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Elevator Story

You’ve no doubt heard the term ‘Elevator Story’, or ‘Elevator Pitch’ as it’s sometimes called.

Simply put, this is your answer to the question ‘Tell Me About Yourself’. The idea behind the term ‘Elevator Pitch’ is you’ve bumped into someone important on an elevator and want to pitch yourself to them in the time it takes for the elevator ride.

As a Hiring Manager, I love it when a candidate has prepared a good elevator story. It gives me the chance to hear in 90 seconds or less exactly why I should consider that person.

Yep, I said 90 seconds or less. It needs to be short, yet give the important highlights about yourself. And by short, I mean 45 to a maximum of 90 seconds. Shorter is better (remember, that elevator is rising or dropping fast!)

Actually, you’ll rarely use this story on an elevator. But you will have occasion to use it in multiple other situations: job interviews, job fairs, industry events and conferences, networking meetings, in your online profile, and in your resume.

Basically, you can use your elevator story anytime you want to give someone an overview of your business background –  without boring them.

4 Steps to Writing a Great Elevator Story

  1. Start with your current title.
  2. Briefly outline your current areas of responsibility.
  3. Explain your major skills and areas of strength.
  4. Give examples that support your skills and strengths.

Please note that step #4 is critical to your story. Simply stating that you have a particular skill or strength doesn’t mean anything. Providing proof by examples is what gives you credibility.

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Things to Consider When Writing Your Elevator Story

Your elevator story should relate strictly to business. This is not the place to include any personal information unless you’re specifically asked.

Ideally, you’ll have one general elevator story that can be used in any situation, plus another one customized for a specific job interview. This one should stress your skills and strengths that relate to the requirements for that specific position. Your goal is to match your skills and experience to exactly what that job requires.

Yes, this means you’ll need to customize your elevator story for each different job interview. However, steps #1 and #2 can remain the same. Steps #3 and #4 are the ones to be customized.

For an interview, you can use your resume for the content of your elevator story. Your resume is what got you the interview, so you can summarize it to create your elevator story. Of course, I’m assuming you customize your resume for each job to which you apply (you do, right?). If you do, your elevator story will be customized for that job when you pull it from your resume.

Avoid technical and business jargon. To the extent possible, you should use plain language.

Tips for Giving Your Elevator Story

First and foremost, prepare your elevator story in writing – don’t just create it in your head. Writing it down enables you to edit it for length and ensure that the most important points are included.

Practice giving your pitch and time it to be sure you’re not exceeding 90 seconds. Do this enough that you can give it smoothly and effortlessly.

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However, this does not mean you should memorize it word for word. You’ll sound too much like a robot. Instead, you should memorize bullet points. You’ll come across more as a natural speaker, rather than a recording.

Slow down your speech. You’ll be tempted to speak faster to get everything in, but doing so may result in the listener missing some points. Speaking too fast also leads to rambling, which is the kiss of death for an elevator story.

Normal speech is 120 to 150 words per minute, so you should shoot for about 130 to be safe. This means a 90-second pitch should be around 200 words or so.

Sample Elevator Stories

Bad Example

I’m currently a Corporate Finance Specialist with Acme Corporation. I have more than 12 years of broad experience with the financing of a wide variety of corporations. My greatest skill is identifying the strengths and weaknesses of a business and building teams to design and deliver the right solutions to meet the financial needs of that business. I’ve worked in three large financial institutions and have a good grasp of how these institutions operate and I know the best ways to get things done. My greatest pleasure is negotiating profitable deals that are beneficial to all parties. I can also bring these skills to your company.

Why This is a Bad Example

It’s a bad example because it makes general statements about skills and abilities with no concrete examples to back them up. What successful solutions did this person deliver? What things got done? What deals were negotiated that were profitable for all parties?

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It also says nothing specific about exactly what current responsibilities include.

The story itself is fairly well written and has a good structure, but it’s all fluff. You can say anything you want about yourself but that doesn’t make it true. Adding a concrete example for each statement, tied in with current responsibilities, would make this a better, and much more believable, story.

Good Example

I’m a technology management executive at Ace Corporation. My skills include strategic planning, expense analysis and control, customer service management, budget planning, and large-scale project and systems management. I’m currently responsible for large-scale technology projects as well as technical support for 7,500 users, 22,000 computers, and 300 servers. In this capacity, I stabilized and reorganized the Help Desk, resulting in a 20% increase in calls handled. I developed technology solutions that reduced operating expenses by 45%, saving $21 million annually, while increasing employee productivity by 56%. My team won ASUG’s (the largest SAP Users Group in the world) “Impact” award for our e-procurement implementation, receiving national recognition for our company. This was accomplished while keeping our budget within 99% of plan. I’m confident I can bring these same skills and types of accomplishments to your company.

Why This is a Good Example

It states the current areas of responsibility, lists the skills of that individual, and then backs up those skill statements with specific examples of accomplishments. You’re left with the impression that while this person has a high opinion of himself or herself, that high opinion is backed up with specific examples.

This was all achieved with a mere 138 words, which should take about 60 seconds or so to tell.

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You can use this approach no matter what job you currently have. Just tell who you are, what you currently do, what are your best skills and strengths, and give examples of accomplishments that validate those skills and strengths.

It’s as simple as that!

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