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Can You Sell Yourself in 15 Seconds?
Just as surely as they had business cards at the ready, entrepreneurs looking for financial backing in the 1980s and '90s had pithy, persuasive "elevator pitches" prepared in order to woo prospective investors. Taking its name from the idea that it should last no longer than an elevator ride, the elevator pitch caught on. Conventional wisdom had it that anyone with something to sell or promote ought to create one - including jobseekers who, in essence, are selling themselves.
These days, an elevator pitch is understood to mean "a clear, concise and memorable answer you have to the question, What do you do?" says Lorraine Howell, author, "Give Your Elevator Speech a Lift" (Book Publishers Network, 2006).
Can a 15-second, self-promoting response take a person to the top? Or, as a sales and networking tool, has the elevator pitch bottomed out?
"The elevator pitch is alive and well," says Washington, D.C.-based marketing and image specialist Ryan Prucker. "The key is to showcase accomplishments in a way that clearly conveys benefits to the other person. Always focus on answering the other person's question, 'What's in it for me?'"
In other words, perhaps it's not so much about what you do as whom - and how - you serve.
Career counselor Cliff Flamer, BrightSide Résumés, San Francisco, recommends you start with the results of your work and then, if time permits, talk about how you got there. "Tell your listeners how you've benefited you supervisors, colleagues and customers," he says. "You'll find that in discussing your impact, you'll light up much more than if you were merely describing your day-to-day job responsibilities."
In addition to conveying what a person has to offer, a compelling elevator pitch leaves a lasting impression, sometimes through the element of surprise, Howell says.
For example, one of her clients, a massage therapist, describes herself as a "body detective" because she pinpoints the cause of chronic pain.
"It's a surprising way for her to capture attention and then talk about the specific benefits she provides," Howell says.
Not everyone thinks the elevator pitch is an efficient networking tool. Bill Whitlow, senior principal, Terra Search Partners executive search firm, San Francisco, says folks should practice "target-centric" networking instead, meaning they should ask what other people do and pose follow-up questions to find out whether a person is a suitable "target" - in other words, a useful contact to have or a prospective employer or client.
Organizational-development consultant and executive coach Alan Weiss, president, Summit Consulting, East Greenwich, R.I., also believes that zeroing in on relevant targets is the primary goal of networking. Once a target is in your sights, you hit him or her not with an elevator pitch but with a "value proposition," or potential return on investment - for example, "I improve individual and organizational performance."
Tough not without detractors, the elevator pitch endures. Laura Allen, co-founder, www.15secondpitch.com, which generates free quick-hit pitches after users answers a series of questions, says given the scarcity of jobs, the elevator pitch is more important than ever. And it's not just a speedy means of self-promotion. Whether you're networking or picking up the phone and cold-calling a prospective employer, having an elevator pitch prepared is simply polite, she says.
"Everybody's time is limited," Allen says. "I find that people get irritated when other people can't quickly explain what they do."
Your Perfect Pitch
• An elevator pitch should be free of buzzwords and jargon. "As a career counselor, I'd lead with 'I make people feel good about what they're doing with their lives' instead of 'I facilitate executives' career transitions following layoffs,'" says BrightSide's Cliff Flamer.
• Focus on one area of expertise. "It's a mistake to try to position yourself as a generalist or a Jack of all trades, because it comes across as 'master of none,'" Summit Consulting's Allen says.
• Adapt your pitch to suit the audience. "Prepare a pitch for every niche," Allen says. "If you excel in three areas, develop three different pitches. By asking what the other person does first, you'll know which one is relevant."
• Go easy on adjectives. Too many means your pitch probably isn't concrete enough - and may come across as self-aggrandizing. "Instead of saying, 'I'm hardworking,' say 'I value hard work.' That statement takes on more credibility because you're not bragging, but merely stating a core value," says Dee Merey, president, DM Public Relations, New York.
• Your pitch should persuade people to like you. "The reality that my clients don't like to hear is that people hire who they like," Allen says. "They don't always hire the person with the most impressive, relevant résumé."