November 26, 2012

Dissecting the elevator pitch

Filed under: Getting in the door, Job Search, Q&A, Readers' Forum

In the November 27, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a writer asks for a job at Ask The Headhunter:

Hi Nick,

[1] I’m going to cut to the chase: I want to write for “Ask The Headhunter”! [2] My name is Melanie and I’m a former educator turned researcher/blogger. [3] I stumbled upon your blog researching for another article weeks ago. [4] My expertise/niche is education so most of my articles deal with learning — whether they’re directed at instructors, students, parents, or business leaders. [5] But of course my edu-centric pieces are always tailored to each blog’s audience. Check out some of my clips to see more of what I mean:

[6] [six URLs to her articles]

[7] Hope to discuss ideas soon,

Melanie

My Rant

Resumes make me cringe. Elevator pitches make me cringe more. Elevator pitches delivered in e-mail make me wanna barf. Nothing is more banal, misdirected, or useless to someone that doesn’t know you.

Consider how often an elevator pitch, or a cover letter, or a job inquiry reads like the note above. Maybe you’ve written one yourself.

I want to tell you what’s wrong with these pitches. Then I want to know what you think — because most people seem to believe they must “craft” a chunk of b.s. like this to get an employer’s attention.

I’ve tagged each part of the pitch I received with a number. This is gonna get ugly, but let’s tear it apart. (I offer no apologies to Melanie. She offered none to me. But I thank her for helping me write this edition of the newsletter.)

[1] Melanie isn’t cutting to the chase.

The chase is my need to produce profit for my business. What Melanie wants to do (“to write for Ask The Headhunter”) is relevant only if it fits in with my business objectives. What does she know about them?

Oops. If Melanie had spent five minutes on the ATH website, she’d know that — except for one small section, which she never mentions — all the articles are written by me.

And that’s the first problem with elevator pitches: They are by design generic and thus presumptuous. You can’t create an elevator pitch for someone you don’t know and haven’t met yet. If you think I’m full of baloney, try this elevator pitch on the next person you meet that you’re attracted to:

“My ability to make [men, women] happy by exciting them results in fun relationships and could lead to marriage.”

Trust me. When you’re on the receiving end, that’s what an elevator pitch — about anything — sounds like.

[2] I don’t care what Melanie’s former career was.

When you have just a moment or two to engage someone in a business discussion, why would your speech be “crafted” about yourself? The answer is easy: You don’t know anything about the business of the person you’re talking to — the pitch is designed to be memorized and regurgitated in elevators to any captive.

Want my attention? Tell me you know what my business is about and how you can make it better. Tell me about yourself later, after I behave as if I want to know.

[3] Melanie “stumbled” upon my blog.

The analog in our social lives is this phone call:

“Hi. I had nothing to do tonight so I thought I’d call you.”

Gimme a break.

[4] Four sentences into it, Melanie is still talking about herself.

It’s pretty clear she has no idea what Ask The Headhunter is about. She worked in education, so she will write educational articles. About whatever.

Elevator pitches are painful to create because they must account for the orator’s ignorance yet pretend to be insightful. Save yourself the trouble. If you need to break the ice with someone you don’t know, don’t talk about yourself or express what you think. Instead, ask them a question. People love it when we express interest in them. They are turned off when we recite stuff about ourselves.

[5] Melanie suggests she’s qualified.

What is Melanie qualified to do  for me? She hasn’t indicated she has any idea what I need. She’ll write anything for any audience, never mind who the audience is. And that’s the fatal flaw with any elevator pitch. By design it demonstrates one thing above all else: The speaker knows so little about the listener that she promises anything and everything.

Here’s the insult: After the recitation, an elevator pitcher wants me to go figure out what to do with her and her ideas. No thanks. I’d rather she do that work.

[6 & 7] This part of the pitch is the punch line.

Usually, an elevator pitch ends with the orator handing over a resume or suggesting the listener invest a couple of hours in breakfast or lunch to listen to more. After delivering this elevator pitch about herself, Melanie wants me to spend the next hour reading six of her articles.

She’s showing me examples of her work — and she’s telling me to go figure out whether her work is relevant to my business. I didn’t approach her — she approached me. So the burden is on the elevator pitcher to make her case. Suggesting I go figure it out is not making a case.

Consider what an elevator pitch is really about: You and your assumptions.

If you want to do business with someone, why would you open the conversation by talking about yourself and about what’s important to you? If you want to do business with me, spend the precious minute you have with me proving you know about my business and what I need. Prove you thought enough about my business in advance to offer something useful to me.

Ouch — you’d have to invest an awful lot of time and effort in me first, eh? Why would you? Why, indeed? And why should I devote two seconds to listening to you recite?

Do you have an elevator pitch? What is it? What reactions do you get when you recite it? What’s your reaction to elevator pitches? Am I just a rude S.O.B. who needs to be more tolerant and pretend to listen to anyone who wants my time? I want to know what you think.

: :

74 Comments on “Dissecting the elevator pitch”
By Ed Parsons
November 27, 2012 at 3:10 am

Hi Nick,

This is a good reminder. Although I have never specifically measured how much of my “elevator pitch” is “about me” verses focused on solving a problem, I will certainly think about it going forward.
Your ideas stick with me from time to time and this is a good one… Thanks for sharing…

By Thomas Lafferty
November 27, 2012 at 3:17 am

Yikes! Elevator pitches like this belong in the same category as most networking advice: please file me under treacle and drek…

If I ever were to suggest writing for you I would at least couch it in terms of freeing you up to spend more time developing your candidate base and would try to show a connection between the amount of money that you would be able to make if you had more time to spend headhunting and the wage I’d ask for.

How in the world I could ever be able to convince you that you could be compensated for the loss of street cred that would happen if you hired a ghostwriter is beyond me.

Thanks for keeping it real and for weighing in on a time worn topic with badly needed truth…

By Rich Harrison
November 27, 2012 at 7:22 am

I think the only thing more painful than being on the receiving end of an elevator pitch is watching someone actually receiving an elevator pitch in an elevator. It was obvious that the pitcher had “stalked” the pitchee and now was his big chance. I was surprised when the pitchee asked the pitcher to wait in the lobby while he “arranged a meeting”… with building security!

