unresponsive gatekeepers, overlooked at work, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. When a gatekeeper is unresponsive

I’m in sales, and I often get a response of “That’s very interesting, please contact my assistant to set up a time for us to talk.” Or sometimes “Please schedule a time to talk with Euphemia the junior team member.” Either is great, except that often the admin/team member never gets back to me. So I follow up a couple of times, and maybe reach out to my original contact again, but all too often the response is another “That’s great, contact Euphemia.” Any tips?

It’s possible that they’re deliberating using that as a strategy to fend off the call. But they might not be, and there’s no reason that you can’t reach back out to the original contact and say, “I reached out to Euphemia like you suggested but after several attempts I haven’t heard back.” If it’s an intentional strategy, Euphemia won’t get in trouble for this — and if the person really does want to talk to you, they’ll know there’s a problem with their assistant.

But make sure that you give it a couple of weeks before going back to them, in case Euphemia is just triaging the person’s appointments but will get to you eventually. Except in unusual cases, like where they have an immediate and urgent need, meeting with salespeople is always going to get back-burnered if there are higher priorities in the way.

2. I feel like I’m always overlooked at work

Recently I learned that someone who was hired on later than I was and has accomplished less than I have was given a full-time position at my work. I want to ask my manager about it, but I am not sure how to go about it or even if it is appropriate to do so. I feel that no matter how hard I work or what I accomplish, I am always overlooked for things and will always be no matter what I do.

Don’t ask why your colleague was given the role, because that’s not really the point here. Ask what you’d need to do to earn a full-time position yourself — that’s what will really help you to know.

Your manager may not even know that you want a full-time position! Or, it’s possible that there’s some particular skill or mastery that she needs to see from you first, or something you’re doing that’s holding you back that you don’t even know about. I’d say something like this: “I’m really interested in staying with the company long-term and would love to be considered for future full-time openings. What would you recommend that I work on in order to position myself well for that when it happens?”

3. Interviews when you go by your middle name

I have an interview coming up with a job I’m really excited about. It is with a state agency, so all my paperwork had to be filled out with my “official” name. I actually go by my middle name and would love some suggestions on how to properly introduce this fact to the interviewer, especially since my references may not even realize who the call is about when they ask about me by my first name.

Immediately introduce yourself correctly when you first meet: “I actually go by Imogen, which is my middle name.” And when you’re at the reference-checking stage, just give the employer a reminder that they’ll need to ask about Imogen, not whatever your first name is — as in, “By the way, when you contact references, make sure that you ask about Imogen Plufferton; if you use Lavinia, my first name, they may not know who you’re talking about!”

4. Explaining I was let go during an extended illness

I was terminated for not sustaining due to an extended illness. I realize that when you answer questions for people that were fired, that they should say something like “what they learned from this or that.” But I was sick. How do you apologize for being sick?

You don’t. This isn’t that type of situation. You can just say, “I had a health issue that required time away from work and which has since been resolved.”

5. Update: Interviewing when I’m happy at my current job

Remember the letter-writer a few weeks ago who was wondering how to talk to a recruiter when she was happy at her current job (#3 at the link)? Here’s her update.

Thanks again for taking the time to answer my question and bring it to the community. Hearing from you and the AAM readers was helpful and provided guidance in how I approached the situation, and ultimately, my decision. In the second interview, I brought up compensation + benefits, which ended up being comparable to what I have with my current job. Although the opportunity was exciting, it wasn’t enough to take me away from what I’m doing now and I politely declined the fourth interview. The next day, I received a glowing performance review (and a raise!). It was interesting to explore another option (and know they’re out there!) but I’m confident that the grass is greener on my side of the fence.

{ 57 comments… read them below }

    1. D. Francis Harris

      OP 3: When you fill out your new hire paperwork, make sure you’re clear about which “first” name you use, especially if you have a common last name or are working in a large company!

