How to improve your 'elevator pitch' in job hunt

Every unemployed person -- and there are plenty of them -- probably has an "elevator pitch" meant to introduce themselves and their job qualifications in the time it takes to take a ride on an elevator.

It's difficult to explain in about 30 seconds what you can do for a potential employer, but it's a good thing to have in your job hunting arsenal in case you meet someone who can help you land a job.

When someone asks what you do, or did, for a living, you don't want to simply state, "I was in the real estate business" or just state a list of accomplishments, according to Mark Magnacca, author of a new book about communicating called So What?

After giving your name, you want to say what Magnacca calls a "So What Benefit" so that the listener wants to know more about you and what you can do for them.

For example, in his new book, Magnacca tells about a man named Floyd who described himself as "an automotive consultant." After some prodding, however, he gives what amounts to a perfect elevator speech that gets the listener's attention and makes people want to know more.

Here's what the "automotive consultant" said:

"Well, what I do, for $295, is take people through a 15-point process designed to help them determine the exact right car for them, and then I go with them to the dealership to negotiate the best price."

It's descriptive, interesting, tells the listener how they'll benefit, and won't be forgotten.

Practicing an elevator speech is also important, Magnacca told me in a telephone interview from his office in Cape Cod, Mass.

"You can't wing it," he said. "You can't wing it on the way up the elevator to hope that the spirit moves you and puts the right words in your mouth."

Much of the 148-page book seems aimed at sales people who want to learn how to aim their presentations at their audience. But much of it can be applied to job hunting.

Certainly, keeping your audience (potential employer) in mind is important when discussing what you can do for them.

One of my favorite examples of that in Magnacca's book is when "Star Wars" director George Lucas broke the rules of the Directors Guild of America by not having the credits -- such as director, writer, stars and production staff -- run first in the movie.

Instead, viewers jump right in with one of the best openings in movie history: "A long time, ago in a galaxy far, far away..." rolled across the screen just before an outerspace battle broke out.

Lucas was thinking first of his audience and got permission for the memorable opening. He changed the way movies were made.

I'm already working on my elevator pitch, and while it doesn't start with, "A long time ago," it will start with "You know how..."

Aaron Crowe is a freelance journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area. Reach him at
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