While most of our clients are making intentional career transitions, I have a number who have recently found themselves out of work for a variety of reasons‒ none of them cause-related. In one instance, the client had sought out a developmental rotation in a different part of her organization, but had been given no direction from the hiring manager, who was subsequently replaced by another manager who let the client go for failing to accomplish goals that had never been set (welcome to Crazytown, Inc.!).
Another client was the star player on his team until a new boss came in and decided to make her mark by changing everything that was working well, and targeting this client as part of the “old” that needed to be eliminated. The most recent example is a client whose organization undertook a massive restructuring, and rather than growing the department‒the role he was hired for‒ his mandate shifted to downsizing, his job being the final one on the chopping block.
The Two Tough Questions
In all of these cases, the clients are now faced with having to answer two dreaded questions: “What do you do?” and “Why are you in the market?” Fortunately, each of them has developed an “Elevator Speech” they can update to address these two tough questions.
What is an Elevator Speech? More than a “sales pitch,” it’s an opportunity to convey 5 pieces of key information about you:
Who you are, i.e. your professional identifier
Where you’ve been‒ a concise career history
What you’re good for‒ the key competencies you can demonstrate via your accomplishments.
Why you’re currently in the market‒ your reason for leaving/looking statement
What you’re looking for and why‒ your search goals and rationale for that path
Even if you are not currently dealing with job loss, preparing an Elevator Speech is a vital career management practice. Imagine you are at a professional conference for your field, a seminar on a topic of interest for your future career or some other event where you’ll be meeting lots of new people. You have the chance to introduce yourself and tell people something about who you are, what you’re all about and where you’re headed. If the length of time you have is a 2-minute elevator ride, what will you say?
Media experts advise developing a few key “sound bites” that consistently reinforce your personal “brand” and message. Use the guide below to build an Elevator Speech that will create a memorable first impression. It may be the lead-in to a networking conversation on the spot or help you secure a meeting for an informational interview at a later date.
Your Five Sound Bites
This is your opportunity to quickly identify your personal employment brand by stating your Professional Identifier (irrespective of current job title or employment status) and making “claims” about your professional capabilities. This is not bragging or boasting– it’s the key skills, experience and personal qualities you want people to remember about you. Hint: Use your résumé Profile as a starting point and create a more conversational spoken version.
Career Review with Accomplishments
The purpose of this sound bite is to set context by briefly outlining your relevant career and educational history. Letting people know where you’ve come from (past) will enable them to get a better grasp on where you are today (present) and where you’d like to go next (future).
People remember better what they hear more than once, so reiterate the 3-5 skills/strengths you’ve mentioned in your Capsule Prolife that you’d like to use in your next role.
Reason for Leaving/Looking Story
Explaining why you are currently in the market for a new job lets people know that you are actively looking not just “thinking about” a move. It also “normalizes” your understanding of the reality that lots of people get let go these days for perfectly acceptable reasons. If you shift the focus from what happened and why to the opportunity this transition represents, you cover the necessary ground without getting stuck there.
This is your chance to talk about your search goals: the industries/functions/roles/ you are exploring and why they are of potential interest to you. This Sound Bite provides a segue into your questions or request for a meeting.
The clients I referenced above are already in pursuit of new opportunities. The first has reached out to former colleagues, using her Elevator Speech to bring them up to date, remind them of the calibre of her work across a career with only one speed-bump and inform them of her planned career direction. She already has meetings scheduled.
The second client used his Elevator Speech in his introduction to an event he conducted for a non-profit organization. His pro bono workshop provided not only an opportunity to use his skills in service of an organization that is important to him, it also caught the attention of an entrepreneur looking for someone with exactly his skills set. They are in discussion about a collaboration aligned with the client’s personal values as well as his professional goals.
When an interesting (and unposted) job showed up after an early networking chat, the third client was ready to jump right on the opportunity. Initial discussions enabled him to construct a targeted and compelling letter of application and he is now scheduled for an interview.
Are You Ready?
Whatever your current circumstances, a well-honed Elevator Speech, like an accomplishment-based resume, a great LinkedIn profile and a targeted cover letter should be part of your professional “marketing collateral.” Many times, we never see termination coming until it’s too late. Don’t get caught short; prepare now for your next transition‒ planned or imposed‒ so you can answer the tough questions of who you are and why you are in the market with confidence, and add career resilience to your self-management resources.