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Key to Job Search Success: Your 30 Second Elevator Speech

By Tory Johnson

You make a great contact at a function. You call a job prospect on the phone. You meet a recruiter at a job fair. You need to get them interested in you - fast. In these situations you have about 30 seconds to sell yourself. If you can't, they'll move on.

What Is Your Pitch?

Your "elevator speech" is a little pitch that says a whole lot about you. You're giving someone a nutshell version of who you are and what you offer, as you talk in an elevator taking a 30-second ride in a tall building.

The goal is to develop a style and substance that will pique someone's interest enough to inspire further conversation, inside, and most often outside, of an elevator.

Recruiters say that a bad pitch – an inability to say succinctly who you are and what you want – is one of the most common mistakes among job seekers.

A poor, pathetic pitch - one that's delivered in a boring monotone manner or lacking any clear message - will surely result in a dead end. No interest. No further contact.

Not too many people will go the extra mile to draw out information about you if you aren't willing or able to do your part.

Think of this as a radio or television commercial all about you. You are the product.

What makes you remember a great commercial? It's short, snappy, makes its point and enables you to remember the product name.

According to public speaking authorities, you have 30 seconds to make your point before your audience loses concentration. No matter how good or how interesting, 30 seconds, that's it.

Then the brain moves on to the next task. So sell, sell, sell. Go for it, and make it work for you.

Develop Your Pitch

Choose your words carefully. This is no time to wing it or to keep your options open by being vague. "I want a job" isn't enough. How you represent yourself will determine if you get any further with this contact.

Be short and concise, but add a specific instance to grab attention. For example, if you've got a chance to impress a recruiter at a career fair, this is an ideal 30-second opener:

"Hi, my name is Sam Ward. I'm a computer science major with an art minor, and I'm really excited about combining these two interests. I've actually developed an interactive educational program to teach children how to draw. I'd love the chance to explore entry-level job opportunities with dynamic, creative software companies in the Houston area."

Once you've got an idea of what you want to say, get out a timer or use the second hand on your watch. Tape or record your pitch to make sure you like how it sounds or practice in front of the mirror or a video camera—chin up, bright smile, shoulders back.

The goal of the 30-second spiel is to lead into a longer conversation.

Continuing the Conversation

You need to be prepared with additional, specific details about your experience and goals to keep the conversation flowing. Keep in mind the principles of the 30-second sales pitch, even in longer conversations: be concise and sell, sell, sell. Remember, this is the live, MTV-Unplugged version of the resume you've worked so hard to perfect.

For your longer sales pitch, be able to identify three solid accomplishments, regardless of your career stage. Some good examples: an extraordinary college project, success from an internship, saving a company money, winning an award for your project, increasing sales, balancing waitressing jobs with a full courseload, or supporting yourself through college.

Bottom Line

These pitches require knowing what you want, plus practice to discuss them with polish and poise. Don't expect anyone to try to read your mind or to figure out where you would fit in their company.  You must be able to tell them, quickly and clearly.

About the author...

Tory Johnson is the CEO of Women For Hire and the author of Fired to Hired.  She's also the workplace contributor on ABC's Good Morning America. Talk to her directly at @ToryJohnson.

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