      My name is (for example) Dana Francis Harris, but I call myself Francis. Filling out my new hire paperwork with my official name meant I was in the employee directory as Dana Harris (which was also the name on my badge and business cards) and my email address became “dana.harris@company.com”. I was able to get everything changed to D. Francis Harris eventually, but it was really hard for other people at the company to get in touch with me for the first few months– no one knew who “Dana” was, there were dozens of other Harrises in the directory, but searching for “Francis Harris” didn’t return any results.

      1. Liz

        But equally, don’t fill out some paperwork with your first name and some with your middle name, because then it might not match up and will cause discrepancies in the system, such as delays in access. That’s the bane of my existence (along with people who can’t enter their own DOB or SSN correctly).

      2. AnotherFed

        And if you get into this situation, it’s even more important make sure your email signature lists your email address and contact info – that way even if the email gets forwarded or someone has to look up your phone number, they can pull it off an old email.

        We have one person in my office who goes by his middle name, but his name is like Eric Harry David – all three of his names are common first names. No one can ever figure out how to find him in the organization directory, so you pretty much have to go by the signature in a forwarded email.

    2. Liz in a Library

      This one of a thousand reasons I don’t have children. I would name them all after Shakespeare characters, and they would hate me. :D

      1. Elizabeth the Ginger

        You could do okay… Rosalind, Celia, Adam, Sebastian, Silvia, Olivia, and Orlando are all Shakespearean but nice names.

        But I guess Hermia, Dromio, Malvolio, Fortinbras and Hamlet would all be pretty rough on an elementary schooler. Not to mention Touchstone or Bottom…

            1. Broke Law Student

              I am a fiend for punny cat names, so my first thought was “why not Rosencatz and Guildenpurr??”

        1. Cordelia Naismith

          Then there’s that classic line from A Fish Called Wanda where a character asks, “Why did you name your daughter after a car?”

          The girl’s name was Portia.

      2. dragonzflame

        I actually knew of a family that did this. The kids were called things like Falstaff and Cordelia.

      3. azvlr

        Try being a teacher and then naming your own children. Every name seems to remind you of a kid that gave you grey hairs. Ironically, I ended up naming my kid the same name of a fellow teacher that gave me grey hair.

  1. Rayner

    1. I’m sorry to say, you are going to get a lot of that brush off and nobody’s going to get back to you. Cold calling sales people rarely, if ever, are selling things the company needs and hasn’t already got a reliable source for, like toner or a web app for something.

    It’s a fact of working in sales – people don’t want to talk to salespeople. There are questions on here specifically asking how to give people the brush off or how to get them to stop calling – it’s not going to change any time soon. Sorry.

    1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.

      Eh, not exactly IME. We take “cold” calls from sales people that we become interested in all the time. There’s a kind of cold call which is exactly what you’re talking about – people sitting at a phone dialing everybody and trying to appointment set for printing, SEO, advertising and the like, but there’s a whole large set within our industry that is welcome.

      Example, the salesperson for a new lid supplier. I’ll always talk to a new lid or spout supplier and am happy when sales staff reaches out. We take many calls like this a month.

    2. Ask a Manager Post author

      But in this case the person is specifically saying they’re interested and to set up a meeting. It could still be a brush-off, but it’s not nearly as obvious of one if so. (It’s actually kind of a terrible one!)

      1. OP1

        Yeah, not toner sales in this case. I’m contacting market research directors to talk about a specialized type of market research our firm does–so while they may not need me right now, it’s relevant to their ongoing needs.

        It’s just frustrating when my contact wants a meeting and I can’t get it scheduled because the admin’s not responding. I do forward Euphemia the email asking me to contact her when I make my request.

        1. JB

          I suspect, though, that though the contact wants a meeting, it’s not at the top of their priority list, or otherwise you’d have an easier time setting a meeting. It could be that Euphemia is not good at her job, but if it happens in more than one place, then it’s probably just not that big of a priority to them, and Euphemia is doing exactly what she’s supposed to.

