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The 30-second elevator speech

By Laura Babbitt
On October 26, 2009

Introducing yourself to a prospective employer can be frightening, but preparing an elevator speech can help you pitch your qualifications memorably, and ease first-time jitters.An elevator speech is a 15-to-30-second, 150-word statement that introduces a person to a new contact, said Eileen O'Brien, career counselor and coordinator of the Career Services Center.

"The expression came about when a salesperson wanted to introduce themselves and their product in the time it would take to travel from the first to the 10th floor by elevator," O'Brien said.

"It could be used at a job fair, networking event, professional association meeting or anywhere a job seeker might meet a potential employer," she said.

To create an elevator speech, a job seeker must know the attributes and skills an employer wants, O'Brien said.

"A generic speech is destined to fail since it doesn't address the employer's needs," she said.

"Look at four to five job listings for common skills and qualifications," said O'Brien.

Next, outline the speech, asking, "What is the employer looking for? What are my accomplishments in this area? What action would I like the employer to take after listening to me?"

Expand the outline into sentences that connect together and then rehearse it out loud, editing it until it flows smoothly, said O'Brien.

O'Brien gave this example of an elevator speech that a student might use at a campus job fair or career night:

"Hello, my name is Cynthia Chu and I am seeking accounting work. I'll be receiving my accounting certificate in December. I'm very skilled at using QuickBooks. During my QuickBooks course, I set up and maintained the books for four companies. I can perform accounts payable and receivable, and payroll duties. As a matter of fact, my instructor said that I am one of the most conscientious and skilled students in her class. In addition, I have a great aptitude for numbers and my accuracy rate is 98%. I've always had an eye for detail and have loved working with numbers. I would like to discuss what accounting positions you might have available."

At a campus networking event, students may choose to practice their speech first on employers they are least interested in, said O'Brien.

Don't act superior or brag in your elevator speech, said Catherine Fraser, adjunct faculty in the business department, and founder of Fraser Advertising in Redwood City.

Keep your elevator speech short, simple and engaging, and then ask questions about what the employer does, Fraser said.

Ask if they might refer you to someone you should talk to, and collect their business card.

"Don't spend more than seven minutes with a single contact in a networking situation," Fraser said.

"If you've been in a situation where you couldn't get away from somebody fast enough, it makes you ask why," she said.

"Perhaps it was their elevator speech.

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