By Rebecca
November 27, 2012 at 8:22 am

As painful as that may have been for Melanie, I think it was excellent advice for everyone. No, I don’t think you are a “rude S.O.B.”. Unfortunately, direct feedback can sometimes be misconstrued as intolerance, depending on the manner in which the listener/reader wishes to perceive it. Your dissection was insightful and helpful to me. Thank you.

By Dan Ehrlich
November 27, 2012 at 8:36 am

Nick,

Good article. Certainly shows how lazy networkers have misused the elevator pitch and given it a bad name. The key offense here is the failure to cut to the chase, which is caused by lack of customer intimacy.

I think an interesting challenge here would be to take this scenario and see how it could have gone right. If Melanie had done any research at all, as you noted she would have seen that you write most of your own material. Then she could have constructed a query as to your personal time constraints and given the framework for a business case to provide material for your website.

Having just counseled my wife through a job search after her layoff from a job of 17 years, the greatest challenge I faced was getting her to face her fear of reaching out to her network. I believe a well constructed and customer focused elevator pitch demonstrating value to a potential employer is powerful. How about a column on how to constructively “break the ice?”

By james day
November 27, 2012 at 8:45 am

Like my 9YO girls say: “AWWWWWWWKWARD!”
Last night I was at an art show that a certain power person attended at institution. I had prepared a jumper with my letter and 2 Powerpoints knowing that I would see him and hand it to him. Sort of like a spy-Christmas present. Thankfully,
I decided against it as it appeared to contrived, and stalkerish. All night I kept fingering it in my pocket and watching his every move…it was stalking. I finally just bagged it. A direct email with attachments seemed better, although that is rather passive… maybe a carrier pigeon?

By Mike Weinstein
November 27, 2012 at 8:47 am

Hey Nick,

Fantastic analysis….and god bless you for it the last thing we need is more tolerance! Just some old fashion straight talk is insightful and in short order these days! You are a breath of fresh air…this is really sales 101 applied to job hunting….no one cares about your firm or your products until after you have identified a serious problem and demonstrated how one of your products can provide a solution….same thing here the solution is your skill set but first you have to find a problem your skills can solve at the firm your interested in working for.

By Greg
November 27, 2012 at 8:47 am

The proper use of the “elevator speech” is to not be caught flat-footed if someone asks “What do people pay you to do?” or “Tell me about yourself.” It is for beginning a dialog.

There is an old adage that a good conversationalist leaves you feeling like they are the smartest person in the room. A great conversationalist leaves you feeling like you are the smartest person in the room.

I recommend the book “Power Questions” (Sobel & Panas). It is a great resource for learning how to bring the right questions into a conversation (and the questions NOT to bring into the conversation) to further the dialog.

By Andy O'Hearn
November 27, 2012 at 9:09 am

Thank you, Nick, for helping to debunk the myth of elevator-speech effectiveness. I agree with reader Greg, above, that listening first, then asking the right questions, is the way to go. These flatulent pitches are part of the reason why networking events end up leaving attendees feeling empty rather than excited. I appreciate the candor that cuts through clutter — the inoculation is far less painful than the disease.

By Chris
November 27, 2012 at 9:33 am

“But of course my edu-centric pieces are always tailored to each blog’s audience.”

They’re probably as “tailored” as the email she sent you: the email recipient and company name were the only things changed.

By Wayne
November 27, 2012 at 10:01 am

Good Tuesday morning Nick,

Your comment “If you need to break the ice with someone you don’t know, don’t talk about yourself or express what you think. Instead, ask them a question.” That is some of the best advice I’ve read and it applies to almost every business situation. Good article sir!

By Jason Alba
November 27, 2012 at 10:15 am

Nick, this is one of my hot buttons.

When I do my presentations I show a slide that says that 99.99% of all elevator pitches suck.

I like your analysis… and contend that just about every single “elevator pitch” I’ve heard has many of those problems.

On another note, I bet you this Melanie person is an SEO intern or entry level person who sent dozens or hundreds of those emails the same night. I get something like that almost every single day… I don’t even respond, since I don’t think the person on the other end is human, or cares about a response. They are playing a numbers game, waiting for a sucker.

I wonder how many people who hear job seeker elevator pitches feel the same way. I know I personally tend to tune out within 5 seconds of the pitch :)

By Tom
November 27, 2012 at 10:27 am

Nick,

Great article as always. Hopefully Melanie takes your advice to heart and changes her approach next time.

An elevator pitch is so 1950’s. Nobody gives you more than 15 seconds these days if that.

As you and others have mentioned, a good introductory speech starts with a question about the listener. Once you get the “What do you do?” question back, a great response is tailored to the information you just received and should be short and invite more follow-up questions.

By Scott Williams
November 27, 2012 at 10:34 am

Great post Nick, thank you.

This analysis underpins the whole premise of Resume Blasphemy (search “nick resume blasphemy” for those not familiar with it).

The problem is getting around the gatekeepers, and in some cases, even educating the hiring manager to discern the difference between someone presenting a plan for moving an organization forward, versus a history of what someone has done on a resume. This is terribly frustrating for someone who is repeatedly ignored after going through the trouble of demonstrating just what you would do for an organization.

By Lucille
November 27, 2012 at 10:37 am

I agree that you need to have an elevator pitch polished and ready. The time to use it is when you’ve established a conversation with someone already and they ask you about yourself. It must be very short.

The elevator pitch I have is 1 sentence long.

It is not to be used to open up a conversation.

By Kent V
November 27, 2012 at 10:47 am

Since Melanie alludes to “cutting to the chase” (albeit maladroitly), let’s do it ourselves: What spawns the misguided attempt to craft elevator speeches and generic letters/emails in the first place? They’re delivered often, I’m betting, against the better judgement of the sender himself/herself.

It is an attempt to reconcile the conflicting realities of the need to customize a proactive communication directed to the specific needs of a target weighed against the knowledge that there will only be an infinitesimal chance that any particilar target will have a need, interest, inclination, budget or flexibility to even consider what’s offered. Those infinitesimal chances keep shrinking year by year in the new world order.

I would just say let’s hold a bit of our fire on the Melanies of the new economy until we can answer the question what do we do once we’ve fully researched, matched, professionally approached, and come up empty handed with the 5, 10, or 20 best fits for our offerings. Those were your best shots, now what? There are a jillion “now what’s” in the naked city out there. We’ve just seen one.

