Getting a Pass from the Applicant Gatekeepers!

By Joe Stein

The reference this week is not to the ancient days when a person stood guard only allowing you to pass if you knew a secret password, but it is close.  Job Seekers constantly have to navigate around their own version of gatekeepers who are (designed in some way) to filter applicants. 

The really difficult aspect to gatekeepers is that you don’t always know if you are working or communicating with someone in this role.  A savvy Job Seeker is better than most in determining how to identify a gatekeeper (whether a person or a system) and how to get past this filter in order to move on in the process.

• Receptionist/Front Desk/Assistant- This is a frequent gatekeeper, especially in smaller organizations.  This is the person who will determine whether or not you will meet (or perhaps even speak with) a person without an appointment.  Your interaction with this person may also determine whether your application/resume is on top or on the bottom of the pile.  Often, these individuals are asked to provide insight to the Recruiter based on his or her observations regarding the behavior and demeanor of the applicant.  It is important to be friendly and cordial with this person, but not overly chatty (they have a job to do).  If you can do it quickly, you may even find that you can learn some valuable information regarding the position and search. If you do want to reach the Recruiter or Hiring Manager directly, you may want to consider calling at an off-time (such as the beginning/end of day, or at a lunch hour).  You may be more likely to directly reach someone’s office and possibly even have them answer.

• Recruiter – This is often the direct person between you and the Hiring Manager.  The job of the Recruiter is to present the Hiring Manager with a select number of pre-qualified individuals to review.  The Recruiter may have some influence over the final hiring decision (especially if the person is someone the Hiring Manager really respects and trusts), but does not make the final call on who is selected.  Recruiters will typically do a basic skills analysis (a veteran one may go a little deeper) while focusing significantly on your work history and overall behaviors to determine if you are a fit in his or her opinion.  The goal with the Recruiter is to convince this person to pass you along to the Hiring Manager.  You will want to be cautious with the natural temptation to try to sidestep and deal directly with the Hiring Manager.  This may work to expedite the situation for you, but is just as likely to upset the Recruiter and (perhaps) the Hiring Manager, due to not following the process or instructions.

• Applicant Tracking System (ATS) - If you are seeking a position with a larger organization, then you may find yourself applying online and using an e-Recruiting Tool or Applicant Tracking System. This is an area that is becoming a much more predominant gatekeeper as technology utilization increases. These programs usually possess some type of pre-screening questions or keyword scanning that allows the system to rank or highlight resumes. Carefully review your inserted resume and ensure that keywords, which are included in the job posting or advertisement, are also in your document.  Especially important are keywords that are specific to the position, such as knowledge of certain technology or certifications (please be sure to be honest and only include what you actually possess).

• Resume Mailbox – Some companies who lack an ATS may have a dedicated e-mail solely for accepting resumes.  This serves as a gatekeeper because it prevents you from sending your resume directly to a Recruiter, therefore potentially keeping the identity of this person anonymous to you.  A suggestion for hurdling this obstacle is to clearly state what position you are recruiting for in your subject line, along with possessing a basic and professional e-mail address.  This will help prevent the person reviewing the mailbox from eliminating you even before your attachment(s) are read.

One of the best ways to maneuver through gatekeepers is via a networking advocate.  If you have someone on the inside or of influence, this will often serve to allow you to pass gatekeepers or steps that others may become blocked at.  If your networking does not yield a full advocate, then certainly try to gather enough information to determine who are the key people you need to be aware of in the process.

Gatekeepers are an often overlooked aspect of a successful job search.  They serve an important role for an employer in filtering the large number of applicants for most open positions.  By understanding their responsibilities and how to manage them, you will greatly improve your chances of success.  You may even turn them into allies in your attempt to land the job!