A reader wrote asking me to write about elevator pitches. He said he had difficulty knowing how to reply in an interview when the interviewer says, “Tell me about yourself.”
The first thing I told him was that an elevator pitch is for networking and has nothing to do with interviewing or with “Tell me about yourself,” which I have dealt with in a previous article. Then I promised to write this article.
So let’s look at the elevator pitch.
This is how the concept was first explained to me. Feel free to change the genders around; it makes no difference:
A woman gets into an elevator. A man rushes in just as the doors are closing. He presses the tenth floor button, and notices that the second floor button has already been pressed. He then realizes that there is only one other person in the elevator, an attractive woman. She’s exiting in, at best,10 seconds. That’s is how much time he has to win her over. That’s the elevator pitch.
You have 10 seconds to impress. What makes it difficult is that you don’t know your audience. Does the person care about business or something from their personal life? What should you say? What shouldn’t you say? Will a compliment be appreciated or rejected?
First, think of where you are. Since LinkedIn is (still) a business site, let’s assume we are at a business event. All business events are networking events so asking someone what they do for a living is appropriate. Here’s the scenario:
Good morning. I’m Bruce.
Hi! I’m Sally.
So what brings you here at this ungodly hour?
This is not the elevator pitch. This is the setup to the elevator pitch.
What business are you in?
Now this is her elevator pitch.
I own a security company.
Perfect. Now I know what to say.
We almost have something in common. I’m an executive recruiter. The mission of my company is to promote the hiring of veterans.
And then I hand her my card and shut up. She knows what I am telling her. I don’t have to explain it.
But let’s reverse the scenario. What if Sally approaches me? I don’t know anything about her so how can I know what to tell her?
It’s called the truth. Just be general about it. I would respond, “I’m an executive recruiter and career counselor,” and hand her my card. If she looks at it she will see my mission statement, so I don’t have to mention veterans. The important thing is for me to immediately ask her, “And what about you? What do you do?” Then the conversation will begin about veterans and how we can help each other.
All an elevator pitch is, is an opening to a conversation. You can either do what Sally did and just make a general statement about your business or profession. Or you can do what I did, and add something unique – promoting the hiring of veterans.
Now a conversation will hopefully begin. Usually, because mission statements are generally meaningless, I am asked, “So how do you promote the hiring of veterans?” And there is sometimes a bit of sarcasm with emphasis on “how” or “you” or “promote.” I just smile and say, “By lowering my fee by a third to 10 percent when the candidate is a vet.” That ends the sarcasm and the conversation continues.
And that is how it is done. An elevator pitch is nothing more than how you define yourself. In a professional setting, it’s a professional definition. In an elevator, I don’t know! And if you can’t do that in ten seconds, you have got bigger problems than networking!
Please do not misunderstand me. Believe me. I have worked with enough career counseling clients, teaching them how to network, to know that this can be very difficult for people because they have done so much in their lives that they do not know on what to focus. It can seem daunting, but it really isn’t. One amusing story will hopefully put things in perspective.
A woman came over to me at a networking event. She asked me what I did for a living and after I told her I asked, “And what about you?” She looked me straight in the eye and said, “I’m a social worker.” At this stage we exchanged business cards. I looked at hers and said, “I think you gave me the wrong card,” and handed it back to her. She said, “No. That’s my card, I sell real estate.” I told her that it must really have been a long day because I could have sworn she had said she was a social worker. She confirmed that I had heard her correctly. “I’m confused,” I admitted. “I’m an MSW,” she said. “So you just graduated and are looking to start a new career. Good for you,” I replied. “No,” she said. “I graduated 30 years ago.” “How long have you been a real estate agent?” “I’m celebrating my 20th anniversary with the company!”
And that, dear readers, is a woman who does not have a clue about elevator pitches or, for that matter, networking.
Bruce Hurwitz is an executive recruiter, career counselor and business advisor. His posts on LinkedIn have been read over a quarter of a million times and have garnered national and international media attention. In addition to serving on the Board of Directors of the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, he chairs their Entrepreneurs Network, hosts their weekly podcast – The Voice of Manhattan Business – and serves as an Ambassador. An advocate for the protection of job seekers, visit the homepage of his website, www.hsstaffing.com, to read about questionable offerings of so-called job search assistance companies and to learn about his upcoming speaking engagements.