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What is an elevator speech?

Student Career Placement Consultant

Two people exchange information at a coffee shopIf you’re getting ready to start your job search, you may have been told that you need to perfect an elevator speech. However, many of my students have told me that they’re not sure what that means ... so in this post, I’ll try to help you understand the purpose of an elevator speech and provide some simple suggestions so you can prepare one for yourself.

What is it?

The idea behind an elevator speech is that you should be able to provide someone with a clear, coherent description of who you are and what you want to do with your life in the 30 seconds that it would take for a typical elevator ride. It comes from the world of business, where you would want to be prepared in case you found yourself in the elevator with the CEO of the company — or possibly with a potential client. Rather than feeling awkward or fumbling for something to say, you would want to take advantage of the situation by giving your prepared “elevator speech.”

An elevator speech for the job search has at least two possible uses: The most obvious purpose is that you can use it when you’re meeting new people and expanding your network, but a secondary purpose is that you can use it in a job interview. Many interviewers will start an interview by asking you to tell them a bit about yourself, and a 30-second elevator speech can do that perfectly.

How to craft yours

So what should you include in an elevator speech? Here are some things to consider:

  • Focus on the experiences that you have had that are relevant to the type of job that you want to get.

  • Provide concrete examples of those experiences. For example, don’t say “I’m really good with computers.” Instead, say something specific about the types of software you have worked with and the types of products you have produced using that software.

  • Demonstrate an understanding of how your experiences would benefit an employer.

  • Find ways to set yourself apart from other candidates with similar qualifications. You could talk about internships, study abroad, extracurricular activities, certificates you’ve earned, or other noteworthy achievements.

  • If you’re using the speech to network, end with a request — for something such as a business card, an information interview, or an introduction to someone they might know in the industry you’re targeting.

Practice makes perfect

Once you’ve decided on the type of information you want to present, practice, practice, practice! Everyone has their own comfort level with public speaking and their own way of preparing, but no one can do a good job without practicing.

My system (and I’m fairly comfortable with public speaking) is to make a brief outline of what I want to say, and then just start talking — to myself — as if I were in the situation. I often jot notes on my outline and change the content several times before I’m satisfied with what I want to say. Once I’ve found a level of comfort, then I start the serious practice: timing myself and giving the speech in front of a mirror. After gaining confidence, you might want to practice with a few friends or family members whom you trust to give you appropriate feedback.

The important thing to remember with an elevator speech is that you’re the only person who really knows the information you’re presenting — you are the expert on you! You need to be able to give the speech with confidence, but you also don’t really want it to sound like a speech. The only way to achieve that is through practice. If you’re heading home for winter break, now may be the perfect time to practice your elevator speech with supportive friends and family.

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