Thursday, May 19, 2011

Making a Good Elevator Speech

One of the more useful skills to master as a job seeker is the elevator speech.  What is an elevator speech, you ask?  Well, it's a pitch you make to potential employers (either at interviews or networking events) that is designed to highlight your skills and work background.  It should be no more than 30-60 seconds (the time it would normally take to ride an elevator---get it?), so theoretically it shouldn't be that hard, right?  It can be very difficult, however, to compress so much important information into such a short time frame.  How do you know what you should leave out, or what is imperative to mention?  A lot of times, you will find that it depends on the situation.

If you are at a network event, chances are you have not had any contact with the person you are going to give your elevator pitch to.  In this case, you should start by shaking the person's hand and introducing yourself.  There is nothing more awkward walking up to a complete stranger and immediately going off into your speech.  You also want to make sure you have practiced the pitch enough so that it doesn't sound forced or rehearsed; unfairly or not, the first impression someone has of you is the one that is most likely to stick.  It's also important to make sure the person wants to hear your pitch, so after your introduction, ask them politely if they have time to hear about your background.

If you are at a job interview, you should wait to make your elevator speech until the hiring manager asks one of those "tell me about yourself" questions.  In this case it won't be necessary to introduce yourself, as you will probably have talked to him/her before the interview.  This leads us to what you should actually include in your pitch (this applies to either of the situations):

  • Give yourself a job title.  This doesn't have to be a title you had at a previous job; it's meant to describe what you are best at doing.  For example: "I'm a PR expert with over 10 years in the marketing industry."  Something like that would be a good introduction (though it should obviously be a lot more polished).
  • As you saw from that example I gave, it is important to list how many years of experience you have in your field.  If you don't have little to no work experience, you should emphasize your enthusiasm for the field you want to get into, and mention any classes you might have taken that relate to it.
  • Near the end of your speech, you should make a brief mention of how your background will help the nonprofit you are applying to.
  • Remember, the elevator speech is only supposed to be 30-60 seconds.  This means you shouldn't go into long anecdotes from your background.  You need only to briefly mention any relevant projects you have worked on that might be of interest to the employer. 
And "relevant" is the key to making a good elevator speech.  If it's not relevant to the non profit job you are applying to, there is no reason to mention it.  The whole point of the speech is to get the employer more interested in you, and the only way to do that is to highlight skills that will apply to the job in question.

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