By Linda Van Valkenburgh, MS, CCMC, CJSS, CSMCS, CELDC

Here’s the thing about “the gatekeepers”. They’re busy. They have a lot on their plate. And whether it’s pitches or résumés, they’re getting a high volume of submissions on a daily basis.

So how do you get through to CEOs or other executive level people? How do you grab their attention amidst their sea of emails and phone calls? Or, if you’re already communicating with them, what do you do to keep them engaged?

Here are five ways to work positively with the gatekeepers.

1. Recognize The Flow Of Influence & Use It To Your Advantage

In corporate environments, influence flows downward. As result, talking directly to the gatekeeper could actually be to your detriment. Gatekeepers are there to keep you out. Letting someone through could mean putting their reputation or even job at risk. More often than not, they will reject you, and they might give you more than just a polite brushoff.

When all is said and done, the gatekeeper is still the person you will be pitching to. But starting at the top gives you an advantage. Talking directly with the decision maker could give you the information you need to make a better pitch to the gatekeeper.

Instead of trying to get through to the gatekeeper, try getting through to the decision maker first.

2. Treat The Intermediary Well & Be Personable

Although you may be rejected by gatekeepers more than once, if you don’t maintain your composure, you could get blacklisted. Keep in mind that it’s their job to decline the vast majority of inquiries.

It might sound like “play nice” is canned advice, but there’s more to this than you might think. Gatekeepers, more often than not, turn out to be incredible resources. And when you make an effort treat them well, you might end up being the first person to do that all day. That causes you to stand out.

Make notes on who the intermediary is. Take interest in them. Send them handwritten notes. Dare to ask, “what can I do for you?” When you do that, it shows initiative, and also demonstrates that you aren’t all about yourself. It shows that you’re willing to reciprocate.

3. Use Email To Demonstrate Your Expertise

Instead of using email to sell, try using it to establish the work you’re doing to move the deal forward. Your first email should not be about selling or pitching, but rather a brief introduction into who you are, and a reference to a challenge your recipient is experiencing. Follow this up with a phone call.

Ask permission to include the gatekeeper in the conversation, and copy them in your ongoing communication. Then, include the decision maker in the emails. As they continue to see the work that’s happening behind the scenes, they will have a hard time not being impressed with you.

Naturally, this does mean actually doing the work – finding out what the company does, what challenges they’re experiencing, what solutions you can provide them with, and the like.

4. Be Honest & Transparent

You might be able to coax and manipulate a company into making a deal with you. But if the deal was cut on pretence, and the foundation of your relationship is shaky, the agreement will fall apart, and you will miss out on business with them over the long-term. Aggressive selling or pitching tactics may yield upfront results, but will also earn you a bad reputation. Repeat business is more to your benefit.

Truth is refreshing. When you’re a truth-teller, it demonstrates that you would make for a solid partner over the long haul. Build your credibility by being honest and transparent about what you’re looking to achieve.

5. Learn To Listen & Read Between The Lines

In today’s fast-paced, attention-deprived world, people tend not to listen. But listening could provide some valuable clues as to how to move forward with your communication, and what problems you could solve for them.

As you continue to communicate with intermediaries, you’re going to be asked more and more questions. You need to learn to answer questions while flipping it around on them, and in turn, following up with your own question. This will keep the conversation moving.

Don’t forget – the person asking the questions is in control of the conversation.


Be genuine and treat others with respect. It sounds simple enough, but it can be difficult when you’re looking to get that handshake on a deal. Learn to steer the conversation, and how to get a “yes” when gatekeepers are most likely to respond with a “no”.

Let’s get to work!

– Linda

If you have questions about your executive career search, please contact me at 203-323-9977 or [email protected]