How a Great Elevator Speech Can Set a Candidate Apart

by Lauren Bertram on May 20, 2015

How a Great Elevator Speech Can Set a Candidate ApartThe phrase “elevator speech” is probably familiar, though you may not know its origin. The term comes from the challenge of creating a clear and persuasive pitch for your dream prospect in the time it takes to go from the main floor of a building to the top.

The elevator speech is a communications mainstay for those who already have a job. At Burns & McDonnell, we help our employee-owners develop their own personal versions. But did you know it’s equally important for job seekers to develop a great elevator pitch?

The First Eight Seconds

Think about the places job seekers interact with potential employers. Often, you’re trying to set yourself apart from the crowd at a career fair or networking event. The Harvard Business Review contends the first eight seconds are key, and I’m inclined to agree. At a busy career fair, a college recruiter has just 30 seconds to spend with each prospect. If you make those seconds count, you’re likely to earn a follow-up.

Talking about yourself seems as if it should be easy, yet it’s one of the most difficult skills to master. There is no single “right” elevator speech — just the one that’s right for you. Everyone has a different story to tell. With these tips and a lot of practice, you can develop a pitch that sets you apart.

Tips for a Solid Elevator Speech

  • Don’t be afraid to share your enthusiasm. This is not the time to play it cool. Recruiters are looking for people with passion and drive, who want to change the world through work. Whether you are just out of school or a 20-year industry veteran, let your enthusiasm shine.
  • Share what makes you different. If your elevator speech would sound just fine coming out of someone else’s mouth, you’re doing it wrong. Find time for one sentence that’s true to only you. Perhaps you found your career interest when you took apart your family laptop as a third grader. Maybe your life goal is to find a solution for the energy crisis. Speaking to an individual experience helps recruiters relate to you personally.
  • Know your audience. Every company prizes a different skill set, so each recruiter is looking for a different package. Do your research on your top prospective employers so you can tailor your elevator speech to make it relevant to them. For instance, because Burns & McDonnell is a consulting engineering firm, we’re looking for people with passion, relationship-building abilities and strong communication skills in addition to technical prowess.
  • Keep it simple. An elevator speech is a concise verbal resume. Carve away extraneous information until you find the clearest way to say what you want to do and what you bring to the table. You want your pitch to be easy for anyone to understand, so eliminate professional jargon and complicated tech talk. We appreciate people who love their work so much they geek out about the details, but the pitch is not the right time for that level of discussion.
  • Read verbal and nonverbal cues. Look for social cues throughout your speech. Is your audience losing interest? Would they rather ask you a question or share a story of their own? Make adjustments on the fly to respond to their goals. Remember, your goal is not to get through the entire pitch without interruption; it’s to forge a brief — but authentic — connection.
  • Know when to stop. By keeping your elevator speech short, you’re more likely to invite questions. And it gives you more time to ask a question or two of your own. People love to talk about themselves. What’s more likely to start a business relationship: a canned speech followed by a quick thanks, or a brief intro that leads to true dialogue?
  • Practice, then practice some more. It can be awkward to talk about yourself. The best way to overcome your unease is to practice. Start in front of a mirror, and then graduate to sharing your story with family, friends and — finally — strangers. Get in the habit of making minor modifications every time.

If I met you in an elevator right now, what would you say? Do you have any tips for constructing an elevator speech? We’d love to hear your ideas and about your real-life experiences. Start a conversation — or practice your pitch — in the comments.

Lauren Bertram is a recruitment manager for Burns & McDonnell. She heads up our college recruiting team and oversees our K-12 and intern programs. If you want to learn more about our educational outreach, intern program or working at Burns & McDonnell, connect with Lauren on LinkedIn


How to Prepare for your Summer Internship

by Matt Rosentreter on May 12, 2015

How to Prepare for your Summer InternshipIt’s almost summertime, and there’s so much to look forward to — school’s out and experiential learning is in. That means it’s time to start getting ready for your summer internship. First of all, kudos! Landing an internship is hard work and an accomplishment to celebrate.

You’re facing an amazing opportunity and want to make the most of it. So, what’s next? Follow these four easy steps to be prepared for a successful summer internship:

Ask Questions

When you’re looking for honest, straightforward answers to questions about your upcoming internship, your best bet is a former intern. They’ve experienced the same opportunity you’re embarking on and know exactly what this adventure will hold.

Ask around on campus or in the career services office to find former interns, and then start tapping into their wealth of knowledge. People usually love to talk about their own personal experiences — especially if it helps someone following in their footsteps — so you should find them eager to share.

Can’t find a former intern? The career services office is another outlet for your relevant questions. Chances are the company you’ll soon be joining has worked with campus representatives for years, so those staffers likely have the answers you seek.

Research the Company — and your Department

In our interconnected world, it’s easy to find a library of knowledge about the company you’ll soon join. Make your first stop the organization’s website to learn more about its services, products, mission and values. This golden information is public and advantageous knowledge for intern preparation.

Companies also distribute recruiting materials to your campus, generally available in your campus career services office. These brochures or booklets aim to attract prospects, but they also educate students on information the company deems important.

Conduct a website search for news and press releases. Information about philanthropic efforts, company expansions or organizational events often pops up in a basic search and can serve as talking points for conversations with your co-workers.

Trace Your Steps

Road trip! If you live close to your future office, visit ahead of time. Make the trip at the time of day you’ll typically be traveling for a realistic idea of how traffic and stoplights will affect your commute. Plan to arrive early for the first week; you’ll be confident you won’t be late.

If you can’t make the trip ahead of time, use Internet-mapping services. These generally provide an estimated travel time taking traffic and construction into account.

Prepare for Paperwork

Like every company, your future employer must obtain certain information about its employees — meaning you. Human resources representatives will share what information the company requires to support your work eligibility, which usually includes a valid driver’s license, social security card, birth certificate or passport.

In addition to the federally required documentation, you may have to fill out additional paperwork before arrival. Whenever you receive this request, whether via email or traditional mail, complete it promptly. This punctuality allows the company time to prepare for your first day.

Internships are the perfect opportunity to acquire hands-on experience and industry knowledge before you graduate or look for a full-time position. When you feel prepared and ready for your internship to begin, you’ve set yourself up for a successful and fulfilling experience!

Matt Rosentreter is a college recruiter for Burns & McDonnell who works with universities across the country to recruit interns and top entry-level talent to join our engineering, architecture, construction and drafting teams. Feel free to connect with Matt on LinkedIn to learn more about the many opportunities available at Burns & McDonnell.


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