Your Elevator Pitch

It used to be the only folks who had to master the 30 second elevator pitch were in Hollywood. Now we all need it. Not just because the job market is so awful-  that is part of it. But even after the unemployment rate falls there will still be a need to have a great pitch because the pace of doing business has changed – it is so much faster and will remain so.

Have you tried you elevator pitch out on someone who will give you honest feedback? If you haven’t then you need to.  If there reason you haven’t is because you don’t have a pitch ready then I have a few good tools for you to get started.

One I love and have recommended time and time again Peggy Klaus’ book BRAG! The Art of Tooting Your Own Horn Without Blowing It. This book should be on every job seeker’s bookshelf. I have interviewed Peggy several times and each time I walk away feel more confidant talking about myself. This is saying a lot because that is the one subject I HATE to discuss. Growing up one of nine kids means bragging got you alienated not celebrated. Peggy shows you the difference between obnoxious bragging and positively sharing how you may be of service to someone else. It is a mind shift.

Here is a link to Peggy’s site http://www.peggyklaus.com

I also came across another fabulous example of the difference between sounding like a jerk and sounding like a pro in the 30 second pitch. Marc Cenedella is the Founder & CEO of  TheLadders.com. In his weekly newsletter he crafts two versions of his own elevator pitch. The first is what NOT to do, the second he hits it out of the park. Here is an exerpt:

You’re not going to enjoy reading it, and I’m certainly not enjoying writing it, but in the interests of science, I need to take you through that experience of awkwardness and embarrassment in order to explain how and why to do it right.
Our first effort, which is similar to what most of us try when we make our elevator pitch, is this:

“I’m a serial entrepreneur that started a company exporting US-made pet food to Japan after college. I graduated in the top 5% of my class at Harvard Business School, and was then the lead corporate development guy on the sale of HotJobs to Yahoo in 2002 for $436 million. I founded TheLadders.com seven years ago to focus on bringing high-level talent together with $100K+ jobs, and the company has grown to be an international success with over 300 employees.”

Ugh.
Frankly, you’re probably wondering: “Why is he telling me this? What his purpose for bragging like that? What a creep!”
And I can tell you that, sitting here on a Saturday afternoon writing this, it makes me feel like a boasting, shilling, pompous stuffed shirt.
And I know that’s how a lot of you feel about crafting your elevator pitch, too, so let’s understand why this is not an effective pitch.

It focuses on accomplishments and achievements.
In our culture here in the US, when you say something about yourself, particularly something positive, people look askance. When somebody tells us how wonderful they are, we instinctively worry about their reasons for doing so, and question their character, truthfulness, and personality.
Sure, they might have a lot of nice accomplishments, but what if they’re as much of a braggart when they actually take the job?
Ick, that’s not going to be somebody fun to work with.

And it’s crafted in a “professional voice.”
This is not how people talk to each other, so of course, if I were to say this out loud to somebody, it will sound awkward.
When you speak in a professional, or announcer-like, or “official correspondence” voice, it dehumanizes you and puts a distance between you and the listener. They feel they have to put up their guard and be on the “watch out” for you because you must be trying to sell them something.
Well now, of course we want the elevator pitch to help us get a job, so why don’t we take another crack at it? And this time, instead of trying to sound like a stuffed shirt, we’re going to be human and real:

“My passion in life is jobs. I love everything about them. It combines the soft stuff — people’s dreams and hopes and ambitions — with the hard stuff — where the jobs are in the economy, the numbers and algorithms and technology that make it possible. I’ve been doing this for over a decade and I find that I’m learning something new about making job hunts successful every day. Helping people through what is one of the most stressful experiences in their lives is tremendously rewarding and fulfilling, and I love doing it.”


OK, which dude do you want to work with? The professional accomplishment elevator pitch or the conversational motivations pitch? Which guy would you invite to an interview?
I think you’ll agree with me that the second one is far more effective. Why?

I’m speaking about my motivations.
As opposed to crowing about accomplishments, I’m telling you why I like doing what I’m doing.
And in our culture, we tend to trust people and believe them when they tell us what their motivations. It feels like they’re being open and honest, and that they are sharing with us something about themselves. And from a tactical standpoint, it helps the recruiter, HR person, or hiring manager know a little bit more about what makes you tick, and how and why you want this particular job.

It looks to the future.
If you were hiring a Chief Job Officer, the second pitch lets you know that this is somebody who is engaged and passionate and excited about doing more job-related work in the future. The first pitch doesn’t.

It sounds like a human conversation.
I call this “The Bud Test.” If you can’t say your elevator pitch to friends and acquaintances over a Bud, or a tasty Arnold Palmer, at the backyard barbeque, it is not an effective elevator pitch.
Speaking like a regular human being makes you more approachable, believable, and likable. It feels less like a shill and more like an open-hearted conversation. And people want to help people that they believe and that they like.
So if you agree that the second elevator pitch is better, how do you craft your own?
Try this.
Answer these questions in a “real” voice. Like you’re speaking to your mother, or your college buddies, or a couple of friends on the golf course. (You know, I might even recommend that you speak into a voice recorder, or just go ahead and call your own voicemail, and answer these questions out loud. That’s the best way to get a conversational tone….)

  • Say, TV, why do you like your work?
  • Why have you been doing this for 10, 15, 20 years?
  • What is it that you find interesting about it?
  • No, seriously, TV, don’t talk to me like I’m your boss, what do you really find interesting about it?
  • Why do you want to stay in this field?
  • What do you like about this industry?
  • When you’re in the shower in the morning, what types of challenges at work make you excited to get the heck to the office as soon as possible?
  • When are you having the most fun?

And then take those bits and make a conversational elevator pitch that focuses on your motivations, not your accomplishments.

Here is a link to Marc’s newsletters: http://finance.theladders.com/career-newsletters

Marc and Peggy are two great resources, there are others too. But to really nail your pitch- you must practice it over and over and get honest feedback from someone who is rooting for you, but also isn’t afraid to tell you your butt looks big in those pants! Make sure you are open to the feedback too. When I craft a clever line in a story I tend to fall in love with it, when in reality if it really is that clever, it is probably a distraction to the reader and should be yanked. So stay open to tweaks and make sure the voice of the pitch really is authentically yours.  Good luck crafting and practicing your pitch and feel free to send it to me– I will be happy to post your thoughtful effort. –Mary

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    About Mary Mary Caraccioli, MLA, MBA is the Money Confidante. An Emmy™ Award winning financial journalist, she has worked at CNBC, FOX, Comcast and ABC's LiveWell TV where she has created numerous award winning programs. Mary also helped to create the Lou Dobbs syndicated radio report. She was an early adaptor of digital media and creator of well respected money websites.

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