By Bry
November 27, 2012 at 11:13 am

As misguided of an approach as Melanie may be using, at least she is trying something rather than nothing. Hopefully she will stumble back on to the site, look at the comments and adjust her method to fit her style. For all we know, Melanie may have found more work than she can handle. I wish her the best.

By Robert Beaudry
November 27, 2012 at 11:23 am

Nick:

Effective Job Search consists of:

1. Prepare your tools (including oral communications).

2. Find Opportunity (particularly Hidden Jobs).

3. Execute – Deliver your communications effectively.

But, of course, you already know and teach us this.

One tool sometimes overlooked includes Great Questions.

Your analysis proves the value of great questions because using questions first facilitates research finding how I can serve you creating the opportunity to match my passions and skills with your needs so that you profit (and I get the job).

It’s all about you.

So, your review of Melanie’s pitch is completely accurate.

The Personal Introduction (i.e. elevator pitch) necessarily must start with the listener. The speaker can: Get Attention, Keep Attention and Earn more time ONLY by engaging the Listener. That’s more likely when the communication is about the Listener or something the Listener cares to hear.

This comment is speaking to the Choir.

Keep up your great work and advice.

By Mike Bittle
November 27, 2012 at 11:35 am

I agree with Lucille, the elevator pitch has been hijacked. The reason for the pitch was to answer the question “So, what do you do?” **when asked!!**. It’s fine to flesh out 6 layers or “more about me” to have in your back pocket, but you roll them out one at a time, as part of a conversation **in response to a question or specific point**.

Mine is a one liner as well:

“So, what do you do?”

“When business owners need someone to talk to, I’m the guy they talk to.” Period. Now I shut up.

If the other person is not a business owner, they don’t care. We can go on talking about politics, religion, iPhone vs. Android. If they know a business owner who might be going through a rough patch, they might remember me from some piece of our conversation that resonated. I may not know that until the phone rings someday. Or they might even ask some questions right there. So I can follow with line 2 and “have them call me, here’s my card”, back to the regular discussion – already in progress.

If the other person is a business owner, and thinks everything’s fine, time for me to ask/listen. “Tell me about your business”… and swap some war stories. This, hopefully, starts a long slow process of building a relationship, maintaing casual contact, checking in. Someday, they may have a question I can help with.

If the other person is a business owner going through a rough patch, they may ask more about what I do. Again, sentence 2 followed by “what are the tough nuts your trying to crack right now?”

But that last one almost never happens. Everyone builds their pitch for that last case, which is a true blue bird. The expanded elevator pitch is like a nuclear weapon. Nice to have, makes you feel safe and secure. But whatever you do, don’t use it!

My advice:
1. Say what you do, in *a* sentence, when asked.
2. Be a nice person to be with.
3. Show that you can and will provide help (in general, not your product or service).
4. To borrow from William Least-Heat Moon: “Pass as the way opens”.

By Scott
November 27, 2012 at 11:42 am

Anyone else notice that Melanie’s strategy is exactly the same as spamming your resume to anyone with an inbox? And works just about as well. The submission guidelines for any magazine I’ve seen includes the advice to read the damn magazine first to see if your piece fits. She obviously didn’t. I don’t consider her mail an elevator pitch, but more of a really bad query letter.
However I’m not that anti-elevator pitch, because preparing one forces you to concentrate on what is most important. A business prof once asked me to say what my center did in one sentence – to my surprise I was able to. In fact, it might be helpful to ask someone who is interviewing you for an elevator pitch length description of the department. You should be able to direct your responses to what matters for them much better then.
In any case, I think it would make sense to design an elevator pitch around your value to the company. Otherwise you might sound like a political candidate avoiding a straight answer in a debate.

By Tam
November 27, 2012 at 11:51 am

Bless you for this post! I HATE the whole elevator nonsense b/c it is artificial and uncomfortable at best, stalking and downright frightening at worst. Maybe that’s why I take the stairs as often as possible.

By Robert Beaudry
November 27, 2012 at 11:56 am

This comment is in response to Mike Bittle.

I like the direction but am not clear about what he does.

My suggestion is to polish the introduction by adding more increasing the intrigue.

By Jason Alba
November 27, 2012 at 12:01 pm

I’ll add one more “rule” to Mike Bittle’s:

Remove any jargon or cliche.

I had a hard time describing my business for a couple of years because I wanted to be clever and cool… which naturally led to jargon or cliche.

I finally whittled it down to four words (to describe JibberJobber): it is a tool that helps you “organize your job search.”

I also say things like “it replaces the job search spreadsheet”…

Notice, not jargon, no cliche.

Job seekers who have prepared 30 second pitches normally have too much jargon or cliche… :/

By Bob
November 27, 2012 at 12:06 pm

Ummm…so does that mean you don’t want help with your writing. Those are the services that she provides. If you don’t see a benefit in having someone write for you which may allow you to focus on other business aspects such as marketing then don’t pursue her services. I don’t see what the big deal is. She offered services and you don’t want them. Pretty simple. Someone else receiving the pitch may desperately need her services and would have been so grateful to have read her pitch. I agree that she could have focused a little more on how her writing services could benefit you (or any other prospect) though.

By Steve Amoia
November 27, 2012 at 12:16 pm

This situation reminds me of what an old friend of mine heard over 20 years ago on a ski lift in Colorado. He had left corporate America to pursue a different type of life in the wilderness. To wit, he didn’t own a television or follow much mainstream news.

He got on the lift with a guy and rode up the mountain with him. The other man wouldn’t stop talking about all of the things he owned, all of the deals he made, and how much money he had.

My friend just sat there silently in amusement taking it all in. When they arrived at the top, the other guy said, “You don’t know who in the hell I am, do you?” ‘No, and I don’t care.’

It was Donald Trump himself. :-)

I prefer to take the stairs and walk up mountains. Great post, Nick. :)

By L.T
November 27, 2012 at 1:15 pm

The elevator speech only works if (a) you know the person already and (b) they initiate it. For instance:

Mgr: “Why didn’t I see you name on the list for the Water Purification Manager position?”

Me: “I don’t know. Joe Supervision sent my internal application down with a cover letter that sounded like a walked on water.”

