How to Gain Entry Into Any Setting

Dr. Lynn Friedman
Special to
Wednesday, November 23, 2005; 12:04 PM

You know the kind of work that you'd like to do and you know the setting in which you'd like to do it. But, how do you gain entry? That is, how do you negotiate that elusive problem of gaining entry into unfamiliar terrain?

A first step is to make the unfamiliar familiar. That is, you must learn as much as you can about your desired setting, for two reasons. First, you may find that after learning more about the new setting, you are no longer interested in it. If so, you have saved yourself valuable time and effort. Second, as you learn more about the setting, you will begin to develop clarity as to what you might have to contribute to it.

In order to learn more about a setting, you may want to take the following steps:

  • Carefully review their Web site.

  • Request a copy of their annual report. This is public information, so they are required by law to share it with you.

  • Attempt to obtain copies of any internal and external newsletters. Read them and figure out, "who's who" and "who does what."

  • Tell everyone you know that you are interested in learning more about the setting. Ask them if they know of anyone to whom you can speak informally.

  •  If your ideal setting sells a product or service, examine relevant trade journals and learn as much as you can about that service.

  • If the setting holds any kind of community event, such as a fundraiser or a public meeting, be sure to attend. You will make important contacts and you will glean useful information.

  •  Review news media on the setting. Google them to learn about their public image.

    A second step is to ask yourself, what do I have to offer them? That is, what about you might be attractive to them? Why should they hire or retain me? What, value do I add? What is special about me?

    A third step is to offer a "free sample." Remember the "free samples" at grocery stores when you were a child. After trying the latest delectable, you tormented your parents until they bought the product. Giving away a small amount of a high quality product, in a public forum, (where constituents can influence key gatekeepers), is an excellent marketing strategy. Provide them with a risk free opportunity to sample your wares in a non-threatening way. If you are a teacher, you could offer a fascinating assembly, free-of-charge, on your topic of expertise. If you are an attorney, personal trainer, physician, accountant or someone in a service-oriented profession, you may want to consider lending your expertise in the form of a continuing education seminar.

    Be sure to set the stage by having preparatory meetings with the gatekeepers. Seek their advice about the needs of their audience. Also, create an articulate pitch about who you are and how you can be helpful.

    A fourth step is to seek feedback. Following the "free sample", meet with the key gatekeepers and seek feedback. If the feedback is positive, ask if they know of other places within their organization and/or industry or region who might find your presentation to be of interest.

    A fifth step is to write a thank you note. The thank you note serves two functions. It should be used both to express genuine appreciation as well as to articulate any helpful thoughts that you have, based on your experience, that would be useful to their organization. This positions you as someone who is knowledgeable about their organization and has something to offer.

    A sixth step is to make sure that they know that you are interested in working for them. In fact, once you have established your credibility, you can call the key gatekeeper and seek advice as to how you might obtain a position in that setting or a similar one. Often this step alone leads to a position or to a set of contacts that will ultimately culminate in a position.

    A seventh step is to find a way to keep in touch on an ongoing basis. If you are not immediately successful, don't give up. Persistence is the better part of valor. This could entail following up several months later with an updated seminar, sharing your ideas in the form of a newsletter, a web site or dropping friendly note via email. Out of sight, is indeed out of mind. So, the key is, to remain on their screen, so when that opening occurs, you are invited to interview.

    On a final note if you are not well received, wait several months and try again. In an international city like Washington, key players, internal politics and organizational needs change on a day-to-day basis. The sands are always shifting. When the climate changes, there just may be a newfound place for you.

    Lynn Friedman, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist/psychoanalyst and work-life consultant in full-time, private practice near the Bethesda metro. She is on the adjunct faculty in the Organizational Development-Human Resource program at Johns Hopkins. More of her work can be found on

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