You unexpectedly find yourself stuck in a lift with the big boss. You’ve never even spoken to them before. They ask you what you do, giving you their undivided attention for about 30 seconds, and the chance to make an impression. What do you say?
If you’re like most British people, you’ll struggle to talk yourself up in situations like this. Yet the ability to sell yourself succinctly is immensely valuable to your career. By being clear and memorable about what you offer, you’ll increase your chances of getting noticed and then impressing at interview.
‘We like to hide our light under a bushel and be discovered by accident. They’ll recognise me for my work,’ says executive coach and author Ros Taylor. ‘Well sadly, that’s just not the case.’
We’re at an event at the Park Plaza London Riverbank's extensive, newly refurbished conference facilities. Over a stimulating 'brainfood breakfast' Taylor is helping us figure out our personal elevator pitch – to be delivered to a fictional CEO in one of the hotel’s 19 elevators, naturally.
She brings up a senior sales executive she once interviewed, about the value of confidence in job candidates.
‘He said people need to know the words to their song. When people come to him for interview and he asks them what are your strengths, what am I buying you for, why should I hire you - he absolutely needs them to know what that is. And some people don’t.’
Top executives, she explains, invariably do. They know their strengths and their weaknesses, they understand their point of difference and they’re immediately able to articulate it, on demand.
So how do you do the same?
Find the words
The first thing to do, Taylor says, is to figure out how you’re different. This goes beyond our skills and experiences, important though they are.
What makes us unique is our personality. That’s what gels all those skills and experiences together into a saleable package. ‘This is true diversity,’ says Taylor. ‘It’s what’s in our heads, how we contribute.’
Too often however, when we talk about our skills, we strip the personality out - and this makes us forgettable.
A personal branding exercise
The problem is that it’s surprisingly difficult to find the vocabulary to sum up your personality in an authentic way. Taylor suggests this exercise, most commonly used for product branding.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- If you were a colour, what would you be, and why?
- How about a car?
- A cocktail?
- An item of confectionery?
The why is important, even if it just feels like you’re explaining why you like something, as opposed to why it’s you. Don’t take long, and try to write down the first thing that comes to mind.*
This will give you some words that you can later incorporate into your pitch.
Add some examples
‘Show, don’t tell’ is a classic rule of communication. Even if you only have a short amount of time in which to make an impression, include an example that illustrates your key message.
Let’s say for instance that you want to emphasise your adaptability. ‘I’m really adaptable’ isn’t going to wow anyone. Instead, think of an anecdote that encapsulates this quality.
‘When I started out in accounting, my life revolved around a man-sized filing cabinet, and a computer weighed more than a double-decker bus. Now I’m Mr Pivot Table. If I can survive a change like that, I can survive anything the modern world can throw at me.’
Don’t be pushy
It’s a bit... odd to start listing off your strengths the moment you meet someone. As with any conversation, you have to pick your moments. A good opportunity is when you say what you do. Then you can use the language of your personal strengths to explain what the requirements of your job are, which makes it appear that it’s not about you. Even though it really is.
‘I’m a marketing manager. My job is to figure out our story and how that connects to our customers. It’s a really interesting role, because it’s both an art and a science. I have to be as comfortable tinkering with a Bayesian statistical model as popping out 25 ideas in a morning for a pitch meeting. This one time...’
You’re effectively selling your story, and stories always get better with practice. Seek out networking events for the opportunity to try it out on people. Try to pay attention to people’s responses (bad signs include frowning, wincing and looking over your shoulder to the next person...), and make sure you amend your personal pitch as soon as possible to take into account their unwitting feedback.
That way, if you do find yourself in the elevator with the CEO, you can actually make a good impression, rather than talking about the weather or pretending to look at your phone.
*If you’re interested, I’m blue (‘everyone likes blue, right?’), a Volvo (‘not flashy, but reliable’), a Walnut Whip (‘has layers’) and a Piña Colada (‘fruity but well-balanced’).
Image credit: DmitriyRazinkov/Shutterstock