You're spending an evening at a good old-fashioned networking event. You’re working the room, with a smile plastered on your face and witty conversation on the tip of your tongue when it steps in front of you—a legitimate and hot job prospect. It turns out that the girlfriend of the guy in the expensive-looking suit is the hiring manager at "TheNextBigThing.com." You get yourself an introduction and now you have exactly 30 seconds to say something sharp enough to make her respond with, "Send me your resume. I'd like to hear more."
If you haven't prepped an "elevator" pitch for these opportune moments, you can likely forget any chance of making the connection. But if you've done your homework, you'll be ready to take advantage of those 30 seconds and the potential the networking contact can provide.
Start with a core statement
When you only have 30 seconds, every word you say has to matter.
"Very few people put themselves in the position of the listener. Many focus on attributes, rather than translating these into the value they can bring to the hiring manager or organization," said Ian Turner, vice president of strategy and membership development for the Greater Philadelphia Senior Executive Group.
Too many professionals, noted Turner, use a generic opening, such as "I am a seasoned IT executive with over 15 years of experience in building." In that short statement, seven precious seconds are gone and you've said absolutely nothing of value. Turner recommends a different approach.
"I believe in starting with a core value statement that can be tailored and expanded as necessary," he advised. His own statement, which he constantly revises and refines, can be boiled down to this sentence: "I motivate business stakeholders to identify, manage, and deliver world-class software solutions for companies focused on driving profitable revenue, reducing costs, and providing superior customer service. What I commit to, I deliver."
Ellen Stuhlmann, managing director of ExecuNet, offers additional advice.
"A great way to test the clarity of your message is to use the 'seven-year-old rule,'" she said. "Ask a seven-year-old child to give you feedback on what you do after you’ve introduced yourself with your elevator speech. If your listener doesn’t 'get it,' he doesn’t know or understand what you do and what you offer—and he won’t consider you for a job or refer you."
Just as a cover letter shouldn't be a rehash of a resume, your 30-second pitch shouldn't be a summary of your job description.
Instead of saying, "I manage over 700 call center employees at six locations nationwide," think bigger—“I bring order to chaos and save my company over $250,000 every year." Most executives will probably invite you to share more information.
"When you give over the big concept that way, you're inviting the other person to become interested in how you achieved those results," said Turner.
Loose but not too loose
Presentation of an elevator pitch, of course, is important, but you don't want to appear too rehearsed. After hearing hundreds of elevator pitches—in his organization and at other networking events—Turner can instantly spot an overly prepared speech.
"The delivery is flat, and the words are too perfect," he explained. He stresses that it's much better to identify and verbalize your unique brand—the value you can bring to a company—than to memorize a string of buzzwords you think will impress a listener.
"The purpose of your speech is to develop a rapport, gather information, and most importantly, be remembered and referred," added Stuhlmann.
To establish rapport, approach the pitch as the start of a conversation. This will draw your listener in. One trick Stuhlmann recommends is to end your elevator pitch with a question.
"This instantly engages the listener. Don't make your question generic or something your prospect can quickly brush off,” she advised.
Instead of, "Are you hiring right now?" try for something that ties back to your star qualities.
“If you've just outlined how you save your company money every year, follow up with, 'What's your greatest call center expenditure?'" explained Stuhlmann.
Polish for perfection
To get to the heart of what you want to say in an elevator speech, spend some time on your own answering questions such as these:
- Am I renowned for anything?
- What would happen at my company if I left tomorrow?
- What's the biggest problem I've solved for my company?
Always keep the focus on the benefits you bring to the listener—costs reduced, profits increased, time saved—rather than descriptive statements such as “15 years of experience" and “superior ASP skills.”
It’s well worth putting time into polishing and perfecting your elevator speech, and constantly reviewing it to keep it current and fresh. A strong message can open the way to a formal interview.