…this is where jobseekers give away their advantage every time.

Are we still using an elevator pitch? Really? I wondered. I went out to Twitter and looked up #elevatorpitch…Oh no. I was aghast… page after page of tweets. Surely, they must be old…nope. Just yesterday. I especially liked one tweet: “Ditch the Pitch.”

An Internet search for “elevator speech” indicated 1,740,000 results and the following definition:
An elevator speech is a clear, brief message or “commercial” about you. It communicates who you are, what you’re looking for and how you can benefit a company or organization. It’s typically about 30 seconds, the time it takes people to ride from the top to the bottom of a building in an elevator.

I thought I better check out “elevator pitch” …double the results at 2,470,000.
Definition: a succinct and persuasive sales pitch.

There were many recent articles that included the usual stuff like “Do’s and Don’ts”. How to Prepare Your Elevator Speech, How Extraordinary is Your Elevator Speech, The Perfect Elevator Pitch to Land A Job, How to Perfect Your Pitch…and so forth.

I wondered what an alternative might be and I couldn’t think of anything better to call it. What was interesting is that every article believed that the elevator pitch was a critical success factor in networking to get a job. Critical!

In 2001, the first time I was laid off, I decided to look for a job as a project manager. I started networking and perfected my elevator speech which started with the words, “I have a passion for project management.”

That was back in the time when you could still use the word “passion.” If you’re still using it, don’t. It’s on the list of old, tired, dated words.

What’s wrong with the elevator speech?

For starters, where jobseekers are concerned, it’s out of context. Elevator speeches are for elevators—in a company—where one person tells the other person (presumed to be a senior executive) what they do at the company. There is context for both parties – they are both related by the context of “the company.”

The problem is that jobseekers are still using the age-old elevator speech and telling their network what they do. I’d like to propose that first of all, it sounds like the person is asking for a job (which they are!). Second of all, the context is totally different. In the elevator, both people work for the same company so an executive can assume that the other person has already been vetted out and understands something about the company and its culture.

Perfect Fit

Thirdly, and most importantly, meeting someone “by chance” and immediately launching into a 30-second pitch about one’s talents and abilities…well, that’s…in a word…rude. That was hard to say, but it’s true. It’s rude. True networking is about mutual support—from both sides. The current approach is one sided. Inadvertently, it puts the jobseeker at a disadvantage and strips the jobseeker of any chance of being a colleague with the receiver. In my opinion, there is no advantage to a jobseeker to utilize the traditional elevator speech.

Elevator pitch:
Further, an elevator pitch, is no better. It immediately sounds like a sales pitch because that is exactly what it is and what it is intended to do. Now the jobseeker has to “sell” something, presumably him or herself. This sounds like trying out different bait to see what the fish will nibble on or if the listener will “take the bait.” This seems rude to me as well. This turns the tables a bit, but it also keeps the jobseeker at a disadvantage.

Most job coaches, career coaches, and career advisors try to convince jobseekers that they have value (They do! …enormous value!). Once they can articulate that value, they are instructed to “get out there and sell” themselves. Most of the jobseekers, I know, hate this.

The new jobs market:

Today, with the changes in technology and global commerce, it is becoming a reality that for many jobseekers, employment will fluctuate. Professionals will likely change jobs every three to four years. That means that their jobsearch will be interrupted by bouts of employment. That’s a change in the whole concept of employment!

The jobsearch is becoming a constant:

Although a person may change jobs within a company, companies are changing faster than ever before. Even now, interruptions in employment are commonplace. Many jobseekers find themselves working from one temporary contract to another. Organizations are becoming sleek and don’t want to hire permanent employees when contract workers are a possibility. Consequently, we are quickly shifting to the Labor on Demand workforce. This is especially true in the IT world of employment.

Influencers to organizational change:

  • Increase in Mergers & Acquisitions
  • Continued outsourcing of internal processes, e.g. payroll, IT help desk, etc.
  • Technologies that take the place of concrete decision makers, e.g. accounting, bookkeeping, etc.
  • Technologies that utilize large data sets, e.g. marketing initiatives
  • Disruptive innovations that causes companies to close (sometimes overnight)
  • Changes in the federal, state and local programs that bring or reduce funding
  • Shift to the Labor on Demand workforce

There has to be…

A better way for jobseekers to talk about themselves:

First, let’s stop calling it an Elevator Pitch or an Elevator Speech. I understand the history behind the terminology, however, I believe we can do better.

First we need to agree that:

  1. We aren’t really doing elevator speeches or pitches anymore.
  2. Job-networking isn’t the same as business networking.
  3. Elevator pitches and speeches are no longer the time-honored method of opening a business conversation.
  4. When speaking to a hiring professional or during a “discovery” session; the goal is different than networking.

What we really need:

For now, during a jobsearch, we need an introductory statement. The statement must answer any of the following inquiries:

  • Tell me about yourself…
  • Why should we hire you?
  • Why are you interested in this position?
  • Why do you think you are a good match for this position?

Obviously, these are core questions that every jobseeker should be prepared to answer in an interview. It is reasonable to assume that once a jobseeker becomes a candidate, the business believes they can do the job. Why would they interview someone if they didn’t think they could do the job? It would be a waste of time. So I make this assumption.

Right skills, right education, right experience…YAWN!
Yeah, yeah, the right skills, the right education, and experience…yes. Those have to be in place. But every candidate has those, or they wouldn’t be in the interview pool. Right? Therefore, during the interview it is the responsibility of the candidate to bring other traits to the attention of a potential employer.

What hiring professionals look for in candidates:

It is my job as I work with clients, to stay in touch with hiring professionals and clearly understand trends in the hiring process. In over nine years, the one thing that has not changed is what the hiring community looks for in a candidate during the interview process.

Are you ready for this? Here it is: they are looking for personal attributes, attitudes, and values. This article offers an excellent list and I’ve added a few extras.

  • Intelligence
  • Enthusiasm, initiative
  • Leadership ability
  • Integrity, credibility
  • Likability, pleasant and professional
  • Competence, ability to learn
  • Courage, Inner strength

Do you get the idea? Once the interview process begins, the résumé, your experience, your skills, your education and certifications…they are simply topics of conversation, springboards, to find out who you really are.

Example: “My core competencies include an ability to quickly learn and comprehend new concepts. I enjoy managing relationships with a variety of people and building trust and consensus that promote business goals. Although I have experience with technology professionals, I am an effective liaison across business units, which is why this position as a relationship manager captured my attention.”

So I encourage you, and every jobseeker to focus on demonstrating top qualities and attributes of character. Do this when in every behavioral interview question; whenever you talk about past experience. I hope this makes sense to you. Companies want to hire people of excellence and if their character is excellent, then their work will reflect their good character. They want someone they can trust.


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One thought on “Your Elevator Pitch…it’s time for an overhaul!

  1. Some great and timely points, Marcia. Job interviews are about fit..This agreed, candidates should *not* walk in and talk about their “transferable skills” or “core competencies”, or use any other jargon that might suggest they have memorized the “right” responses. Rather, candidates should both answer and ask questions, demonstrating those desirable qualities.I do encourage people to have an arsenal of very short succinct stories about themselves, so they are prepared for the so called “behavioural interview” (e.g., be able to answer, “tell me about a time when…”).
    You point out that things to say while business or by chance networking don’t really include the “elevator speech” either. There’s a lot we could say about how you do handle business networking interactions and conversations. I suspect that it is an even more difficult thing to teach.

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