Mgr: “Hmmm. All HR sent up was external candidates who thought we still owned gas stations. I’ll have to see Sally HR Goddess and tell her I’m going to interview you. Is tomorrow at 8:00 AM OK?”

… and so forth.

Some reasons that many of us still craft a resume is to (a) have a base to work from and (b) if we go to the next Veteran’s Job Fair (aka: Waste of Time) you need to have one as a ticket to get in, one to avoid the “Let’s Write A Resume!!!” seminar and one just in case one of the smiley HR temps at the booth actually will take it instead of referring you to the taleo interface on their website.

By Nick Corcodilos
November 27, 2012 at 1:18 pm

@Greg: My favorite book about talking to people is Milo Frank’s “How to Get Your Point Across in 30 Seconds or Less.” It’s a VERY short book :-)

http://www.asktheheadhunter.com/booksmaintitles.htm

Talking is very different from pitching, and pitching to someone who doesn’t know you is a bold intrusion on a stranger. The art of conversation is an important skill.

By Nick Corcodilos
November 27, 2012 at 1:28 pm

@Jason Alba: I suspect the same — that this was a robo-e-mail, but if it is, it’s one of the more disarming ones. There’s no reason to disclose Melanie’s full name or identity details — she’s just one example of the “pitch” problem. I hate to be cynical about this, but the articles she referred me to suggest this is a nom de plume and that multiple writers might be involved — but I could be wrong. The only issue that concerns me is the pitch. Kinda reminds me of something I’m sure you — as author of some great books and DVDs about how to use LinkedIn — have strong opinions about: Those boilerplate invitations to link up with people the recipient doesn’t know.

By Nick Corcodilos
November 27, 2012 at 1:30 pm

@Tom: I think a good pitch starts with in-depth research on the listener, and with a careful decision that this is someone you want to do business with — because you can demonstrate, hands down, how you can benefit their business. Meeting people in elevators is fine. Following up is fine. But pitching to a stranger? Starting with a friendly converation without any pitch at all is more the way to go.

By Nick Corcodilos
November 27, 2012 at 1:37 pm

@Lucille: I’m not picking on you, honest. :-) But here’s my concern: If you have a prepared pitch, how is it uniquely relevant to the listener? How can it be, if it’s rehearsed? Isn’t a good pitch focused closely on the specific needs of that individual?

When I talk about elevator pitches, I’m referring to a packaged statement that’s used on anyone. That’s my beef: If it’s not tailored to the listener, then almost by definition it’s about you — not them.

If you’re willing to share it, I welcome you to post your pitch here. Of course, you must be ready for anything… and I’m sure you consider it proprietary. In fact, I’d welcome anyone to post their pitch. After all, when someone delivers their pitch, they’re expecting a reaction. Why not get it here, before using it on someone that matters to you?

All: Is this an idea for a separate column? Let me know and I’ll set it up. Of course, there’s no need to identify yourself if you post your pitch. Use a screen name.

Mo’ betta than that (as a buddy of mine likes to say when he gets a great idea): Are folks here interested in posting and discussing pitches they’ve received?

By Nick Corcodilos
November 27, 2012 at 1:43 pm

@Robert Beaudry: I’d add 2.1 to your list. Find out what problems and challenges the recipient of the pitch faces — and be ready to address them. I find the single biggest mistake job hunters make is ignoring who and what this is all about: The employer, or the person you want to do business with.

The pitch, presentation, resume, plan, must be about them. I think preparing this information is so challenging and painful to most people that they quickly rationalize that their presentation should be about themselves. And let the other guy figure out what to do with it… of course, no one needs to hear that.

By Nick Corcodilos
November 27, 2012 at 1:49 pm

@Mike Bittle: Great observations and approach. The only thing I disagree with is your step #1. I think it needs to be an expression of interest in the other person first.

“You’re in the widget business. How’s your industry/company faring in this economy?”

Could be much more focused than that, but it’s my general model.

If your steps work for you, my guess is you’re very good at quickly getting to my question. Or tell me more about the diff between your opening and mine. I just find that people who want to open a business conversation are too preoccupied with “telling the other guy who I am and what I do.” I almost never do that.

There are a lot of great, thoughtful ideas on this thread! Wish I knew in advance which Tuesday mornings I’d find my box overflowing with such great comments!

By Nick Corcodilos
November 27, 2012 at 1:51 pm

@Scott: Thanks for taking the angle you did. What should an interaction between two people look like, when either or both are interested in exploring doing business? The conventional models are pretty poor… You offer some good pointers.

By Nick Corcodilos
November 27, 2012 at 1:55 pm

@Bob: No, what this means is that I wasn’t looking for help, but she decided to offer it (which is fine), but she expects me to do business with her — by making me do the work to figure out whether she and her writing would be good for my business.

You’re suggesting there’s no problem with a vanilla solicitation for business. I don’t agree, but if she can hustle up some business this way, good for her. I wrote this column because her approach is a good example of why “response rates” to such pitches are pitifully low.

By Ray Stoddard
November 27, 2012 at 2:09 pm

I sell for a living.

Elevator pitches have always been considered a “prime sales tool”. Yet, they’re just as inappropriate a sales tool as they are for job-finding. I don’t mean one shouldn’t be able to sum up what one sells quickly. That’s useful. But an elevator pitch is not.

They are, as Nick correctly points out, all about me and my product. What they’re not about is the person with whom I’m talking. That is, they’re NOT about the person who should be the center of my world at that moment, my prospect.

It’s MUCH more useful, even if you only have 1 minute, to ask that person a simple question and listen to his/her response. If s/he finds your question interesting, s/he will take the time to schedule a follow up call or meeting. And asking a question and listening to the response leaves a much better impression – the person is left thinking you’ll listen when they talk. How often are we left thinking that about someone?!

By Claudia R
November 27, 2012 at 2:16 pm

I cringed when I thought of the multiple writing samples (3) I included in a job application. Though a writing sample was required, it was rude of me to include more than one and expect the HR person or hiring manager to slog through those samples. Thanks for the reminder to respect the recipient’s time.

By Mike Bittle
November 27, 2012 at 2:41 pm

@Nick: You overlooked that my step 1 comes only after “So, what do you do?” from someone else.

The thing that I think gets confused is elevator pitch versus, (just plain) pitch.

