Category Archives: elevator speech

Job seekers: the new breed of entrepreneur?

I was chatting to a girlfriend  recently who wanted to talk about her career options. She didn’t know really what she wanted to do – but she did have strong ideas about what she didn’t want to do – “nothing entrepreneurial   ” she  told me emphatically.     The sub text was that  this was a bit risky, possibly   slightly pushy  ( all that  ghastly selling  ) and maybe even  vaguely tacky,  just  too reminiscent of Alan Sugar and the Apprentice for comfort.  She just wanted to find a normal job.

But what is a normal job and can it be found normally?

I think she’s due for a wake up call.

The internet has revolutionised our lives in so many ways especially the way and speed in which we do things and exchange information. The recruitment process, as with many other sectors has been dramatically impacted and is constantly evolving in response to technological advancement.  These developments have coincided with a  dramatic worldwide recession and a huge decrease in the number of jobs available. Job loss outstripped job creation 3:1 in the first quarter of 2009 in Europe.  Globally unemployment figures are now tipping over the 9% mark, so that  in some countries and sectors almost 1 in 10 people are now unemployed. The number of jobs posted on line in the US dropped by 13%, 2008 on 2009, where there are now 3.3 candidates for every position.

The goal posts are moving
HR Managers claim that thousands of applicants per vacancy is commonplace. 80% of recruiters use on-line media and search engines to identify and source candidates for the hidden job market and only 20% of jobs are advertised in a traditional way.   Entry level candidates compete even for unpaidemployment .   

“For every 1,470 resumes, there ’s 1 job offer made and accepted” – Richard Bolles, bestselling author, What Color is Your Parachute?

Phrases such as  personal branding,  career management,   raised visibility and google ranking  have slipped imperceptibly into the career coaching lexicon.  The goal posts are moving faster than you can say Beckham or Ronaldo. Today’s “normal ” may have reached its  shelf life before the Q4 results are released.

The days when we could join a company and stay with it ” man and boy”   ( or to be politically inclusive “woman and girl”)  as the saying goes,  are  long gone.  As are the days of guaranteed employment until retirement in any job. Will retirement  even exist as a concept  for future generations? The truth is we don’t  know.  What we do know is that there are no guarantees. 

We are also learning that we have to do things differently and if we don’t we’ll get left behind.

Doing things differently
So as I coach people in  enhancing their competitive edge by recognising their added value and looking for metrics to demonstrate that, identifying their USPs,  creating a personal brand, increasing their visibility via different media to just the optimum level   (not over doing it to become a nuisance factor), protecting their on-line image , topped off by the perfectly pitched elevator sound bite,  for casual  and appropriate introduction  on all occasions and functions,  it strikes me that this is actually probably no different to a company running its operations and  launching a product on the market.   

Does this mean that we all now have to become mini entrepreneurs in our job ( opportunity)  seeking efforts and that managing a career is now like managing a business ? 

Both require  creative thinking,  identifying  target markets,  an effective product launch, closing the deal , client relationship management,  long term planning and maintenance, underpinned by sound  on – going investment. 

So yes …I guess it does.

When should elevator speeches be grounded?

Create soundbites
Quite often I am asked to coach people through their elevator pitches and  actually even have a section in my own coaching programme entitled just that. But I’ve decided only  today to change it all. I’m not sure if I think it’s an outdated concept and perhaps in today’s climate calling it  “elevator phrases” might be better.

Crass is out
Elevator speeches are supposed to be the pitch you make  in a 60 second ride in an elevator. It’s all your USPs, CARS and all sorts of other acronyms rolled into a zingy speed presentation that is supposed to  nail that opportunity for  a further meeting, leading to a golden future.   But realistically how many opportunities do we get in every day life to have our 60 second moment of glory other than at a formal job interview,  a business presentation or convincing someone to lend us money? Today especially, there is less tolerance in these tougher times of a hard, crass sell.

In recent more egocentric times  it was OK to talk about yourself for a whole minute, whether in an elevator or anywhere else for that matter, so that sort of routine could  have worked.  I’m not sure how  well it would go down in the current economic climate.    I suspect that if someone started now  to spout about themselves in a crowded lift for 60 seconds straight,  they’re likely  to find  themselves wearing their pod-mate’s latte by the time they reach their floor.