          1. Kelly L.

            Yes! It can sometimes be really frustrating to be a Euphemia in a situation where Euphemia’s supervisor keeps flaking on calling someone back. Yes, caller, I’m taking the message every time and I’m giving it to them every time. I can’t make them call you back.

            1. Kelly O

              Yup. Euphemia may very well be reminding, but the decision maker may have changed his mind, or not be quite ready for a meeting, or have something more urgent come up and just let it wait. There are a million reasons, none of which means the gatekeeper or junior is unresponsive on her/his own.

              That said, the IT department where I’m temping now has a “we do not accept unsolicited calls” policy, and you would not believe how ugly people have been with me when I very politely tell them that I will not put their call through, nor can I tell them who the IT director is, or anything. I had someone tell me they were not being cut off “by some stupid receptionist.” I did take a bit of joy in saying “no, you’re being told company policy by the executive administrative assistant to the founder and CEO. Have a nice day.” (And a note was made of the company and the phone number, just in case. )

  2. Ashley

    I recently hired a man who goes by his middle name. On his resume he had W. Thomas Smith, so I knew he went by Thomas, but that is obviously isn’t his legal first name. When he filled out his I9/background check release/other official stuff he put William Thomas Smith. Easy peasy.

    1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.

      One day I was handing out paychecks (unusual, I never did this) and found out someone who had worked for me for a very long time was actually “Wilbur”. :) I guess he had had a first initial on his resume when I interviewed him but I had no memory of it.

    2. Elizabeth West

      Mine is that way at work. It’s like this:

      –FirstInitial Elizabeth Lastname on my resume, and how I sign my name
      –Paycheck and my name in the HR system is Firstname MiddleInitial Lastname (it’s like this on my debit card too)
      –Email signature and on the IM listing, it’s Liz Lastname
      –On my first anniversary plaque, it’s Firstname Lastname

      Sigh.

  3. NJ anon

    #2. You need to manage your own career. You can’t wait for someone to notice you or give you a promotion. You must be proactive. Like Alison said, talk to your supervisor, express your wish to go full time and ask what you need to do to achieve your goal. Good luck!

  4. Graciosa

    Regarding #2, I would be more concerned about your sense of being doomed to obscurity in your career than about one job. *Why* do you think you will always be overlooked? People who tell themselves “There’s no point in speaking up or applying because I’ll never get it anyway” are sabotaging themselves.

    Avoid the mistake of thinking that if you toil away silently in the background, a boss (prince) will notice your work (goodness) and offer you a promotion (glass slipper) that fits you perfectly. This is the fairy tale version of your life, not a good blueprint for the real one.

    In reality, people are rewarded for speaking up and for actively pursuing their own goals themselves.

    1. Artemesia

      YOu should have a strategy for making the impression you want to make. Different people do it differently. If you are uncomfortable being aggressively direct, think about ways to showcase your achievements indirectly. (years ago I made a point when running into bosses in the cafeteria line or other informal settings to be full of happiness about a client’s pleasure with a particular result they achieved or the feedback we got on a grand proposal or whatever. I didn’t say ‘I did this great job with client X’ instead I said, ‘we just heard from client X and he is thrilled with the new teapot lids.’ What happens when you do this sort of thing is that you become associated with success and your commitment is noted. ) How does the boss KNOW you have labored long and hard and produced results. Figure out ways to be visible when working long and hard and find out ways of alerting the boss to small triumphs.

      And of course, you need to have at least one direct conversation about your goals and getting advice about achieving them.

      1. Nichole

        Thanks for this advice! A challenge I’m working on now is that I’m not so great at the horn tooting, so for a long time I assumed if I worked hard and did a good job, my reputation would build organically. That worked (kind of) in my immediate circle, but that hasn’t been enough to get the results I really want. I don’t care about recognition per se, but I’m starting to realize that proactively selling myself is a necessary evil to move my career forward. Those tips are really helpful in figuring out where to start with that.