My view is that the elevator pitch is intended for random situations, where you don’t know anything about the other person and they know nothing about you. If your invited, you proved a very brief synopsis that might start a conversation, or a relationship. I should be integrated into the idle chatter, not subsume it.

That’s different than a sales pitch, where you’re looking to close a deal. You better have your intelligence act together here… done your homework, lead with the questions that you can answer with how you help.

In our rush to results (e.g. I need a job now), we’ve conflated the two with messy results.

Of course the real value in creating any sort of pitch is focussing on the important things you want to say and rehearsing them so they’re second nature – not verbatim parroting,. btw, but second nature as concepts/ideas. Once you’ve gone through the exercise it’s easy to adapt to the conversation at hand and not be preoccupied with “did I cover everything I wanted to”. You can listen and respond without it felling like a pitch. Which is the best pitch of all.

By Lucille
November 27, 2012 at 3:10 pm

@Nick, I don’t think you are picking on me.
@Mike Bittle is enforcing some of my comment. To wit, that the elevator pitch I give is within a conversation, and not at the head of a conversation. And that the natural point where I use my elevator, is at the point where someone is generally interested in what I do or what I can do for them. The start of the conversation had led to this point.

Secondly, Melanie isn’t really writing to you and using her elevator pitch, but really sending you an unsolicited cover letter.

Last weekend, I was conversing with a cousin-in-law, and we didn’t know much about each other. But we were talking about what we did for a living. And he asked me a question (I don’t remember the specific wording), but it was something along the lines of can software be reliable? My response was yes, but his experience was no. So I was telling him how we software engineers make software reliable.
And he challenged me by saying if the methods I was outlining were sucessful? And that lead to my already polished, pre-canned elevator pitch:
“I have written two software systems which had no bugs”. That stopped him for a minute. He had to wrap his head around that and ask some questions about how I did that. When I explained it to him, he understood that I am very interested in building software systems which actually perform the task they are assigned to do, and without error.

I do not give permission for anyone else to use my elevator, but I doubt if anyone did use it, that they could back it up with facts in the way I can.

By Nick Corcodilos
November 27, 2012 at 4:03 pm

@Mike Bittle: “In our rush to results (e.g. I need a job now), we’ve conflated the two with messy results.”

That’s a big point!

@Lucille: And you’ve condensed a very important point that I hope others see:

“the elevator pitch I give is within a conversation, and not at the head of a conversation.”

BTW, Lucille, I love your “line.” (I don’t think it’s an elevator pitch. It’s a bold statement!) Saying something that rocks the listener’s brain and makes them cock their head in wonder is a good way to strike up a conversation!

Hey, folks: Let’s hear some more elevator pitches (or “lines”) that you think are provocative!

By Citizen X
November 27, 2012 at 7:53 pm

One thing that was instrumental in my recovery from clinical depression after losing my job was weekly participation in a work search group.

Every week, we practiced our elevator speech with several different people. Every week for a year (most of us were out of work that long), it was my most dreaded part of the program.

Its value, however, came in the form of that brief moment when one’s confidence (even mine) could shimmer and shine.

Almost three years later, I still do not have an elevator speech, and probably never will, but I can speak confidently about my capabilities to anyone who wants to make the time to listen.

I see no need to condense 40 years of work, and 50 years of paying attention into a 60 second sound byte.

My favorite line of all time comes from Cary Grant in the film People Will Talk. Playing a doctor who eventually was the victim of an inquest, he was asked what he did in a certain small town.

“I made sick people well.”

I’ve been trying for years to adapt that line to my industry, but to no avail.

But I keep trying.

By Mike Bittle
November 27, 2012 at 8:04 pm

Ok, @Nick, you asked:

Here are some of the lines I’ve used (run into the ground) over the years. I’ve even turned them in to blog post topics at thebittlecode.com

Team Building Is Shared Experience Under Pressure
There’s a Human Side of Due Diligence
Judgement, Character, Passion are the key to Staffing a High Performing Team
Consumers Don’t Value Content
Moore’s Law Changes Everything

Something I realized as a performing artist (stealth singer songwriter), each show needs to feel unique to the audience. But, as with comedians, see two consecutive shows you realize it’s well rehearsed down to the “ad libs”.

Which brings us back to rehearsing the elevator pitch (elements) so it’s conversational – almost subconscious.

By Nick Corcodilos
November 27, 2012 at 9:06 pm

@Mike: Now you’re talking. Relating the pitch to your work as an artist. I like the analogy. So I’ll extend it a bit. You’re right — shows that seem unique are in fact almost always totally rehearsed. A musician I like and admire a lot is John Cale. His view on his own songs is that he doesn’t like to perform them the same way twice. He’s constantly rearranging. I haven’t seen him perform many times in 30 years, but quite a few. I don’t recall him doing any song the same way twice. In this case, I don’t think he’s worried about an audience member hearing the same thing twice. I think he just wants to make each performance different, just because he can make it so — so why not do the work to make it happen?

Imagine this exercise. Forget about conjuring a new pitch tailored to the listener. Make the pitch — sorry, your presentation of your value — new and different each time FOR YOUR OWN BENEFIT. To help you make it better, stronger — to develop it rather than display it.

Sorry, I’m rambling. But you’ve set off some neurons. Imagine thinking on your feet and describing what you do in a new way each time you say it. Maybe that’s a way to evolve your thinking faster, and to put pieces together in your own mind to develop new skills.

Better stop here, eh?

By Chris Hogg
November 27, 2012 at 9:17 pm

Nick:

An “elevator pitch” as I learned it was something you say to a person who asks, “So, what do you do?” or words to that effect. While I too was first taught the traditional 30-second pitch (which I think is what most of us object to and cringe at hearing) I shortened it to one sentence, immediately followed by, “And what do you do?” and then followed by two or three more questions.

My elevator pitch is identical to the top of my LinkedIn profile and to the beginning of my resume . . . perhaps in today’s world it is my “branding statement.”

Other Person (OP): So, what do you do?

Me: I Help individuals develop the ability to make informed, self-directed career decisions . . . and to conduct effective employment searches. And what do you do?

OP: I’m a medical data analyst for the state.

Me: Sounds interesting. What exactly does a medical data analyst do?

