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Have you ever been asked, “So, what do you want to do after college?” For most students, this question is commonplace, and daunting. But it doesn’t have to be that way. A handy, well-crafted response will satisfy the curious and provide a quick way to connect with potential employers and mentors.

Your “Elevator Speech”

According to the University of Oregon’s career services, this set of statements explains who you are, what you’re looking for in a career, and what skills you have to offer. It’s called an elevator speech because the information needs to be brief enough to be said in about 30 seconds, or the equivalent of an elevator ride with someone.

Over 70 percent of respondents to a recent Student Health 101 survey said they’ve used an elevator speech for a job interview. If you haven’t created one, or if you want to improve on the one you have, follow these tips for making the most of the time you have to make your pitch.

Going Up!

Lisa Carver and Becky Parkerson, career coaches with College to Career in Little Rock, Arkansas, explain, “The goal of an elevator speech is to pique the listener’s interest and make him or her want to hear more.” Effective elevator speeches include four elements:

  1. Your full name
  2. Your career goal
  3. Your strengths or skills pertaining to the career field
  4. How your strengths or skills can benefit the company

More elements to include

Daniel P., a student at San Bernardino Community College in California, offers these tips for a pitch-perfect elevator speech:
  • Do your research. Think about who your audience might be and plan out how to present yourself to those people specifically.
  • Rehearse your speech. As the old saying goes, “Practices makes perfect.” Staff at your school’s career services can give you feedback.
  • Keep calm. Try to relax when delivering your speech. Take a few slow breaths before speaking.

Riding the Elevator

Imagine you’re at an event and someone asks, “So, why should we hire you?” Would you be prepared? Albert R., a senior at Colgate University in Hamilton, New York, says, “You need to be able to [deliver your speech] with confidence. Even if it’s rehearsed, make sure it sounds natural.” You want to express enthusiasm for your goal and your strengths and demonstrate confidence—but don’t be arrogant. Employers want to hire energetic, self-assured people.

Try having a trusted friend play the part of the employer while you practice. Ashley W., a senior at University of Maryland, College Park, suggests, “Try videotaping your speech. Make eye contact and speak clearly. I did this and it was helpful to see myself in action.”

You’ll use your elevator speech when you introduce yourself at job fairs and networking events. Oleg F., a first-year student at Community College of Denver in Colorado, explains, “Each and every personal encounter can [help you] secure the ideal internship or job.”

Amy is director of university studies at the University of Central Arkansas.

Confident wording ideas

When you have only 30 seconds to make an impression, you want to be succinct and confident. Here are some ideas:

Instead of saying this…
  • I am a great person for the job (or internship).
  • I know all about your company.
  • I do a lot of activities, including A, B, C, D, E…
  • Please contact me if you’re interested.
Say this…
  • Some of my successes have included…
  • I have researched your company, but what would you like me to know?
  • I have a leadership role in XYZ activity…The responsibilities have prepared me for a role in your organization by…
  • May I have your card? I’ll follow-up with you next week.

30 Seconds to make an impression

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Amy Baldwin, EdD, is the director of University College at the University of Central Arkansas. She is the author of The Community College Experience, The First-Generation College Experience, and The College Experience, all published by Pearson.