  5. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.

    #1

    Let me give a shot at this since we are on both sides of this. We’re a sales organization and I personally head up vendor relations so I get a lot of new sales outreaches.

    In my world, if I say “Please schedule a time to talk with Euphemia”, I mean it. It’d be a continuing waste of everybody’s time to say that to a vendor I had no interest in. Euphemia isn’t a gatekeeper, she’s a time/resource manager. If you got me to respond to you personally, you’re already through the gate.

    Sometimes vendors aren’t happy with the answer they get from Euphemia and that can piss me off. She might schedule you four or five months out or say, we’re on XYZ deadline, booked, can you please reach out to me again in two months. That’s her job. If someone tries to end run Euphemia back to me again, I get pissy because I am really really clear to start, she’s the decider of time. I don’t mind one follow up report via email, “Hey the soonest Euphemia was able to get me in is June” because, new reps don’t know we sit two feet from each other but trying to get a different answer from me than she gave is gonna piss me off.

    I’m not sure why you are running into so many Euphemias who never get you in at all.

    Taking it from a sales angle: closing for an appointment is the same as closing for anything else. You have to make sure your customer is qualified and you have to make it easy for them to say yes. If these are really speculative appointments vs tightly targeted ones, you might just be running a numbers game here where X% of Euphemias are ever going to get back to you therefore you need Y number of Euphemia potential to get to your desired results. If tightly targeted to the point where you shouldn’t let one Euphemia drop (small universe of potential customers), you’re going to have to put a lot more effort into your close for appointment.

    Here are some ideas:

    1) Engage your target in advocating for you with Euphemia. Get them to agree to *something*, like, may I copy you in on the email I send to Euphemia, OR, should I tell Euphemia that you’d like to meet this month OR, whatever. Try a few different agreement approaches out and see what sticks. This stops it from being a total pass off. Just get them agree to continue to be a stakeholder in this appointment somehow.

    2) Give Euphemia specific choices to make yes easy. “I’ll be in the area next Wednesday. How does 10am work? If that’s not good for you, let me know when is and I’ll schedule around what’s best for you.”

    3) Realize that Euphemia has likely experienced a million sales people who act like sales people and she probably hate them. So, be a person. Act like a colleague, not a Sales Guy. Never Big Pants anything and don’t be all fake weasily charming either. Successful B to B sales people present themselves as facilitators, not as sales people.

    4) Food is helpful. Nobody is going to make a meeting with you *just* to get the special peanut butter bagels that you have from a secret source, but food is social grease and mentioning the special food you will bring, at the right point in a conversation, is only going to help. Not Dunkin Donuts. Not just “bagels”. Something that stands out a little bit and might make its own side conversation to help kick start a relationship.

    5) Follow up packages? If you have the budget, after the target has agreed but before Euphemia has granted you access, popping a follow up package in the UPS to both parties can keep you top of mind for that appointment to be granted. Include material on your attractive product/service, and, I don’t know, a teapot customized with your logo? :p Not a lame teapot, a good one.

    (I know in advance this one is going to be a wall o text. Hope there’s helpful stuff in there. :) )

    1. Another Salesperson

      This was useful to me. I sell industry specific software. I’m new at sales (previously used the software), so I find these tips very helpful.

      1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.

        Software has a loooooooong sales cycle. Bless you! Our cycle is longer than I’d like. I admire software sales people greatly.

      2. Chinook

        Another salesperson, since you are new at selling the software, I should point out not only the long sales cycle but also that you are competing with the idea of us doing it internally. Every external product salesperson I have come across don’t seem to realize it and cover why they are better than going in-house (which makes a product more flexible and controllable). It is good to hear that you were an actual user, though, which means you know your product isn’t 100% perfect (which no program ever is).