OP: Right now I’m reviewing Medicare and Medicaid claims, to determine if they are in line with federal regulations.

Me: Sounds complicated.

OP: Yeah, it can be (followed by a more detailed explanation of her work).

At this point OP knows what I do, and has seen that I am interested in her and her work. Because I keep the conversation focused on her, she gets to direct the flow of the conversation. If she happens to be interested in getting career or employment advice, she can start querying me. If not, we will have a nice conversation. If she asks for a business card, I’ll give her one. If not, that’s okay too.

Not every encounter is a business opportunity. Sometimes an elevator ride is just that . . . an elevator ride.

By Greg
November 27, 2012 at 9:23 pm

With live performances in modern music, there were two extremes. Pink Floyd, with carefully scripted shows and the Grateful Dead, where no two shows were ever the same…even if the played the same set list two shows in a row.

Two things these bands had in common: 1) they knew their audience 2) they were the best at their particular type of show.

There is a time and place for the polished and scripted as well as for the improvised. Knowing the audience and the expectation makes all the difference.

By Suzanne C.
November 27, 2012 at 10:34 pm

Awww common Nick, lighten up! there isn’t an honest soul alive who wouldn’t want to work for you! But you have an excellent point, Melanie did not do her homework and it shows. I give her a “C-” for effort, a “B-” for trying and an “A+” for recognizing high quality when she sees it. And, by the way, she did get your attention.

By Suzanne C.
November 27, 2012 at 10:43 pm

Ha! @Greg: I had the priviledge of seeing the Grateful Dead at their absolute best (at least 5 encores and lots of smiles) and again at what had to be their all time worst of the worst (all they did was fight on stage and take turns walking off). Best or worst, I would not trade those moments.

If there is a take-away lesson, it’s that we are all human and we all need each other.

By Nic
November 28, 2012 at 6:47 am

“By Suzanne C.
November 27, 2012 at 10:43 pm

Ha! @Greg: I had the priviledge of seeing the Grateful Dead at their absolute best (at least 5 encores and lots of smiles) and again at what had to be their all time worst of the worst (all they did was fight on stage and take turns walking off). Best or worst, I would not trade those moments.

If there is a take-away lesson, it’s that we are all human and we all need each other.”

What the hell does that have to do with Ask The Headhunter?

By Nic
November 28, 2012 at 6:51 am

This thread Nick is not surprising at all, I have seen these “elevator pitch” solicitations for nearly two years now. They always contain the same canned lines (it’s like the famous fake PR bullshite some HR women use, of “I wanted to reach out to you…”) they always come with the same backgrounds, and also will “tailor” their pieces, which leads me to think there is something bigger going on. It is very simple we always hit delete.

By Steven W. Cornell
November 28, 2012 at 8:03 am

I agree with Nick accept for one situation: When you are at a networking group meeting and asked to introduce yourself. Nobody is trapped in an elevator! And you are not trying to connect to each individual on a personal level. But of course you can’t have a single memorized speech for every networking event. It would depend on the purpose of the event and the type of people present.

By Nick Corcodilos
November 28, 2012 at 9:01 am

@Steven W. Cornell: You’ve brought up another red herring of job hunting. Networking meetings. While there are benefits to attending these, the question still arises. Job hunters get together with other job hunters to find a job. ??? Sure, someone might tip you off to an opportunity they heard about that wasn’t right for them, so they skipped it. But you could get that sort of info in any group meeting. Wouldn’t it be better to go to a meeting where there’s less competition? So now I’ll fire the bullet: What does it mean to recite a carefully crafted elevator speech to a bunch of other job hunters?

By Lucille
November 28, 2012 at 9:15 am

@Nick, I’m not picking on you, honest :-).
And I appreciate your compliment. I even showed it to my husband.

There are 2 problems I see with having an improvisational elevator pitch.

The first is that a prepared elevator pitch is part of your deep preparation of yourself in before meeting other people. It is a small item you say about yourself that will be crafted and honed and practiced. It is the essence of what uniqueness you bring to your career. You may of course, prepare more than one elevator. But I claim you must prepare these elevators and memorize them.

The second point is that some people get stressed about meeting new people, and having a prepared, memorized small speech about what it is you do, raises confidence. For example, when I audition for a choir, I prepare a piece specific to the requirements of the audition. But I’ve memorized two pieces I can sing acappella anytime, which will meet the requirements of most choirs. If I’m nervous, I can just sing one of the 2 prepared peices.

By Sandra
November 28, 2012 at 1:22 pm

Poor Melanie. I found her pitch painful to read, because it lacked the one thing that would have made it more compelling: a real story pitch. Freelance writers who want to write for a publication are expected to pitch story ideas. It’s one way of showing whether they have an ear for what’s newsworthy. Of course, how they express themselves is a key part of selling the idea.

re: elevator pitches that answer the question, “What do you do?”

Don’t forget to convey how your work benefits clients. I bet Lucille’s bug-free software saved clients time and money through more efficient operations. That’s big.

By Mike Bittle
November 28, 2012 at 1:58 pm

Continuing on the improvisation theme, and tying the music angle back to the pitch:

I remember hearing an interview with a Jazz Great (I’m thinking Mingus, but can’t say for sure) on late night radio, where he was asked about improvisation versus formal technique. I’m greatly paraphrasing, but gist was ” you need to have really strong fundamentals in order to improvise, and you need to have improvisation chops to play the standard with true feeling”. You can bet the Dead had superb musicianship (and awesome, leading edge tech, btw) just as the members of Pink Floyd probably did some sweet jams ‘off the record’.

@Nick: It’s not either or for rehearsed vs. improv. At one level I play the same song the same each time, at another, a vary – perhaps timing, emphasis on a lyric or phrase either because the mood strikes, or I’m explicitly experimenting. Same with my pitch.

And what does this have to do with elevator pitches?

To @Lucille’s point, you have to have your pitch down cold before you can “wing it” and have it seem natural. I followed advice to practice 60 (yes six-zero) times in a week. I finally felt natural around 50.

Then I started improvising.

By Nick Corcodilos
November 28, 2012 at 2:17 pm

@Mike: You’ve done a great job explaining the relationship between practiced acumen and improv! The music metaphor really works nicely on this.

