Dear Joyce: My biggest job hunt problem is getting inside to see managers -- I can't get past the secretary. Other than calling outside normal business hours so the secretary is not there, what methods can you suggest? B.R.R.
Dear B.R.R.: A savvy secretary asks two types of questions to determine whether you have a legitimate claim on the boss's time: "Who are you?" and "What do you want?" How you handle the probe determines whether you get the boss's ear or not.
Don't lie to the secretary about your intent -- she or he will know when you ask for "Dave" and say "it's a personal matter" that you're either a salesperson, charitable solicitor or job hunter -- and ring off.
Don't leave messages on voice mail systems. Rarely will you get a call back.
Don't underestimate your chances of converting the secretary to an ally. You do this by being respectful, friendly, truthful, expressing gratitude and making legitimate your claim on the boss's time.
Now the do's. Do try to find a third person to refer you to the target manager. Find someone who knows the manager -- a friend, hairdresser or banker. It is infinitely easier to scoot by a secretary on the coattails of a reference.
Do consider writing a letter first if you must cold call. In your letter, mention that you will be calling for an appointment. Even if your letter is routed from the hiring manager to the human resources department, you can honestly answer questions with "My call is expected."
Richard H. Beatty, who has written some of the nation's best books on job search, has done it again with his new "Get the Right Job in 60 Days or Less" (Wiley). His coaching on how to storm the secretarial fortress is a spectacular guide.
Here are a few lines from a Beatty script to avoid being sloughed off to the personnel department.
YOU: "I was referred to Mr. Jones by a mutual friend, Scott White. Scott tells me he is very knowledgeable of the food industry and would be a good person to contact for some general career advice."
SECRETARY: "If you're interested in employment, I know that Mr. Jones will want me to refer you directly to our personnel department. They handle all matters pertaining to employment. Let me transfer you."
YOU: "Actually, Linda, I don't believe the personnel department will be able to provide me with the kind of help that I am looking for. I am not looking for a job with Mr. Jones but for some broard advice and counsel concerning what is currently happening in the food industry. Scott White seemed to feel that Mr. Jones would be an ideal person for me to talk to in this regard."