Easiest Elevator Speech Ever for Transitioning Military

Elevator Pitch ImageBy 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:

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1.  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.

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7 thoughts on “Easiest Elevator Speech Ever for Transitioning Military

  1. “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.
    ………………………………………………………

    Actually, that is not ‘it’.

    It should be pointed out that there’s the other shoe, yet to be dropped.

    Every professional sales person will tell you the same thing- it is necessary to ask for the order.

    In other words, that Naval officer should have ended the ‘pitch’ by offering that other person his business card, saying that if the OP hears of anything/a career opportunity along the lines of what he has been doing, he would appreciate hearing about it.

    It’s a networking event and at such events, everybody wants something. They want a new connection that will somehow benefit them.

    In this case, that Naval officer wants a job.

    Such a person would do well to bring a stack of business cards with them and without asking for a promise from the next person, be able to pass out that card with a simple request that if the OP comes to know of an appropriate opportunity, then perhaps that OP will be kind enough to pass the word.

    This is not an unexpected request at a networking event.

    And, without that card, that OP would have no way of re-connecting with that Naval officer in the event s/he does hear of a suitable opportunity nor would that OP be able to pass that Naval officer’s name to someone who could be a potential employer.

    “…curiosity and mutual interest move you to a more creative place because that is where the jobs are…”

    That’s an assumption, Jacey. In Sales, we don’t rely on assumptions, we are as pro-active as is reasonably possible to attain our goals.

    As many of us know, there are people who will take in information but will neglect to connect the dots.

    By ‘asking for the order’ in a non-pressure manner and leaving that OP with a method of re-connecting with that Naval officer, he has now done everything reasonably possible to get the most from that interaction.

    And that of course, is another Sales Golden Rule- to extract the most possible information (and do one’s best to trigger an action that will benefit the Naval officer) from each interaction.

    Now, you can say, “That’s It”.

    [For anyone who thinks I’m on over-kill, please keep in mind we are talking about transitioning military professionals who may not be familiar with the concept of closing a sale, let alone the principles of an effective elevator pitch.]

    • The problem, Paul, as you state:
      [For anyone who thinks I’m on over-kill, please keep in mind we are talking about transitioning military professionals who may not be familiar with the concept of closing a sale, let alone the principles of an effective elevator pitch.]
      You continue to write about “closing the sale” in the same way everyone has written about “elevator speeches”. Though you’re correct it’s a needed step, you’re also correct most transitioning military don’t know “How to… ”
      You need actual examples for this to be a useful addition Jacey’s article.

  2. As a retired Air Force Aircraft Maintenance Superintendent, Chamber of Commerce member and past president, and a past president to a BNI (Business Networking International). We have found out that by just giving out business cards, they usually end up in the trash. We know that business cards are inexpensive. The most effective way to give business cards – is after your elevator speech is if some one asks for it. This way it is more likely to be utilized. If they write notes on it that is even better.

  3. I certainly agree (after 30+ years in sales) that asking for the order is always an essential part of the job search process. That presupposes, however, that we have defined “the order” or outcome we want from that person. In networking, it’s quite likely that we’re looking for a referral, professional feedback, potential opportunities or any of a number of other worthy goals. There’s rarely 30 seconds (usually much less), but we’re trying to engage the other person, to start a conversation. It’s important to have a clearly defined career path, even if we change it as we learn more. It’s also important to have accomplishments ready to recite to demonstrate our value. Nobody will hire us because we’re a veteran (though they may want to help), but they may hire us if they think we could help solve their business problems.

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