Veterans Need a Good Elevator Pitch, Too

British business man hands in meeting London UK
By Peter A. Gudmundsson

The term "elevator pitch" emerged from the entrepreneurial world. It describes the summary sales pitch a startup company CEO would need to have memorized in case she found herself riding in an elevator with a targeted venture capitalist.

The concept is simple. You have less than 30 seconds to describe who you are, what you want to do and your next specific action step to realize this goal. The limited duration of the "elevator ride" requires the speaker to focus intently on the who, what and why of his or her offering.

All job seekers, but especially military veterans and others who are switching functions or industries, need to develop, utilize and refine a concise, compelling and accurate elevator pitch. It is the primary communication tool people use to differentiate themselves and create lasting impressions. Since networking or leveraging social networks is the most effective job search strategy, it is critical that transitioning candidates leave a memorable and effective impression with the employers and other resources they meet along the way in their search.

Whether in a job fair, informational interview or a casual social conversation, every human meeting is a chance for the job seeker to move one step closer to a job offer. Most people want to be helpful, but in order to do so, they have to understand very clearly who you are, what you are seeking to accomplish and why they should care.The Who

In many ways, the simple question of who you are is the most profound. The more specific and insightful your self-description, the more compelling the listener will find you. For example, compare these two statements:

"I am a transitioning Army sergeant. I was an infantry squad leader in Afghanistan."


"I led a team of 11 soldiers overseas in the Army. I learned a lot about leadership and getting things done under challenging circumstances. Now that I am transitioning to civilian life, I am looking to ..."

Which of these "who" statements would grab your attention? Since most people are not familiar with military experience, the first statement is flat and raises questions that the listener may be uncomfortable admitting he does not understand. After all, what is a sergeant? What is an infantry squad?

The second statement, however, grabs attention from the start. This person is a team leader and can accomplish tasks under pressure. What organization can't use people like that?

The What

Like the "who," the "what" is deceptively straightforward but requires a great deal of thoughtful consideration. Paradoxically, the veteran job seeker must strive to be specific and targeted while signaling an open mind for opportunities that are not yet unidentified. Generally, the "what" statement should move from a tight target to a more general interest. Consider this statement:

"I am looking for a sales or business development position at a supply-chain software company, sales and marketing roles in transportation and logistics or other dynamic roles at a growing company in the Atlanta area."

Notice the progression from a narrow focus to a more open filter. If the recipient of this pitch knows a path to opportunity in a specific software company, he will make that introduction. But the chances are good that he does not have such contacts. The more open appeal to the transportation industry or any company in Atlanta increases the odds of a match.

Avoid a "what" statement that is too vague. "I want to make a difference at a great job in Dallas," for example, is unhelpful. The recipient of that message will not know how to sort or process that goal. It is too ambiguous and unfocused.

You must help people help you, and that can only happen when you are clear about what you seek. Of course, many people don't really know what they are looking to do. In that case, you must "fake it until you make it." You simply cannot afford to be wishy-washy when communicating your career goal to someone who wants to help.

The Why

The final component of an effective elevator pitch is the "why" appeal. Another way of describing it is the "ask" or intended next step. Essentially, the job seeker should address the question: "Why should you care?" The recipient of the elevator pitch will want to know what she is supposed to do with the "who" and "what" that have been previously articulated.

Does the candidate want a subsequent meeting to further the networking process? Is he looking for contacts from whom he might learn more about those positions? Perhaps the job seeker is bold enough to request an interview. This is the time to request a clear next step in the process. For example:

"I would like to make an appointment with you or a member of your staff to learn more about what makes for an excellent operations manager at your company or similar organizations. May we look at your calendar for early next week?"

There is no ambiguity for the recipient of this portion of an elevator pitch. He will know what you want and be prepared to act on that request. People are universally impressed by job hunters who know what they seek and what they are asking the person to do.

Putting It All Together

By combining all three portions of the elevator pitch, the veteran or other job seeker will put himself in a position to succeed.

Consider this example:

"I just got out the Navy, where I received excellent training in industrial operations and maintenance on my ship. I am looking to apply my technical and operational abilities at a consumer goods company or another manufacturing or maintenance operation in Cincinnati or elsewhere in the Midwest. I would love to get your advice on how I should proceed. May we set a time for coffee later this week?"

What professional could resist a clear request from a job-seeking veteran like this? This former sailor knows what he wants to do and is clear about how others can help him get there.

Develop and refine your elevator pitch throughout your job search. The clarity and direction it communicates will put you head and shoulders above the majority of job seekers – veteran or civilian – who cannot effectively articulate who they are, what they seek and how somebody is supposed to help them.
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