--Reprinted from the Harvard Business Review May 2009
You're in the elevator with the hiring manager of Dream-Job Corporation. As the door slides shut, you feel a combination of adrenaline and slight nausea: you've got 15 seconds, if that, to communicate your value as a potential employee in a compelling way — just 15 seconds to cram in a whole resume's worth of work and accomplishments and late nights and successes. There's so much you want to say, but your message has got to be crisp, tailored, to-the-point. Handle this one right, and you'll be the newest member of the Dream-Job team. Flub it up, and you're back to scanning listings on Monster.com. What are you supposed to say?
Here are the five key things to know and do in order to make your elevator pitch successful:
- Practice, practice, practice. Very few people have the oratorical power to make compelling 15-second speech about their entire professional lives on demand and under pressure. Practice your speech 100 times — literally. Know it, get comfortable with it, be able to tilt it effectively for a different audience. Practice your body language with it: how will you give the speech differently sitting down vs while walking down a hall? How will it be different over the phone vs in person?
- Focus on impact. Two weeks ago, 60 Minutes aired a segment set at a white-collar job fair. One of the interviewees, a laid-off Wall Street secretary, looked straight into the camera and said, with total conviction, "I can make any boss shine." I wanted to hire her on the spot. Who doesn't want to shine? Describing the impact you've had, and can continue to have, is much more compelling than talking about your number of years of experience.
- Ditch the cultural baggage. A lot of us have been taught — by parents, teachers, or team-oriented corporate environments — not to toot our own horns, and to use "we" instead of "I". Elevator pitches are all about "I". You've got to get comfortable with bragging about your own individual contributions (in a graceful way).
- Be slow and steady. Whether out of nervousness or a desire to cram in a lot of information, people giving elevator speeches tend to talk at breakneck pace — which is extremely off-putting to potential employers. Speak at a pace that shows your calm and confidence. You want them to think of you as thoughtful and deliberate — not as some manic babbler.
- See the whole world as an elevator. Too many people looking for jobs save their elevator speeches for job fairs and interviews. Remember the first rule of sales: ABC (Always Be Closing). Give your elevator speech to everyone — at family gatherings, in the waiting room of the dentist, at coffee hour at your church or temple. You never know where the next job is coming from.
How do you pitch yourself to prospective employers? What advice do you have for other people doing the same? What works — and what doesn't?