      3. Noah

        Long sales cycles are the truth and frustrate those of us who are buyers at times. I would love to change the specific software my department uses. Unfortunately, it was purchased just before I started by my predecessor and that was about 2 years ago. I understand that financial side and why we cannot just drop it and change. It is functional but is not the choice I would’ve made for a variety of reasons.

        I have a software salesperson calling me at least once a month. I reiterate every time that their software is impressive, I like certain features, but we have no intention of changing for several years. I’ve been as blunt as saying “no matter what we will not be making a purchase anytime soon”.

    2. OP1

      Thank you! I hadn’t been thinking about closing the appointment in that way.
      In this case it’s more scheduling a phone call or Webex meeting, since my tiny boutique firm works nationally and we’re a little too small for me to fly to see prospective clients.

      I’ve been a Euphemia at smaller businesses in years past, so she (or he) won’t get any grief from me! I know it’s the admin’s job to keep things functioning and moving at the right pace. Next June is fine. I’ve scheduled 15 minute phone calls 6-8 months in advance before. It’s just, if the director says they want it scheduled, I need Euphemia’s help in getting on that calendar. (I do forward E the director’s email when I make my request for a time.)

      Alternatively, the director says “That’s very interesting, please set up a time for you and Barnabas to talk without me so that he can gather information.” And then Barnabas never replies to my emails to set up a time for us to talk.

      1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.

        ABC, baby. Always Be Closing. :-)

        I do hope turning the problem around a bit helps. Targeting anybody with marketing in their title is tough because of the deluge of other people targeting them for anything.

        Good luck!!

      2. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.

        p.s. Seriously look at budget for follow up packages. It sounds like your selling a high $$ service/product that can afford that.

        We’re online marketers who sell across the country so we don’t do in person appointments either. All of our leads are warm (they contact us first), but, follow up packages are religion for me. I am a firm believer that having something tangible in their hands is an important connection in an otherwise virtual world. Every qualified body whom we have a conversation with has something of value in their hands less than a week from the time we talk to them.

    3. DeadQuoteOlympics

      Wakeen, I love your level of detail. Your workplace is not very much like my workplace, but I feel like I learn so much from you, so I’m grateful for the walls of text.

      And yes, vendors, respect my admin (#3). She tells me when someone is being a jerk, and I don’t have time for jerks.

      1. Artemesia

        Such good advice. Most people respect their admins. When I was recruiting for positions if my admin told me that an applicant was harassing her with demands or otherwise behaving badly, that killed their candidacy. Always assume that the admin is close to the boss and the boss respects his or her integrity and don’t be rude or demanding to the admin if applying for a job or trying to sell something.

      2. the gold digger

        Also, respect the lower-level people who get stuck meeting with you. I barely want to meet with a trade magazine ad salesman during the work day but am doing so because my boss told me to. I for sure do not want to meet you for dinner. Dinner is my time. I don’t care if you’re paying for it, it is my time. It is not work time. Do not suggest that we go to dinner.

  6. Krystal

    That’s how I deal with salespeople who call my office. They’re annoying to deal with, quite frankly, and there’s no polite way to say STOP CALLING ME.

    1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.

      Hey, Krystal, passing them off with a promise that XYZ will get them an appointment is perpetuating the problem, not solving it.

      I’m not above call dumping, mind. ;) If I get a cold call from a widget sales rep, I’ll happily dump the call to the Person In Charge of Widgets, and I positively love call dumping on my CFO who loves call dumping when he can to me.

      Call dumping is different from making a promise you’ve no intention of keeping.

      Sure you can say no! I do it all the time! And you can do it nicely, just try. Just don’t fall into the objection trap. If you’re *sure* you don’t want the service, you tell them you aren’t interested but thanks for calling. Then don’t fall into the follow up question trap where they are attempting to identify your objections and answer them. You can be nice, say you don’t have any more time for the call and hang up.

      All the time. It works just fine.

