How to Set Yourself Apart From the Crowd in the Time it Takes to Ride An Elevator


A recruiter looks up at you with a bored look on his face. “Yes?”

Quick! What do you say?

If your answer is something along the lines of, “Um, uh, hi. I’m, uh…” then keep reading. By the end of this post you will know exactly what to say, whether you are talking to a recruiter, a hiring manager, or anyone else who might be able to help you along the journey of getting your dream job.

To get hired you need to ace the interview, which requires you first get the interview, which means making a super-solid impression on the corporate recruiters at the job fair, which is the main goal of being there in the first place. The first step toward winning the recruiter is introducing yourself with confidence, clarity and purpose…and in order to do that you’re going to need an Elevator Pitch.

Here’s one of mine:

“Hi, I’m Ray. I help students find jobs and internships faster by showing them how to communicate their strengths with insightful and powerful techniques so companies can see their quality, value their potential, and want them on their team. I can show you how to crush a job fair if you’ll give me a few minutes.”

That may look like just three little sentences, but it is a finely crafted message that packs a powerful punch. I’ll show you exactly how to create one of your own.

The Elevator Pitch (also called an Elevator Speech) gets its name from the notion of being able to give a total stranger a sales pitch in the time it takes to ride an elevator. Let’s not worry about things like how big a building you’re in or how many stops it makes, the point is that a successful elevator pitch conveys useful information quickly and effectively. There’s no fixed word count or hard timer involved, but there is a formula and we can easily replicate it.

We see this formula every day in TV and web ads. Commercials are generally 30-60 seconds long because that’s all the time it takes to bring the average person from zero to having enough understanding of (and interest in) a concept to want to learn more and take action. It is the effective delivery of something to someone who needs it. Madison Avenue (the sacred land of advertising) taught us that an effective value proposition must deliver the following four elements:

  • Identification with Relevant Credentials (Who)
  • A Desirable Feature Set (What)
  • The Distinct Benefit to the User/Recipient (Why)
  • A Call to Action (How)

We want to hit with maximum impact, so we will explicitly address these four elements when we introduce ourselves with our elevator pitch. I’ll cover them in the order listed, but you can arrange them in whatever sequence you want. You can lead with the feature or benefit portion…even the call to action if that’s what floats your boat. However you choose to arrange it make sure you like the sound and feel of it before rolling with it.

Identification and Relevant Credentials (the ‘Who’)


In a commercial or advertisement, this is the actual brand of the company. Well known companies can just flash a logo or drop their name and rely on you already knowing who they are to get a jump on their message. They have the advantage of being known.

For those of us introducing ourselves, this is not enough…it has to be accompanied by a relevant credential. So if I tell you my name is ‘Ray Mullens’ I’ve only given you a label. For it to have meaning it has to have context…so I’ll have to go a little further and say something like “I’m Ray Mullens. I help college students get jobs and internships faster.” Now you have a basic idea of what I’m about.

So far I’ve given you a name and a credential but that’s not enough. It stands or falls based on its relevance to the target or hiring company. For someone looking for advice on how to crush a job fair…I’m your man. For a company looking for an aerospace engineer or biotech research associate…not so much. That’s where you come in and clown my non-relevance with your super-relevance.

What are your relevant credentials? Jot them down.

Desirable Feature Set (the ‘What’)

Feature Set Elevator Pitch

Features are things. Benefits are the yumminess those things bring. For example, a stinger is a standard feature to a honeybee. The ability to protect the hive by injecting venom into an enemy is the benefit. A re-loadable stinger would be the logical next-gen feature upgrade with the new benefit bee-ing (get it?) the bee not having to suicide itself when it attacks something or makes a hard landing. So how do we apply feature focus to your elevator pitch?

Full disclosure: this is the roadwork of crafting your particular message, and while it may not be easy it will be worth doing because when we’re done you will have the backbone of your unique value proposition.

Let’s start by ferreting out your individual feature set. The best way to do this is to make a list of things you do really well. It might be working with certain tools, protocols, or excelling on a particular project or initiative. And features are not limited to your field of study…they can also be your own individual abilities or characteristics. You might be a solid communicator or great at documenting things or a super-creative problem solver.

If you find yourself staring at blank piece of paper this is a great time to talk to your fans and ask them what they think you are best at. Fans can be fellow students, friends, teachers and even family…just as long as the feature information they give you is positive. None of this “You’re great at using the last of the milk and not saying anything. It’s like your superpower.” That’s not helpful and, besides, that cereal wasn’t going to eat itself.