By Erich
November 28, 2012 at 3:44 pm

As the Publisher of a major magazine, I would often get a call from a free-lancer or worse, a PR intern pitching a story (I suspect the Editor was bribing the receptionist to send those calls my way.) Invariably, it was the same, an idea that was self-described as incredibly exciting, but absolutely had no place in our magazine. This would have been apparent if they had bothered to actually look at an issue or go to our website. I always took pains to politely hear them out, all the while multitasking and end the call suggesting they forward that great idea over via email (to the Editor.) This invariably made them gush with happiness, and pledge to do that right away. I am sure none of them lived in his inbox more than a millisecond or two.

Since my primary focus was ad sales, I used the experience to instruct my salespeople. It is never about us, it is always about the customer and “what’s in it for him/her.” There are no “informational” sales presentations where we go on for 50 PowerPoint slides on how great we are. WE only do presentations that show how we relieve a specific client’s “pain” and that we never assume what his need is. We do what is necessary to find out.

The metaphor I would use with them I called “listening to records.” A bad sales call, (as well as a job interview for that matter) can be very much like two people listening to an old LP. There can be routineness about it where the entire meeting unfolds with a nice soft soundtrack behind it, (think Kenny G.) The potential customer (or interviewer) sits back and listens to a certain extent, but all the while in the back of his or her mind is an internal monologue consisting of anything but what the salesperson of candidate is trying to convey. “I should be working on that report,” errands to do after work, whether yoga or Pilates is on their plate at the gym, or whether it is their turn to pick up Jimmy from day care. It is a comfortable, polite 30 minutes, and when it is over, smiles and handshakes, and not a single result except wasted time.

My advice to my people was never to bring a record player to a meeting. Know your stuff, and arrange it beforehand as best you can, but improvise off what the audience (customer) is doing. In rare instances, no matter how good you are, you may find your Herbie Hancock is coming across as Lawrence Welk. So, in that case, “scratch the record.” Stop the meeting and ask “It seems to me that what I’ve saying isn’t coming across. I must have prepared poorly, or maybe this is a bad time…Should we stop here?” The point being, the prospect might respect you more if you admit the truth and waste less of his timemaybe even invite you back; you are not getting the business anyway. The closest thing to “scratching the record” in a job interview would be to use that “Do you have any questions for me” window to ask this: “Is there anything that I have said in the past 30 minutes in this interview that has caused you to think you might NOT want to hire me? If so, I want to take this opportunity right now to address that.” Granted, a risky move. However, I can think of at least twenty or so off key candidates I have interviewed that would have benefited by shutting off their soundtrack and ending their gig on a high note.

By Suzanne C.
November 29, 2012 at 3:11 pm

@Nic,
Thank you for asking. It means that even though it is important to tailor our messages to the audience, even very talented people make mistakes or have bad days. My point is that there is more to be gained by educating each other in how we can best work together than by dismissing each other.

But what the hell do I know…

By Jason Alba
November 29, 2012 at 3:30 pm

In response to the people defending Melanie, I got 3 of these emails today. They are canned spam. This is common for bloggers and writers (like Nick) to get.

I think Nick should have written: Here’s a spam, canned letter I got. Understanding Melanie isn’t a real person (or, lying about herself), but someone who is trying to get some ink on my blog…. let’s break down her pitch. I’m comparing this pitch to a job seeker’s 30 second pitch,”

Which could, of course be compared to a business’s 30 second pitch.

Anyway, the point is this is a critique of a branding statement, and not about Melanie, the fake spammer.

By Gwen
November 29, 2012 at 8:15 pm

Always good stuff Nick. I have a friend who is an MBA and she actually bragged about that’s what business schools develop in students: confidence and how to elevator pitch a strategic person for a job. Bull. I cringed as well. She told me this while I agreed to attend a conference with her and all I saw was rehearsed, unauthentic MBA’s running around like robots to what they believed were key personnel. I think she told me this because I was the only one being my authentic self and not conforming, creeped out by it all to be honest.

Well, while I am on my way getting ready to show a potential employer tomorrow what I will bring to the bottom line and breaking into my dream job of statistical marketing, she is still thinking that elevator pitch will give her that chance. She wants to get into marketing,funny how I may be the one doing it first. I wasn’t trained as an MBA but as a liberal arts master’s degree psychologist. Funny.

Yeah, don’t get me started on the crap they are teaching that is non-applicable real world skills to students paying about 40K-120K in graduate schools to get an education that will land them that “dream” job. It needs to be restructured period. Doesn’t happen that way, and that is another story, but I digress..

In today’s economy, they want to know if you can do the job, and the resume as people know it is outdated. We’re going back to “can you do the job” versus “I went to Stanford, blah, blah….

Oh well, my rant, but as always, much respect Nick and when I saw this article from you I had to respond. So true, so true, so true….

By Greg
November 30, 2012 at 11:31 am

@Gwen: My MBA program was very different. All programs are not the same.

One of my biggest take-aways in my MBA program was the need to be well practiced and well rehearsed in giving presentations, but also know my subject well enough to answer questions or cover areas quicker if I see I am losing my audience.

I initially surprised at how many students would present that obviously had not ever rehearsed their presentation.

To bring this back to “elevator speeches:” As a number of posters have commented, having a clear, concise statement of what people pay you to do (or what you want people to pay you to do), along with an order follow-up (in case you are talking to someone who asks good questions) is a powerful tool.

By Nic
November 30, 2012 at 11:38 am

It is 2012, and frankly, now I have this take on “elevator speeches:” They do not work.

Maybe pre-1995 this worked but masses of people are too distracted and most are not professional or swift enough to notice an opportunity, no matter how well presented in an “elevator speech.”

By Gwen
November 30, 2012 at 12:41 pm

@Greg: It is noteworthy to be well versed in your subject matter you present. I’m agreeing with you to a degree on this one. I understand that not all MBA programs are all the same, but at the same time, generally, they are educating students with outdated concepts such as (what is a gentle way to say this without being harsh…) an unauthentic-ness that doesn’t facilitate passion from the heart that people gravitate to and listen to. You just made my point: being well practiced and rehearsed for presentations. Isn’t an approach to an individual on the “elevator level” a mini-presentation?

Yes, it was well noted that being concise about what you do (after being asked or after at least an introductory conversation has happened) is appropriate. And this still isn’t a sure for all.