      1. jag

        “Hey, Krystal, passing them off with a promise that XYZ will get them an appointment is perpetuating the problem, not solving it.”

        This.

    2. Jessa

      “I’m sorry but we’re not in the market for x, it’s not a product that would be useful in our business, I’m sorry.”

      And if they then keep calling, unless you have a rotten boss who won’t let you be a little stronger about it, “I am sorry we are not interested, please take us off your calling list.” and then “We said we weren’t interested, please stop calling,” and if need be getting the company info and calling the sales boss and saying “we’re about to start telling every client and company we work with never to do business with your product. Your sales people are completely out of line when told never to call again. Let me make this clear. Do not call us.”

      1. jag

        I usually add to your first statement “Please remove us from your calling list” right from the get-go.

    3. Julie

      I get cold calls and I’m completely the wrong person for people to talk to, I have no contact or relationship with people who are decision makers and when I try to say these things they start naming off titles for me to search for. I can’t release private extensions and I won’t transfer to someone I have no relationship with. When I say that they keep going and while I’m tempted to hang up, there’s still a chance that this could be a potential or current client of my company in some other capacity so I can’t just blow them off. It’s constant at this point and driving me crazy. Naturally my supervisor handles an area of business that he would never find himself in this situation so he has no ideas for me other than don’t hang up until they do.

      1. Another Job Seeker

        Would your supervisor be okay with your making a statement like this? “My area does not use chocolate teapots, but if you give me your contact information, I will forward it to the area that does so that they can follow up with you if it looks like there may be a good fit.” Most of the cold “calls” I get are actually cold emails. Sometimes, a company will email me – and then email the same letter, word for word, a few months later. When I notice this, I do not respond to subsequent emails because I want to respect my co-workers’ time.

      2. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.

        Ugh. This isn’t sustainable, unless your company wants to pay somebody to talk to solicitors all day and do nothing else.

        The problem is less actual sales people and mostly appointment setters. Appointment setters to businesses are people who used to have the job telemarketing to homes before the Do Not Call legislation. They are legion! They work for a modest hourly wage and are paid a small bonus per appointment (or whatever goal) they secure. They work off of scripts and they have rules, one of the most common being they can’t hang up until you hang up!

        I question this:

        I won’t transfer to someone I have no relationship with

        I mean, god bless you, but, are you sure? Our receptionist does a minor amount of call screening but mostly she transfers to the decision maker in the area. Everybody in the whole company transfers “marketing” to me. HR goes to HR, IT to IT, anything financial or all else other to the CFO. I don’t think she’d be able to do anything else if she wasn’t able to call dump. Her job is answering and routing customer/existing vendor calls, as well as greeting visitors and a bunch of other things. We need her doing that.

        Are you sure you can’t transfer to spread the work?

        Failing that, I suggest you revisit the “don’t hang up until they hang up” policy and be more discriminating. You can tell when you are talking to an appointment setting mill.

        You have to make a different plan. This one isn’t working and will drive you mad. :(

        1. long time reader first time poster

          I won’t transfer to someone I have no relationship, because I am *not* a receptionist.

          Just because it’s somebody else’s job to make cold calls, it doesn’t make it my job to have to hunt down a more appropriate target for them.

      3. AshleyH

        I get all the HR calls- I’m not sure why (im not the most the most junior person, an admin, or a person who can make decisions….I honestly think it is because I’m first alphabetically in our directory for HR people)– anyway, when it comes to sales people I always say “I don’t have the power to make any decisions, and we wouldn’t be interested anyway, but feel free to mail some information to our company, attn: HR and we’ll be sure you’re considered next time our contract is up”. I don’t offer up my email address because I don’t want that stuff in my inbox!

      4. Natalie

        You can end the conversation without blowing them off. If they argue with your decline, simply reiterate it politely but firmly, and then hang up. That’s completely normal and no one reasonable is going to think it’s rude.

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