I have a very good friend, a successful business man who always, no matter where he was, would introduce himself with a warm friendly smile, a firm handshake and his senior level job title and what he was currently working on. In business situations that was fine,  lines are drawn in the sand and everyone knows where everyone stands. But it did tend to bemuse French waiters, his wife’s book club and his kids’ friends. That only took 15 seconds – can you imagine what would have happened if he’d gone on for a whole minute?

Value is in
So what might work today when the mood favours subtlety and where we are now expected to give before  we sell? Yet the hurdle still remains that we still  only have one main chance to make a great first impression. So what we need now is a more flexible approach, something that conveys the key points without sounding like a self -absorbed, narcissistic bore: who you are, what have you done and can you do it for whoever you’re talking to and why should they give you their time  

What is the aim?
The aim of  any “elevator speech” is to get the person to engage with you. So think  long term. At some point you have to establish what your primary objective is from the conversation, but also to have in mind a secondary goal, (fallback position) if the first option doesn’t work out.   Sometimes you might only have a few seconds to figure that out at a chance encounter. What do you do when the person  you really want to connect with professionally,  is having her highlights done in the next hairdresser’s chair. True story!  As her head is pasted with chemicals does she care that I’m an international executive search specialist with 20 years experience –  well frankly no, she doesn’t.  Is she totally interested in my thoughts on soft beige or dark blonde and Kim Clijsters winning the US Open. Absolutely.

So the key ingredients are empathy and flexibility.

So you  clearly will not say the same things to the CEO of a company standing next to you at your daughter’s soccer game as you would if he was at a networking event. Your USPs and CARS therefore need to be organic and in your DNA and to come out in different formats. I think they are actually best in dialogue form – and can be initiated by you asking questions – not delivering a pitch. It is always good to find out about the person you’re talking to by asking questions. People generally like to be asked about themselves and they like you more for being the one to ask .

Be strategic
You have to accept the fact that  rarely is anyone offered  a job or opportunity on the spot, so make your  primary goal, realistic and achievable. It might be to arrange a meeting, an interview,  another opportunity to develop some points or simply a networking contact. Sometimes you have to be strategic.

Set in place your  mental secondary goal, a  contingency plan if your primary goal is not successful. It might be to exchange business cards  with a suggestion for contact at some future date ( the hairdresser situation)  or to ask for a referral. It’s always good to come away with something from a networking situation – however small. Most importantly it should sound effortless, conversational and natural.

Be flexible
There are also times when it is important not to make your pitch – that sounds like pretty poor coaching but you have to weigh up  if making a pitch at the wrong time will have greater collateral damage than not making it all.  This is not to be confused with chickening out through nerves!   Recently I  ran into my local deli  on the way back from  a gym session. No details required. You can imagine  how I looked.    Covert ops like this   are always a high risk activity, but a vital ingredient was needed for dinner. Who did I see perusing the gourmet gateaux , but someone I had wanted to set up a meeting with for a long time visiting his sister, my neighbour.  I promptly ducked behind the asparagus tips and fresh red berries. That was  strictly strategic, not chicken. I did refer to it in a later email and got my meeting.

So how  do you know what to do?

  •  Understand well your own success stories and  learn how to articulate them succinctly.
  • Choose your vocabulary wisely, using every day language. Saying you are a ” seasoned executive” is fine on a CV, in person people will think BBQ not Boardroom
  • Break it down into short stand alone concepts that can be introduced freely and casually
  • Make your pitch memorable  positive and sincere. It should reflect you.
  • Practise  – mirror, pets, partners, kids – doesn’t matter. Anything that won’t  laugh.
  • Think of it as part of a dialogue, so create a list of  Socratic questions that will  prompt your listener to ask you questions in return to keep the conversation going. This is not just about you!
  • Listen attentively ( para-phrasing) . You can drip feed your USPs drop by drop!
  • Elevator speeches must be flexible.  Don’t get into auto-pilot mode regardless of the circumstances.
  • Don’t let your speech sound robotically rehearsed.
  • Maintain eye contact with your listener. If their eyes glaze over you’re doing a bad job.
  • Smile.  Try to be warm, friendly, confident, and enthusiastic.Take it slowly.
  • Don’t ramble. Rambling is boring!
  • Avoid industry jargon, or acronyms that your listener may not understand unless you are in a professional setting.
  • End with an action request, such as asking for a business card,  interview appointment or possibility to call.
  • Update your speech ideas as your situation changes.
  • Practise your telephone technique by leaving a message on your own answer machine. How do you sound?  Awful?  Then you probably  are!  Try again!