We are not saying that we are perfect in our approaches on this blog, but we seem to agree upon (mostly) that we don’t like the canned fake and plastic ones pre-generated to any and every individual who seems have an opportunity for us (i.e. elevator speeches).

I think the most powerful tool is showing you have passion for the job and profit you want to bring to your employer while showing that you have solutions to their problems. Good questions are powerful if they are directed for the common goal of prosperity…

@Nic: you said, “It is 2012, and frankly, now I have this take on “elevator speeches:” They do not work.” My response, “AMEN!”

By Greg
November 30, 2012 at 1:23 pm

@Gwen: I am not clear on the outdated topics, or the teaching of unauthentic-ness of some MBA programs. That was not my experience with my program.

Communication is a big deal. And I learned a lot about communicating; speaking the language of value to different parts of the business organization.

Nick C. writes about communicating to the hiring manager how you will make them more profitable. “Profitable” is perceived differently in Sales, Operations, Marketing, and Finance. In my experience and observation, most of us struggle with how to present to these different interests. If we do not communicate in their language, we lose their interest.

I am not, and will not advocate reciting canned speeches (especially to someone stuck in an elevator). But I will always advocate being well rehearsed and well organized on any topic we want to inform or pursued others. Personally, I would rather listen to a well put together, informative, and interesting canned recital than a passionate, engaged, free-form that I can not understand or follow. The key is taking the best elements of both.

By Graham Wilson
December 1, 2012 at 9:35 am

It seems to me that this ‘rant’ has confused several different themes. It’s also become a little irrational. Given that it presents you in a less than positive light (some might say it reveals a rather dark aspect to your character), it might be worth reflecting on what was going on for you when you were crafting it, as continuing to present yourself in this way might be counter-productive to your business.

I wonder if you often find yourself getting angry like this or whether it is a new phenomenon? Swings of mood towards anger, and a general drift towards it, especially when associated with a loss of rationality, can be symptoms of a more serious condition (such as diabetes) and it might be worth asking your physician for a few simple routine checks just to make sure that this is not happening here.

If those are eliminated, it may be worthwhile reviewing why you are finding relatively minor events such as receiving a simple unsolicited email so provocative. If nothing else, perhaps a valuable role for someone else would be to act as an editorial board – just reviewing whether any future postings are ‘on topic’ and balanced before you post them.

Just a few thoughts.
Best wishes
Graham

By Melissa Monson
December 2, 2012 at 11:29 pm

Nick,
When looking for a job, it is not about you, it is about the employer. What can you do to help them? That is where Melanie failed. I agree in that she needed to work on the elevator pitch. If a random person sends me six articles to read, why should I invest that kind of time in someone I don’t even know? That is the question!

On the other hand, we have learned from a brutal take apart of Melanie’s pitch, how not to write an elevator pitch. Perhaps you could post an example of how to write and/or say a good elevator pitch?

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By Anonymous
December 3, 2012 at 6:08 pm

Why all the cynicism and judgment? Today’s hyper-artificial, phoney, absurd world of job seeking that young(er) people in the US have been forced to deal with nowadays is exactly what causes othweise intelligent, good people to stoop to stupid methods like this – the elevator pitch and other nonesense. Maybe everyone should just slow down, be a little more refelctive and thoughful (i.e., use the intelligence and insight we have), and take some more time with things. The world would not end if we all slowed down a bit and started to treat each other like people again.

By marybeth
December 4, 2012 at 1:02 pm

Excellent post Nick! I’m glad that I’m not the only one who thinks elevator pitches are absurb at best.

Ever notice how most people in elevators don’t even make eye contact with one another? If so, then why would you decide that this is an opportune moment to pitch yourself, your idea, your business to a total stranger? It is one thing, if, as Lucille wrote, that you’re already having a conversation with this person.

There’s a tv news show on one of the cable channels (can’t remember which one) called “your business” or something to that effect. One of the features of every show is an elevator pitch…an entrepreneur or even an established business person gets into an elevator with one or two more established businessmen and proceeds to pitch his/her idea/business/self. I’ve found it painful to watch, and have thought that it does a disservice to both the more established businessmen as well as to the young dog trying to make a favorable impression.

And just how much of an impression can ANYONE make in 25 seconds or less? Studid, stupid, stupid….

By Tracey Shine
December 4, 2012 at 10:26 pm

I do have an elevator pitch, However I agree with the outlook on the elevator pitch not being most valuable(not S.O.B) for career networking and job inquiries. I believe the original dialog should be detail, personal, and hooked together with a common interest dialog(civic group, current event, key player in industry of interest, or mutual contact). I hold tight to my elevator pitch for those individuals that ask for quick media release clips, brochure information, or fundraising interest.

By Jennifer Bulman
December 8, 2012 at 12:58 pm

Brilliant and bang on, Nick. Let’s not forget the person at the networking party who pretends to be interested in you, cross-questions too closely for five minutes and then starts the pre-prepared irrelevant hard sell.
Jennifer

By Erich
December 10, 2012 at 11:39 am

Nick, no advice on anger management here. I share your pain. Let’s have more honesty with each other in the workplace. It saves time and effort. Life is Short, Hell Is Hot, and The Stakes Are High (as was embroidered on a couch pillow in the office of an ex-boss.)

An elevator malfunction can be your downfall, giving you the shaft with a very abrupt and potentially disastrous ending.

If I am ever stuck in an elevator with a prospective customer or employer, I’ll make sure to listen first while awaiting rescue. Hmm…might pose a question via LinkedIn Answers if that could be mechanically prearranged.

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By Douglas W. Boone
December 19, 2012 at 8:10 pm

An elevator SPEECH is the brief answer to what it is you do, or the like.

An elevator PITCH is what you say to someone who may want to help you but doesn’t have much time. Prime example: the venture capitalist (if you’re en entrepreneur). I don’t know, however, who you must be for a film producer, television executive, or magazine editor to be open to hearing your idea.

In the elevator pitch, there is a clear parallel to both job seeking and selling a product or service — but the hoped-for result is more of a collaboration than in those cases (despite the power differential).

This is not to be confused with brainstorming sessions, such as I gather that writers for a television show regularly hold. They’ve earned their place at the table, and the pitches are made before they are refined.

It may however be akin to the tag lines on film posters.

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