Posted by: careerworks | February 4, 2011

5 Mistakes to Avoid in Your Elevator Speech

As a job seeker you need an elevator speech. Whether you actually call it an “elevator speech” a “30 second introduction” or an “infomercial” is irrelevant. When you’re asked “what do you do?” then your answer is your elevator speech whether you like it or not.

You’ll need some thought and practice to avoid these most common mistakes. But beware! Succinctly getting your message over in a way that grabs attention is not always as easy as “just telling others what you do.”

Mistake 1 – Talking about yourself

How are you going to tell people about what you do without talking about yourself? This is the most common mistake. Most people make it sound like a list of what you do; a task inventory. For example “I do this…” or “I am a manufacturing guru” or “I am a professional with this, that, and the other thing.”

The downside to this is twofold. First, people don’t really care about all your skills, accolades or self-appointed titles. They are trying to decide quickly if you are someone who may be able to help them, or are worth chatting to further as a networking partner.

Secondly – it is so common that your message will sound very similar to other people in the same niche. When that happens it is impossible to grab attention.

The solution is to change your mindset and put yourself in the shoes of your listener and think about the challenges they face and how you might solve them. Use that as the lead into your elevator speech. In other words: “I work with (this type of client) struggling with (this type of problem).

Mistake 2 – Expecting others to “get” you

The most common example of this is assuming people will understand and be interested when you label yourself – “I’m a consultant” without further explanation. And believe me, they won’t ask “What kind of consulting do you do?” Here’s the thing: people often either don’t get what you do (perhaps they have never heard of it) or they assume they know what you do and they don’t really care.

In either case it would be nice to think your listener would stop you and ask you to elaborate. They won’t. They will be confused, embarrassed they don’t understand or are disinterested and move on.

Avoid labelling yourself – stick to the formula above and talk to their challenges.

Mistake 3 – Irrelevant information

You must have heard how this sounds: “I was born and raised in the area and my family has been here for over 75 years……..”

This is a variation on talking about yourself but is specific and common enough to warrant it’s own category. Again, unless this is of specific importance and relevance to the audience  then it is just noise to the listener.

The solution is simply to cut it out of your introduction – it wastes time and adds little value. Again, stick to your target audience and what concerns them. That is the litmus test.

Mistake 4 – Trying to be cute

There is a lot of advice out there recommending a tag line to keep you memorable. This can certainly work but for every funny play on words there are countless groan inducing puns or worse, tag lines that really don’t make sense.

It is the same advice for those who use humor in a presentation; it can be great, but you really have to know what you’re doing. There is a fine line between being witty and offending.

If you have a clever tag line that works, by all means use it. However it isn’t necessary and don’t waste time thinking one up. Just stick with your message that you help a certain audience with a specific problem or problems.

Mistake 5 – Not trying

This might be harsh when considering an elevator speech but, let’s face it, sometimes people give up on their elevator speech and sometimes they’ll say:

“Well, I’m really nervous/not good at this so I will just tell you about ………..”

At other times it’s being unprepared and it can be embarrassing to watch someone stumble through an elevator speech without a clear goal or plan. Don’t let it happen to you!

You should always be prepared to introduce yourself – there is no excuse for being caught off guard.

These mistakes are on display at every networking event I’ve ever been to. You can avoid them, and thereby stand out by sticking to the simple formula mentioned above. An elevator speech doesn’t need to be rote, learned by heart or formulaic. You can use different words and gear it to your audience as long as you have thought about it beforehand, and keep these mistakes in mind!





  1. Thanks, Tom, for a reboot. I have made all of these mistakes in my elevator speech, in spite of efforts to improve. You have a way of changing the conversation, taking it off the candidate, focusing it on the need of the employer to solve a problem, find an answer to their dilemma, fill their need, not that of the applicant to find a job. Charity work is not their goal, except in rare occasions. Skype still intimidates me but I’ll try, again. I’ve become reenergized to use my PhD for more than presenting papers and giving free consultations, although some were appreciated like advising Hilarie to get on her own bandwagon, and leave Bill to reinvent himself, great for both of them. N.

  2. […] 5 Mistakes to Avoid in Your Elevator Speech ( […]

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