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How to Perfect an Elevator Pitch About Yourself

11:53 AM Monday May 4, 2009
Tags: Career planning, Communication

You're in the elevator with the hiring manager of Dream-Job PRODUCTS YOU MAY BE INTERESTED IN
Corporation. As the door slides shut, you feel a combination of
Marketing Myopia
adrenaline and slight nausea: you've got 15 seconds, if that, to
What business is your company really in?
communicate your value as a potential employee in a That's a question to ask before demand for
your products or services dwindles.
compelling way — just 15 seconds to cram in a whole resume's
worth of work and accomplishments and late nights and Breakthrough Ideas for 2009
successes. There's so much you want to say, but your message Today's most dynamic thinkers and innovators
live and operate ahead of the curve every day.
has got to be crisp, tailored, to-the-point. Handle this one right, Learn how to join them.
and you'll be the newest member of the Dream-Job team. Flub
it up, and you're back to scanning listings on The Five Competitive Forces That
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What are you supposed to say?
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Here are the five key things to know and do in order to make Search all of our products >
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 7/15/2009
How to Perfect an Elevator Pitch About Yourself - Daisy Wademan Dowling - HarvardB... Page 2 of 7

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?


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I love the comment "I can make any boss shine." That's great! She promised a benefit, which is a compelling
technique. Another suggestion is to make your elevator pitch about "who you are" vs. "what you do." Think about
powerful words that describe your personality and work style, such as "ethical," "driven," "collaborative" or "disciplined" 7/15/2009
How to Perfect an Elevator Pitch About Yourself - Daisy Wademan Dowling - HarvardB... Page 3 of 7

that will allow the person to feel what it would be like to work with you. And finally, be passionate about yourself and
your career search, and make sure that passion comes through in your elevator speech.

- Posted by Sharon Reus

May 4, 2009 3:14 PM

Terrific example of the secretary who said, "I can make any boss shine." Could you give us more examples like this--a
one sentence encapsulation of what makes a job candidate irresistable?

- Posted by Jane
May 4, 2009 4:47 PM

This is great guidance. Most importantly, be sure you know what to say if your 15 seconds turns into 15 minutes. It's
one thing to say I can make anyone shine, but if you don't know specific details (and have them equally well
rehearsed), you won't get to a more formal conversation.

- Posted by Scott Schnaars

May 4, 2009 6:36 PM


Thanks for your comment and great question on what a makes a personal "headline" work. I think in order for a 1-
sentence encapsulation of who you are and what you can offer to really resonate with an employer, it needs to have 3
characteristics. 1. It needs to be utterly genuine. What do you think your value to en employer really is? What have you
been proudest of in your work life? What do you love to do? If you focus on those things, your energy will come
through. 2. It should focus on things that most managers and leaders find difficult, or grapple with. What thorny
problem can your particular talents solve? 3. It should paint a picture of a rosy future for the hiring manager him- or
herself, and/or for the corporation. Who doesn't want to "shine"?

Here are a few examples that I have heard in the past, and found really compelling. They are specific, but then again,
all personal taglines need to be.

"My specialty is taking messy and complex processes and streamlining them."

"I can teach any junior person how to work effectively with data and numbers."

"I'm a 'fixer'. I've turned around distressed businesses and departments before, and those are the situations I thrive in."

"My core skill is gathering information, often from people who don't want to give it up. I'm persistent, curious, effective -
and I dig deep."

- Posted by Daisy Wademan Dowling

May 4, 2009 8:31 PM

thanks for interesting point of view. I think, this also could be very useful as practice tool for sales representatives
(espeacially in pharma industry) to learn how to get maximum from each client's visit, which is getting shorter and
shorter. 7/15/2009
How to Perfect an Elevator Pitch About Yourself - Daisy Wademan Dowling - HarvardB... Page 4 of 7

- Posted by Robert
May 5, 2009 3:49 PM

Thanks Daisy for this post. It's concise and helpful too.