I am not saying bin your power elevator speech all together, what I am suggesting is break it down into component parts that can be interchangeable  and learn to use each of them flexibly,  with discretion.

Sometimes  six, ten second comments will get it done too. Short can definitely be sweet!

Choose your words wisely!

Inspired by Wally Bock

Divided by a common language  

Chatting on Twitter the other night, Wally mentioned in passing that he was a vet. Wow I thought. He’s an international leadership guru , writer, poet AND a vet. That’s pretty amazing. I went into recruiter mode. Thoughts about wide ranging skill sets , the long years he must have spent in college and training, plus potential career paths all raced through my mind. Then I realised (just as quickly) that we were probably having a cultural mis-communication moment. In UK English “vet” is a commonly used abbreviation for veterinary surgeon, but in the US it tends to replace the phrase “war veteran”.

Word choice

It then occurred to me if two Anglophones can mis-communicate so successfully and we use vocabulary and word choice as a professional tool all the time, what are the implications for those that don’t? I’m not talking about advertising spin either, but just presenting our message in a succinct and positive fashion, that everyone can understand and easily digest.

The importance of word choice in communicating a message in job search strategies is a vital part of my coaching programme. It’s key in CV writing and drafting internet profiles not only to be identified by Applicant Tracking Systems, but to identify your personal brand, which is the essence of your message. Strong language is absolutely essential in developing a correctly pitched elevator speech used in direct networking and interviews. They all require precise vocabulary, but presented in different styles and formats. Living in an international environment where English is the global business lingua franca, I also see people both communicating and confusing in their second, third or even fourth languages every day.


I coached someone recently who used this phrase “Used to work in a multicultural environment : continuous contacts internally with US and European colleagues. Daily contacts with customers in Europe, Middle East and Africa mainly”

What he had actually done was this: successfully identified market development opportunities in key emerging markets,( some very challenging countries which I can’t specify for confidentiality reasons) created multi- cultural and cross discipline teams (requiring the management of significant cultural differences and business practises) to spearhead the launch of the product portfolio. The result was x increase( large number) to his company’s bottom line. Was that obvious? Not at all. Same role, but which one is going to attract attention?
I have observed over time that there are generally two parts to this communication process: communication with yourself (internal message) and then communication with others (external message). Sometimes it is only about the use of effective “brand” language ( vocabulary), but quite often it’s more than that.
So what needs to be done?
 Internal communication: this is about self awareness and self insight. You need to identify and understand your own challenges and achievements – I know I keep bashing on about this – but it is key. If you don’t know what you’re good at – how can you expect anyone else to know? You are your own best asset. Recruiters don’t have time to look for sub – text and to analyse the possible implications of what you’ve been doing in your career. We need to be told in very precise terms. Self insight also facilitates the interview process so you present yourself strongly verbally as well – this is your own brand development . It avoids the awkward pauses, repetition and embarrassing moments in interviews. But it is equally vital that you own your personal message. How do you define yourself? As the person in “daily contact” or the person who ” spearheads”?
External communication: Choosing powerful vocabulary and phrases to get your message across in the best possible way in all media is really important. This is not boasting (that’s about personality and delivery) or falsifying( that’s about lying). It’s your brand marketing. Would we buy Coke if it was advertised as a “brown fizzy drink” Probably not. Suggesting “refreshing” and “thirst quenching” or whatever else they say, produces a different and successful picture. Same about you! Use words such as: identifed, created, instigated, enhanced, extended, exceeded, generated, conceived, won, strengthened, secured, restructured, transformed to list just a few. Lose weaker words such as: facilitates, co-ordinated, set up, played a key role, contact etc. Let the facts speak for themselves and back up your achievements with incontestable examples or numbers.
If you are not a wordsmith, or English isn’t your first language, enlist support to help craft the most convincing CV possible to send a message you believe in. Why run the risk of being rejected because of some weak words?
You don’t want to be a “brown fizzy drink”!


Interviews and Non – Verbal Communication

Body language

Body language

Your lips may not be moving and you haven’t said a word, but you’re actually sending a message in all sorts of other ways without even realising it. You just have to make sure it’s the right one.

