Lose the Elevator Pitch!

Imagine you are in an elevator by chance with someone who is or could be important to you for your success – what are you going to say? In the time it takes to ride up a few floors in an elevator with a total stranger, you are supposed to be able to say who you are and what you need. Fast. With clarity. And intentionality. You have only 30 seconds to 2 minutes. Go!

The elevator pitch has been a favorite device to convey information succinctly to people who might help you get what you need. Originally the idea was to make a pitch summarizing the value proposition for a business and create interest that could lead to something more – such as funding. This approach has been used effectively by sales people, project managers, and people with start-up ideas.

These days the elevator pitch is also taught to job seekers who are meeting with people who could help them expand their networking potential or open a door to a possible job. Job seekers are told to create a script, a knock-out 30 second speech, that summarizes who they are, what they have done, what they want to do, and why they would be ideal for the job. While it might seem like a perfect use for the elevator pitch, the application of a targeted sales pitch approach is problematic for job seekers having informational meetings with people in their industry who might have potential contacts or open doors for them.

Job seekers are coached to be able to “reel off” their elevator pitch at any time. They are supposed to practice it over and over in front of a mirror “until it does not sound rehearsed.” They should prepare a few variations for different settings such as interviews or job fairs. The problem for many job seekers and especially those who are shy or anxious or new to networking is that a rehearsed elevator pitch sounds, well … rehearsed. It sounds canned and contrived and not the least bit compelling or heart-felt. Most of the clients I have worked with who deliver the pitch to me sound like they are trying to sell me a used car. Practicing it over and over again does nothing to cure the problem and only makes it worse.

When I work with clients who have been coached to use an elevator pitch, I ask them to deliver the pitch to me and then I ask them how they feel. Usually they tell me it feels fake and they are having trouble remembering what they are supposed to say. It doesn’t feel natural to them.

“I have a master’s degree in marketing from Kellogg and graduated in the top 10% of my class. I have done a number of internships at companies A, B, and C. My goal is to work at a marketing company in Chicago. I’d be an excellent person to hire because I work hard and did well in school and in my internships.”

All of this information is useful and important to convey at some point, but the first thing you have to do when you engage in rapid relationship and trust building (as I talk about in my book, Job Quest: How to Become the Insider Who Gets Hired), is to say something that helps the person you are talking with care about you, engage with you, and want you to succeed. An elevator pitch does not do that because it almost feels assaultive to the listener. It does not create engagement.

What should you do if you do not open with an elevator pitch? The answer has to do with human nature. What gets people engaged? What gets YOU engaged? What is meaningful to most people? The answer is actually simple and obvious: human interest stories. Speak from your heart about what you care about. Tell people what you are hoping to do for your life’s work and why.

“I would love to help companies sell their products, especially when I believe in the company and the product they are selling as I do with your company. Ever since I helped a small store successfully market their organic goods to people on my campus I’ve been interested in doing this kind of work. My dream is to do this on a bigger scale and make a difference.”

When I ask my clients to forget about the elevator pitch and just talk with me and tell me in their own words what they are excited about doing for their life’s work, there is a transformation. Their eyes light up. They look right at me instead of down at the floor. They engage with me. The difference is remarkable.

When you capture the interest and engagement of your listener with your authentic enthusiasm, you are much more likely to create a compelling relationship with someone who will join with you, care about you, and want to share their connections with you. This is vital for productive networking to land job opportunities. Lose the elevator pitch! Tell people your dream instead.