Getting Past Receptionists

Receptionists deserve an apology. They get blamed by the masses for not putting calls through to key personnel. They are the supposed obstacle to job seekers being able to effectively follow up on opportunities and make valuable connections with decision makers.

Contrary to popular belief, there is no receptionist boot camp where those screening phone calls are taught to make your efforts futile. The reason receptionists stick callers in voice mail or throw job seekers to human resources is because the caller hasn’t taken the time to make the call important. You can’t get to an important person if you don’t have something important or valuable to say.

The most common mistake job seekers make when calling a company is telling whomever answers the phone too much information. There is this knee jerk reaction to explain how you’re looking for a job, don’t want to be a bother, are hoping to talk with someone and, if the person missed it the first time, you’re looking for a job. Blah, blah, blah. That type of lead in is all about you. Never mind that person likely has other lines to answer while your babbling on.

Anytime a job seeker calls a company, the approach needs to be the same as any other business call. It is a business conversation, after all. It’s not a plea for a charitable contribution. Success relies on knowing who you wish to reach (this means doing some homework), what you can say to make your call important to them and getting to the point as soon as possible.

When the receptionist answers start with a simple, “John Smith, please.”

You’d be surprised how many times you get passed through with no explanation. It’s not always the case though. You might get hit with “who may I say is calling?” No big deal. Tell the receptionist your name and leave it at that unless prompted for more information. If you sound confident, your call will have an air of importance and won’t be as likely to be screened.

Let’s say it’s not your lucky day and the receptionist decides to ask more questions. Answer any questions honestly without turning it into a mini autobiography. Stay on point and share information that would make the call valuable to the person you are hoping to reach.

Of course, the best way to get through to someone in a hurry is to have been recommended to call that individual by another. Referrals gained through the networking process are gold. To be able to say something like “Jane Doe gave me his number and told me to call,” takes a lot of stress out of the situation.


  • Anonymous says:

    Hi, Lisa!
    A truly informative blog, especially for a fresh grad like myself! :)

    Could you kindly suggest how to go about requesting the name of a recruiter from the receptionist?

    I am submitting an online job application to a reputable international consulting firm. I am also aware that it is best to attention to a recruiter in my cover letter rather than merely addressing "To whom it may concern", even in an online application.

    I mentioned the above during my phone conversation with the firm's receptionist. However, she replied that I just attention my cover letter and resume to the HR/Recruitment department as they do not disclose names of recruiters.

    In this case, is there any effective yet gracious approach to obtain the name of a recruiter from a phone conversation with the receptionist? I would really want to increase my chances to an interview with the firm. (Unfortunately, I do not know anyone working for the firm as a referral in my cover letter)

    Thank you!

  • Lisa says:

    Anonymous, you are in the right mindset to want to push for a name. The company's practice of not giving out recruiters' names is interesting since that is usually the easiest name to get from a company.

    Perhaps you could call the company with a question for someone in H/R. When the receptionist passes you through, you have a name. Make the question valuable. Don't just pull a random something out of your brain to use as your excuse. If you're going to get to talk to someone, you should make sure the conversation provides you with more information and helps you stick out in the mind of the person you are speaking with.

    If that fails, I'd get out Google and LinkedIn. Recruiters usually have their names all over the place. They are the front faces for their organizations. They attend career fairs, are quoted in articles, participate in professional trade associations, etc. Odds are in your favor, especially if the organization is well known, of finding a contact name.

    Also, even though you may not know someone at the firm, don't discount the potential of someone you know having a link. Ask your college advisors and professors. Heck, ask in your Facebook status if anyone knows someone at ABC company. You might be surprised how many connections are at your fingertips.

  • Anonymous says:

    Truly thank you for the invaluable advice, Lisa! :)

    I tried the approach of calling the firm with a question for their Recruitment Department. It is a simple question, asking whether the firm organises on-campus recruitment drives. &I got the name and email of the firm's regional recruiter!! Such good luck!!

    However, another question pops up in mind. Since I have the email of the regional recruiter, should I send my cover letter and resume to the recruiter's email eventhough I will submit my online application? Will it annoy the recruiter by sending my documents twice?

    Once again, thank you for sharing such invaluable practical tips!

  • Lisa says:

    Yay! Great work, Anonymous.

    To your question, definitely send your resume and cover letter to the contact you've identified. Indicate in your cover letter you are following proper channels and have submitted your application on line as their firm requests. Share your qualifications for the position you are applying for. Let him/her know you wanted to make him/her aware of your electronic application and appreciate his/her review of your resume.

    Good luck!

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