- Posted by Odiaka E. Sunday

May 11, 2009 5:18 AM

Some people are not as comfortable in salesey elevator pitches. I network heavily, so I have heard some garbage that
made my ears curl in. Unfortunately most pitches are like most sales people - corny, filled with quotes of useless
features and benefits, and low in value content.

I am very comfortable talking about what I do and I found it that talking about your career mission makes you sound a
lot less salesey and many times the content of what you said has much higher value to the listener.
Mine is to "keep entrepreneurs and CEOs out of jail and an early grave". The rest is in my article about career mission

- Posted by Apolinaras "Apollo" Sinkevicius |

May 11, 2009 6:32 PM

The concept of an Elevator Speech is as antiquated and useful as a black and white TV. Most of the material written on
this subject promulgates myth and legend.

Of course it involves authentic and genuine communication; what doesn't? The fundamental shift is realising that
introducing yourself is not about "I" or "we", it's about "you and me"; the kind of people you want to attract/ get attention
from/ engage in a conversation.

It's as that great philosopher, Lionel Ritchie, said; "If you want to reach people, you have to give them a taste of

If you are connecting with people you are talking about things you have in common. So that's how you start.

When I'm asked, "what do you do?" I say, "I'm a trainer and can I ask you a simple question? Have you ever been to a
training program and then back at work on Monday morning NOTHING CHANGES?"

95% of responses are: they nod/ smile/ say "yes, most of the time". The conversation goes on from there. It's what we
both have in common. People who attend/ pay for training hate the typical waste of time and money that poor training
creates. SO DO I. So that's what we start the conversation with.

If anything we should be now be talking about how to create an "Elevator Conversation". It's all about "us".

- Posted by Mark Wayland

May 21, 2009 7:54 PM

Thanks Mark for the sanity. As a CEO I felt assaulted when some eager beaver confronted me in the elevator with a
pitch. On the one hand, she’s showing moxie but on the other hand, it’s annoying. I have always considered the
elevator pitch to be like a first time kiss. You wouldn’t just walk up and try to kiss some one you have admired from afar
with out a means of being introduced. What emboldens you to give a sales pitch to someone that has little choice in his 7/15/2009
How to Perfect an Elevator Pitch About Yourself - Daisy Wademan Dowling - HarvardB... Page 5 of 7

elevator companions?

And the line, “I can make any boss shine” may be true but you should also realize, she knows that she has the power
to make you look like dirt. Sooner or later, the CEO will realize who is actually doing what in the office – one-on-one
reports without the presence of Ms Sunshine usually reveal their true identity. If not, one of the most prevalent reasons
for the board to terminate a CEO is his inability to weed out the non-productive.

Daisy, all four of the one-sentence encapsulations you gave Jane assumed that the prospect knew of specific
problems in your organization. If I were hiring someone that told me he was expert in changing things that he knew
were wrong with my organization, the red flag would go up immediately. One of the hardest things for a new employee
is to acclimate to the culture of their new job. Acclimate, assimilate, and then suggest changes.

- Posted by Michael Cylkowski

June 2, 2009 1:00 PM

Great article. The point that really hit home for me is being prepared to give your 15 second hottest undeniable benefit
at any point in time. Opportunities present themselves all the time and if you aren't prepared to showcase what people
will gain by working with you, you ultimately miss out on those opportunities!

- Posted by Hilary
June 4, 2009 9:55 PM

Many elevator speeches focus on what you have done in the past. Who cares? That is simply a means to an end. The
real question you need to answer is "What can I do for you?"

- Posted by Brian Casey

June 23, 2009 10:04 PM

I think you have to be culturally aware with pitches like this. As an introverted brit I'd be both admiring and repelled by
someone with claims as bold as some of the suggestions. Having a concise conversation opener as Mark Wayland
suggests is likely to be better received than a strapline.

I like Michael Cylkowski's reasoned approach. Although it is easy to think you're assimilating the organization when it is
assimilating you. The chance to make a big change as a newbie is transient. And then you are 'one of us'.

- Posted by Chris
July 15, 2009 11:47 AM

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