Your Elevator Speech: Don’t Leave Home Without It
You don’t activate a network simply by calling the first name on your contact list on Monday morning. First you have to develop a plan. Or more precisely, a good, solid idea of what kind of job you’re looking for and how you hope your network contacts can help.
How can other people, no matter how well they know you, give you advice about career paths if you have no clue about what you are looking for? Step one is putting your thoughts, no matter how undeveloped, down on paper.
This is the beginning of your “elevator speech,” a smooth, persuasive 30-second pitch describing yourself and explaining your career goals. The name is a reference to the amount of time it typically takes to ride an elevator.
The pitch is your answer to a question you’ll likely hear again and again from contacts and potential employers:
“What kind of work are you looking for?”
It’s a straightforward query, but fraught with peril. An effective elevator speech gets your foot in the door, verbally speaking. A poor speech gets it closed in your face.
A solid elevator speech presents you and your plans clearly, compellingly and, most of all, concisely. No one wants to hear a long, rambling dissertation. There is great power and persuasion in brevity.
Need proof? Consider this:
Abraham Lincoln’s address at Gettysburg in 1863 is considered one of the finest, most memorable speeches of all time. Yet it consists of fewer than 300 words and was delivered by Lincoln in less than three minutes.
By contrast, the marquee speech that day was given by a noted orator named Edward Everett, whose commentary was also originally called “the Gettysburg Address.” Everett’s oration was 13,607 words long. It took him more than two hours to deliver. No one today remembers what he said.
Over the years, I’ve heard plenty of elevator speeches, some that made me wish I could get off the elevator before my floor and even a few that made me wish I could just jump out a window, however many floors up.
There is no single, perfect elevator speech. They are always a work in progress. What works in one situation might not in another. You will have a different elevator speech for every career twist and turn. You will need to adjust it as things change. But beyond brevity, here are a few key requirements:
- Your introduction should be memorable. Clever and witty are good.
- It should be easy to understand. Avoid industry jargon. Be clear. Don’t leave the listener wondering what you mean.
- Emphasize one or two of your particular strengths or talents. Set yourself apart. Let people know why they need to know more about you.
- Make sure you tell your listener how to learn more about you. Ask about getting together. Give them a business card.
Here’s a scenario: You’re actually in an elevator, doors open, when someone you know steps in and says hello, followed by the usual “How are you?” One choice is to simply say “fine.” End of conversation. But here’s a different ending (and maybe a beginning too):
You: Hi Alan, thanks for asking. I’m doing well. I’m in the process of looking for a new job.
Alan: Really. What kind of job?
You: I’m looking for a position in the international telecommunications industry where I can put my MBA and 10 years experience at Nokia to work at a company like Qualcomm, AT&T or Verizon. Hey, if you hear of anything, here’s my card. In fact, do you mind if I follow up to share my career plans and get your opinion on several options I have?
Alan: Not at all. Here is my card.
This imagined conversation is not farfetched. It can easily happen, and pay off in spades, provided you’re prepared, recognize the moment and seize it. In this case, it was a chance to tell Alan about your availability and give him a quick, informative run-down of what you’re looking for in a new job. Specifically, what information did you impart?
- You’re looking for a new opportunity.
- Your particular job interest is international telecommunications, especially with a company like Qualcomm, AT&T or Verizon.
- You have 10 years of experience at Nokia.
- You have an MBA.
- You respect his advice and input.
That’s a lot accomplished on an elevator ride. Alan (or anybody else on the elevator) might not be able to help directly, but he might know someone else who can. They have become members of your working network and you have set yourself up for the all-important informational interview.
Abraham Lincoln was a polished, consummate speaker. The man knew how to communicate in ways that transcended the moment. Unless you have Lincolnesque abilities, you will have to practice your elevator speech until you have it down cold. You may find yourself giving it at any moment—maybe even in an elevator—so practice and constantly look for ways you can improve upon it. Listen for persuasiveness, content and clarity. Don’t speak too quickly or resort to slang. You don’t want to sound stilted or scripted. Try it out on friends. They may have useful tips.
Also be aware that as we develop career paths that you will have different elevator speeches for each one. The example above is for telecommunications. You may also have one for electronics and facility maintenance if those are also areas of interest. Knowing which elevator speech to give on impulse is a bit tricky.