The ability to quickly explain your career background and professional goals to a new acquaintance (often dubbed the "elevator speech") is an essential tool for job hunters. It could turn a brief encounter into a meaningful connection that leads to your next role. But if you've been out of the job market for a while or have held the same job for many years, it can be hard to find the right words.
The common explanation of the term "elevator speech" is that it's like a brief commercial for yourself that can be delivered in the time it takes to ride from the top to the bottom of a building. That's maybe 90 seconds. In other situations it can be shorter or longer.
The benefits to creating this type of introduction can start before you even share it with anybody. Indeed, crafting an elevator speech can help you think in new ways about yourself, your job history and your goals. You might even end up using pieces of it to flesh out your LinkedIn or Twitter profile.
When to Use It
You must have your elevator speech ready at any time and any place. This may sound like a tall order, but the result will be worth your while.
Use your elevator speech whenever you are networking. It can be more casual if you're talking one-on-one and more formal if you're introducing yourself in a group.
Use it in an interview. The elevator speech is shorthand for how you respond to questions such as "Tell me about yourself" and "Why should I hire you?"
Use your speech in cold calls to employers, say, when leaving a voice mail for a hiring manager.
Elements of an Elevator Speech
A good one is short but packed with information that is memorable, original and personal.
It reflects your personal brand — that is, your unique skills, abilities and achievements. It contains brief examples or stories describing your successes — the achievements that set you apart.
It contains answers to these key questions:
- Who are you?
- What do you do best?
- How have you made an impact?
- What sets you apart from the competition?
- What are you seeking?
Tips for Developing Your Speech
Create a "hook" — something that will engage the listener, prompt more questions and keep the conversation going.
If it helps, write out your speech, and then practice without reading or memorizing it. Aim for spontaneity.
Rehearse with family and friends. Your speech must sell you professionally and be natural.
If appropriate, add a request for action, such as asking for an interview.
Here's an example of an elevator speech that includes both personal and professional information. This one can be adapted and expanded, depending on the situation. The speaker could use it when looking for a job, seeking funding for a project, or networking.
"I'm Sandra Green, and I make things grow. I've created gardens of all sizes for friends, schools and senior centers. I teach gardening at after-school programs and have started a gardening blog. So far, I've worked with 10 schools and five other community organizations in my local area. My goal is to create better neighborhoods by bringing people of all ages together around gardening."
Avoid These Mistakes
Don't confuse an elevator speech with a résumé. The former is much different from a list of job titles and years of experience.
Resist the impulse to exaggerate. It's easy to spot a phony.
Don't use the exact same speech in all situations. Adapt to your audience and purpose.
The more you practice at home or with friends, the more prepared you'll be to tell your story when it really can make a difference in your career.