Thursday, March 18, 2010

What is an Elevator Pitch and Why is it Important?

The Elevator Pitch is a term that is bandied about often. But what is it? Is it actually something you would quickly say to an executive as you were going up in an elevator together? Well, yes and no. Your elevator pitch is your quick personal selling/request statement. It might be used if you were riding in an elevator with Bill Gates; however, there are many more likely uses such as cover letters, email introductions, mentor requests and introductions at career fairs. The elevator pitch is so important because it is the first thing that people ever hear / read about you. Even before your resume gets in their hands, your elevator pitch sets the stage for why they would spend the time to look at your resume, which leads to the interview, which leads to the job offer.

So how do you structure an elevator pitch so that it works so well in all of these different forms? Think of your elevator pitch as a foundation on which all of the communications mentioned above are built. It is similar to the flat slab at the base of all lego building sets. That base is the same whether you are building a house, police station or office building. The key to your elevator pitch is to get the foundation right.

Here is how:

The pitch should be short.
The base of your pitch should take no more than one (1) minute to recite or 200 words to write

The pitch should include the following:

1) Who you are plus a credential
You should think of your credential as either something that differentiates you from you peers (e.g. varsity basketball player, army lieutenant, Rhodes Scholar) or something that establishes a relationship between you and your audience (e.g. graduate of same college, member of same sorority, from the same home town).

2) A specific objective
Get to the point quickly about what you are looking for or how that person can help. There is no need to soft shoe around your objective; however, your objective should be something that the person can directly facilitate either by making the decision him or herself or connecting you to someone that can get you closer to that objective.

3) How you have demonstrated your interest
There is a difference between "communicating" your interest and "demonstrating" your interest. When you demonstrate your interest, you give examples of things that you have ALREADY completed or committed to that illustrate this interest. Don`t just say that "I have always want to be an doctor". You should be able to say, "I have taken pre-med courses". If you haven`t done anything to demonstrate your interest, which might be as simple as talking to people with an expertise, then start doing something!

4) Why you are qualified
This is your chance to communicate what makes you someone that your audience should consider helping. People typically like to help those that they feel will be successful in the process. There are a couple of things you should think about when highlighting your qualifications:
- industry relevance
- leadership
- expertise
- pedigree
- impact

5) Give the person two options on how they can assist
This is an old sales trick. Always give two options. A person will often flatly turn you down if you give them one option, but if you give them two options, then they often commit to one of them. This is different than communicating your objective. As I mentioned above, the objective is the end goal; here you want to communicate how the person can help you in the process that leads to that end goal.

Let`s take an example:

Dear Mr. Miller,
My name is Josh Paul. I am a graduating senior from Davidson College. I am looking for an internship in a law firm this summer. I have had a strong interest in the law since I first enrolled in college and have participated in several seminars of constitutional and corporate law. Although those seminars were ungraded, I have maintained a 3.4 GPA while also participating in several extra curricular activities including the Pre-law society. If your firm offers internships, I would appreciate an introduction to the people in charge of that program. Alternatively, I would appreciate the opportunity to give you a call and/or meet with you in person to discuss your career path and how I might find opportunities within the legal profession.

This example could be used as in email introduction, cover letter, conversation or even in an elevator. Notice that all five elements outlined above are included; and, the entire pitch is under 150 words. This does not mean that your conversation, email, or cover letter would only include this text. You might also include how you were connected to this person or why you are interested in his particular company, but this is the perfect foundation from which to build.


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