Posted by: careerworks | August 30, 2011

How do you answer the question, ‘What do You Do?”

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 are asked “what do you do?” then your answer is your elevator speech, like it or not.

This needs some thought and practice to avoid these most common mistakes. Beware! Succinctly getting your message over in a way that grabs attention is not always as easy as “just telling others what you do.” You’ll do well to avoid these 5 mistakes.

Mistake 1 – Talking about yourself

How are you going to tell people about what you do without talking about yourself? For example “I do this…” or “I am an internet guru” or “I am a professional with this, that and the other skill.”

The problem here is twofold. First, people don’t really care about you, your accolades and self-appointed titles yet. They are trying to decide quickly if you are someone who may be able to help them, or are worth chatting with further as a networking partner or might be able to solve their problem.

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

The solution is to change your mindset and put yourself in the shoes of your ideal 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 company) 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 – “We are tax attorneys” and leaving at that. 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 it is different from the reality.

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 won’t understand or just be disinterested and move on.

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

Mistake 3 – Irrelevant information

You must have heard how this sounds: “I’ve have done this for 26 years……..”

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

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

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 as humor in a presentation. It can be great, but you really have to know what you are doing and so many people don’t. There is a very fine line between being witty and offending. Also a clever play on words can confuse listeners.

If you have a clever tag line that works, by all means stick with 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.

Mistake 5 – Not trying

This might be harsh when considering an elevator speech but let’s face it, sometimes people give up with their elevator speech and tell you about it:

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

At other times it is being unprepared and 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 and certainly not to give up on the whole thing and muddle through.

These mistakes are on display at every networking event. You can avoid them, and therefore stand out by sticking to a simple formula. An Elevator speech doesn’t need to be rote, learned by heart or memorized. You can use different words and gear it to your audience as long as you have thought about it beforehand, and avoid these mistakes!


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