By Rabbi Mordechai Kruger
Some words should be retired, or at least ordered to slow down. They get attached to a particular activity or situation, and then hang around much longer than they should. At best they cause general perplexity, but sometimes they become really confusing and even get people into trouble.
One example of this has been haunting me for quite a while. I’m old enough to have a visceral connection to the idea that telephones are used when you want to speak to someone. You do so by dialing a phone number. That once involved extending your index finger toward a circular disc with a series of holes, one for each numeral, 1 through 0 (everyone knows that phone-wise, 0 comes after 9). So this action created a verb, to dial. And we still use that verb. But I know that one day one of my very bright grandchildren will want to make a call (or otherwise contact someone) and I will suggest that he dial the number. And he will look at me with a quizzical glance… “dial?”
In the world of job hunting, the word that has overstayed its welcome is “elevator,” as in that rapid-fire sales presentation, the elevator pitch. Everyone who attends a seminar on job search is told he has to have one, and he composes and edits and practices till he’s got it ready to go. I’ve actually heard instructors exhorting their audience to memorize their elevator pitch and use it because you never know what can come from a chance meeting on the way to a friend’s apartment or a doctor’s office. And then each person gives a sheepish look that says what everyone is thinking—that there is no way I’m ever going to get on an elevator and say this to a total stranger. How did we reach this state of affairs? It’s because the “elevator” thing should have gone home long ago.
Elevator pitches got their name in the corporate world, where companies often occupy several floors in a building. In large corporations, getting ahead in your career often requires obtaining a VIP’s approval for your idea or project, and getting an appointment with said VIP may be difficult. But there is one place where a VIP may be unguarded, even accessible—in the elevator. Since you never know when you might meet Mr. Bigwig, you have to be ready to make your pitch in the few seconds of an elevator ride. But that’s the only time you would make a pitch on an elevator. In your friend’s apartment building or anywhere else, say a friendly “good morning” and quietly enjoy the ride.
But you really do need to work on your short, to-the-point pitch, whatever you want to call it. When the time comes that you do speak to someone who is interested in hiring you, or who might know someone who is, you need to be able to quickly and clearly articulate exactly what job you are most interested in doing and why you are the best person to do it. Maybe because we are all raised to be modest, we have a hard time saying what we do that is valuable and exceptional. So composing and practicing your pitch is an important part of the job hunt.
I believe in consistency and clarity in all of the messages that a job hunter conveys throughout the search. That means that the “billboard” that goes at the top of your résumé should match the cover letter, which should match the 15-second pitch. There will be time later for filling in important details. Giving too much or too varied information too soon will only cause confusion. As I’ve told many clients, if you feel like you are restating something you’ve said before, you’re on the right track.
I have created a formula for this message that has worked well for my clients. The first sentence is a statement of exactly what you are, in the terms that an employer needs to know, followed by the key credential that shows your qualifications. Not just a “programmer,” but a “Back-end programmer/ analyst with 20 years’ experience using C++ in a corporate environment.” “A CPA with 10 years’ experience in nonprofit auditing.” These credentials are chosen because they match the requirements of the job. They are the keys that get you in the door.
The second line of the pitch lists three accomplishments that you know would be impressive to this employer. The most impressive accomplishment for any employer is something that will help him make a lot of money. Saving a lot of money is second best. Saving time and working well with people can also be impressive. Three items are enough to get the message across without being boorish. The third line lists three skills that are useful for this job. And then the pitch is over.
In short, a good job search requires a clear understanding of the job you want, a clear statement of why you are the best person to do it, and behaving yourself on elevators. v
Rabbi Mordechai Kruger is the founder and director of Pathways to Parnassa, an organization providing job-search and career coaching to our community. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.