So you‘ve been called for an interview for a great job. Your amazing CV has missed the reject pile, you’ve survived a telephone screening and now you think all you have to do is knock ‘em dead with your perfectly honed interview pitch. Right? No…. sorry… wrong.

Remember that first impressions are created within the first 10 seconds to give a lasting impression. 55% of a person’s perception of you is based on the way you look, the rest is split between how you say what you‘re saying, and finally, after all that, what you actually say. I know.. tough! So even assuming you’re suited and booted in absolutely the right way, you’re completely prepared but will that be enough? No – afraid not. Non verbal communication is paramount. The way you look is significant , which incorporates, not just what you wear, but your posture, body language and general demeanour. These reveal more about you to the interviewer, than you will ever know. You want to show that you are calm, confident and professional, without being arrogant. Then you tell them how good you are.

So what to think of ?

  •  Smile – Remember we all smile in the same language. It’s the classic ice breaker.
  •  Handshake – should be firm – but not bone breaking. Ladies, this is really important. No limp finger tip tickling.
  •  Eye contact – is paramount -without looking crazed. It shows people you are engaged and interested. Erratic eye contact is associated with shiftiness and glazed eyes indicates lack of interest.
  •  Introduce yourself – OK, I know this is verbal, but it is too closely related to first impressions to be excluded. This is particularly important if your name has a difficult pronunciation, or the interviewer has a different first language to your own. I thought I had a sure fire way around any misunderstanding by saying ” I’m sorry – how do you pronounce your name?” The guy didn’t miss a beat and replied “Mike “. Didn’t do that again. If you’ve misheard – just apologise and ask them to say their name again.
  •  Repeat – the interviewers names a few times in the early part of your conversation ( without sounding robotic) more verbal communication – but for the same reason. This is a trick our US friends employ perfectly and one we Europeans could well emulate.
  •  Posture – Sit or stand straight if you want to be seen as alert and enthusiastic. When you slump in your chair, perch on a desk or lean against a wall, you look tired and bored. No one wants to recruit someone who looks lethargic and lacking in energy
  • Body – The angle of your body gives an indication to others about what’s going through your mind. Leaning in shows interest, leaning or turning away the complete opposite. That says “I’ve had enough” Adding a nod of your head is another way to affirm that you are listening
  •  Head – Keeping your head straight, will make you appear self-assured and authoritative. People will take you seriously. Tilt your head to one side if you want to come across as friendly and open.
  •  Arms – crossed or folded over your chest suggests a lack of openness and can imply that you have no interest in the speaker or what they are saying. This position can also say, “I don’t agree with you”. You don’t want to appear cold – I don’t mean temperature here. Too much movement might be seen as erratic or immature. The best place for your arms is by your side. You will look confident and relaxed. If this is hard for you, do what you always do when you want to get better at something – practice. After a while, it will feel natural.
  •  Hands – In the business world, particularly when you deal with people from other cultures, your hands need to be seen. Make sure your fists aren’t closed – it suggests aggression. When you speak –don’t point your index finger at anyone. That is also an aggressive move. Having your hands anywhere above the neck, playing with your hair or rubbing your face, can be perceived as unprofessional.
  •  Legs – A lot of movement can indicate nervousness.The preferred positions for the polished professional are feet flat on the floor or legs crossed at the ankles. The least professional and most offensive position is resting one leg or ankle on top of your other knee. It looks arrogant. That’s a guy thing (normally).
  •  Personal Space -there are lots of cultural differences regarding personal space. Standing too close or “in someone’s face” will mark you as pushy or even aggressive. Positioning yourself too far away will make you seem remote. Neither is what you want, so find the happy medium. Most importantly, do what makes the other person feel comfortable. That shows empathy.
  •  Listen well -Active listening is a form of non verbal communication.It is a real skill and demonstrates engagement and empathy. Paraphrase and ask for clarification of any points, to make sure you have fully understood. Modify your body language to indicate you are fully engaged – leaning in slightly, making eye contact and nodding affirmation.
  • Smell – if you’re a smoker do try not to smoke any time before your interview. The smell lingers and some people, especially today, find it offensive. I’m personally relaxed about perfume/aftershave – but others aren’t, so once again err on the side of caution.

Now you can make your elevator speech!