Next we’re going to list a brief benefit next to each feature. My own list may look something like this:

Feature: Creative Problem Solving
Benefit: Find new ideas that are insightful and actionable

Feature: Excellent Communication Skills
Benefit: Convey true meaning, obtain understanding, and clarify expectations to get the job done.

Feature: Team Building
Benefit: Harnessing the power of group alignment

Feature: Operational Management
Benefit: Orchestrating complex activities to make good on the company promise.

Feature: Business Development
Benefit: Build relationships, create opportunities and find new customers

Feature: Massive Omelet Making
Benefit: Enjoying breakfast in style through the magic of eggs and vegetables

Feature: Windshield Wiping
Benefit: Clarity of vision and avoidance of sudden non-road activities

You have no idea how badly I want go with Omelet making for the rest of this exercise, but it doesn’t flow with the opening credential l used earlier (“Hi, I’m Ray. I help students get jobs by impressing recruiters with their egg-bending skills.”) I think I’d be better off sticking with ‘Excellent Communication Skills’ as my complimentary feature for now.

Start brainstorming a list of Features and related Benefits from your background, skills, abilities, and characteristics. Make a list.

Distinct Benefit (the ‘Why’)

Distinct Benefit Elevator Pitch

Here’s where we connect our first dots to the hiring company. Our Distinct Benefit isn’t some Jedi mind trick that causes the recruiter to fall head over heels in love with us, though that would be lovely. What we want is for the Benefit of our Feature (see table above) to resonate with the recruiter so that we can begin a dialogue. Think of you and your abilities on one side of a river and the prospective employer and his needs on the other side. The Benefit would be the bridge that connects the two. It’s what works when you’re hungry (need) and see that well- placed ad for a killer burger (feature) that will taste delicious (benefit). In this case, the delicious benefit sealed the deal and that’s what we’re going for.

So to continue my example in progress my elevator pitch might look something like this:

“Hi, I’m Ray (introduction). I help students find jobs and internships faster (credential) by showing them how to communicate their strengths through insightful and powerful techniques (feature) so companies can see their quality, value their potential, and want them on their team (benefit).”

Shaping up nicely but we’re still missing the most important piece. Fortunately, it’s easy and the recruiter is expecting it.

The Call to Action (the ‘How’)

Call To Action Elevator Pitch

This is the answer to the as-yet unasked question: ‘Sounds interesting…what happens next?’ Your call to action may be to profess interest in a particular department or initiative or to fill a specific position. If you are still in the process of feeling the company out (not up…no groping) you can simply state that you’d like to talk to someone about something of specific interest. Recruiters love to see that you have insight into their company’s activities and have put some thought into how you can fit in.

This last piece of your elevator speech, the call to action, is the spark to light the recruiter’s fire and do not worry, they will almost certainly take the ball and run with it. When they open their mouth to speak it will most likely be to begin seeking clarification and asking questions and that means your elevator pitch has done its job.

You’ve now moved on the preliminary screening process. Congratulations…you’ve taken a solid first step toward your goal of securing an interview!

My finished example elevator pitch, which takes all of 20 seconds to deliver:

“Hi, I’m Ray (introduction). I help students find jobs and internships faster (credential) by showing them how to communicate their strengths with insightful and powerful techniques (feature) so companies can see their quality, value their potential, and want them on their team (benefit). I can show you how to crush a job fair if you’ll give me a few minutes (call to action).”

Here’s a variation with the elements in different order and with a small sprinkling of word seasoning:

“I can show you how to crush a job fair if you’ll give me a few moments (call to action). My name is Ray (introduction) and I help students find jobs and internships (credential). I find when companies recognize a student’s quality and value his or her potential they want to have them on their team (benefit). The trick is to communicate the student’s unique strengths through insightful and powerful techniques (feature).”

Once you’ve crafted your statement you just need to practice delivering it. Record it so you can hear how ridiculous you sound at first and so your friends don’t miss out on mocking you. Words that are uncomfortable or feel awkward should be substituted for different but ‘like’ words or phrases that require less effort and will make your delivery feel more natural. With a little practice you’ll have a statement that feels right because it’s yours, and that’s the best way to introduce yourself as an emerging professional.

That’s it for now. While you’re working on your elevator speech I’m going to go satisfy a sudden and intense omelet impulse.

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