your head. Find out more. Google their recruitment pages, read the business news and talk to your candidates to find out more. Candidates are a great source of prime knowledge. Speak to your colleagues too, especially more experienced colleagues with a great array of tricks up their sleeve.

'We have a preferred supplier list in place'

Honestly, no you don't. But although both you and the gatekeeper know this, it's a tricky one, and designed to keep recruiters away. Ultimately You are not speaking to the right person here! Bottom line A hiring manager looking for a niche skill will not care about whether you are an approved supplier! They care about delivering. Never mention preferred supplier lists or you'll give gatekeepers ideas. To get around this, work on your long game. Only ever send through the highest quality candidates and targets will soon be taking your calls. If you know that this potential client is looking for someone in particular, and you have that perfect CV, then essentially you are calling them to help. Hold this high ground in mind and use it to fuel your mission.

Final good tips

A good recruiter can handle rejection. Not just once, but constantly, and repeatedly throughout his or her career. I may be a million pound biller, but I still face rejection. Does it bother me? Not in the slightest. Learning to separate the personal feeling and the business is imperative. A business 'no' is not a judgement against you as a person, so simply brush it off and plan a fresh approach.

Know from the start that your career will be a mix of yes's and no's. By making as many sales calls as you can, you will increase both. Persevere. You create your own 'luck' by working hard. A thick skin is a perfect shield in this business, as is the work ethic and planned approach that sees you constantly refining and perfecting your approach.

Also learn to be positive even when the going gets tough. Any individual can be chirpy and positive when the odds are in their favour. A true professional, and someone marked for great things, will display similar optimism, great attitude and energy, even when they are facing a seemingly constant stream of rejections. Mark yourself out as that rare individual who perseveres, regardless of circumstance.


Research is essential to success. Never make a sales call unless you are clear about your objective and know who you are calling. Make notes to refer to during the call if necessary. Write up outcomes and keep clear contact records. If contact a fails, plan your contact B carefully, and make it work.

Never ring a potential customer simply for the sake of it. Call because you can offer them value - a service that they need - and be prepared to demonstrate this. Remember, they aren't interested in doing you a favour. They need you to solve their recruitment problems and do so better and more persuasively than the competition.

And finally, knowledge is power. Be the person who reads more, networks more, and generally knows more than your peers. It will all pay off in time - when you become the big biller!

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