By Jacey Eckhart
“I know I am supposed to give you an elevator speech,” said Tom, a transitioning naval officer. “But really, I don’t know what that is.”
Neither does anyone else. The elevator speech — in which you are supposed to sell yourself to a potential employer at a networking event in the amount of time it takes to ride in an elevator — intimidates so many of the jobseekers I know. They act like their value as a human being is going to be summed up in three paragraphs.
Not so much.
The Worst Possible Elevator Speech
Tom and I were at a networking event in the Washington, DC area. He looked good. Coat and tie and the whole nine yards. He was clearly signaling that he was there to meet and greet. But when I asked him what kind of job he was looking for, he said, “I don’t know.”
That is, in fact, the worst possible elevator speech. To be fair to Tom, I didn’t just hear that answer from him that night. I heard it from nearly every Army and Navy officer I engaged.
In your job search, someone is going to ask, “What do you do?” Or, “What kind of job are you looking for?” Or even, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” They do not want the inner workings of your soul. They want an answer to their question. They want an elevator speech.
Don’t be intimidated by it. Remember that the elevator speech is a natural response to a natural question in a natural conversation.
Your listener does not want to hear some convoluted bunch of tortured verbs and descriptive phrases. They want to hear a reply to their question. And it is easier than you think.
Easiest Formula for an Elevator Speech
I taught Tom this formula for an elevator speech that I call the Now to Next pitch. It has 3 parts:
- TRANSITION: “I am a transitioning military member”
Your listener lives in the same world you do. Saying that you are transitioning sets them up to listen for what kind of work you want to do.
- NOW = current occupation
“Right now I’m working on X for the (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard)” — Or you could mention your actual job title if the person you are talking to is also in the military community or if it is the kind of job that makes sense to a civilian.
- NEXT = job you want
“I’m looking for a job in (the defense industry, in ship building, in education, in aerospace, in retail).”
The NEXT section was hardest for Tom. “But I don’t know exactly what I want to do,” he said.
In this situation, he does not have to say exactly what he is looking for. He does not even need to know. In that moment, he can trust in the other person. If they want more info than that, they will probe. They will ask. This is a conversation, remember?
So Tom and I practiced right there at the event. “So, Tom, what do you do?” I asked.
“I’m a transitioning naval officer. Right now I work on acquisitions for an aerospace program. I’m looking for a job in the defense industry.”
“Perfect!” I said.
“That’s it?” he wondered.
Yeah, that is it.
Is Tom’s answer perfect? Will it move mountains? Will employers weep at his feet begging him to join them? No. But it is a beginning of a conversation. It is an opener that makes it easy for the other person to come up with a response.
And that is what networking is all about — a thousand little conversations you have with other people in which you talk about what you have done and they talk about what they have done, and curiosity and mutual interest move you to a more creative place because that is where the jobs are.
The first step is having a smooth answer to “What do you do?”
Follow the TRANSITION + NOW + NEXT model and you can’t go wrong.
About the Author
Jacey Eckhart is an Air Force brat, Navy wife, Army mom and military sociologist. Her personal experience and professional training color her insights into the inner workings of military culture. Jacey has been featured as a military family subject matter expert by the New York Times, NBC Dateline, CBS Morning News, CNN, NPR, the Washington Post, the Washington Times, Woman’s Day magazine and many others. As a military sociologist, Jacey specializes in finding evidence-based best practices for transitioning service members and their families.