Perfect Your "Elevator Speech" & Win the Job

Work + Money

Catherine Kaputa, Founder, Self Brand LLC

By Catherine Kaputa

Landing your dream job hinges on good self-branding, as Catherine Kaputa explains in 5 Ways to Market “Brand You.” What's a key component of self-branding? The "elevator speech." Here, Kaputa she shows you how to perfect yours.

You got the interview and spent the last week researching the company and fine-tuning your resume. But you blew it in the first five minutes. That’s because you planned everything but the most important thing—making a great first impression with an “elevator speech.”

The First Ten Seconds May Be All You Have
People make judgments about you in a matter of seconds: winner/loser, strong/weak, hire/don’t hire. Such judgments are based on first impressions: how you enter the room, what you’re wearing, your body language, your facial expressions, and the first words out of your mouth.

And these first, blink-of-an-eye impressions are powerful. Research shows that how you are viewed coming out of the gate is usually indelible and doesn’t change over time.

That’s why it’s important not only to research the company but also to focus on how you look, how you walk, and how you connect with others at the meeting. It all starts, of course, with the first words you plan to say.

Most people flub the response to the most basic and popular opening question, “Tell me about yourself.”

The Sixty-Second Elevator Speech
The words you use to introduce yourself and your accomplishments can be powerful and memorable, or instantly forgettable. Too many people waste the beginning of a pitch with a long-winded life story, while their audience is wondering why they’re there and what they do. Instead, prepare an elevator speech, a pithy explanation of who you are, what you’ve done and what you can do for them, and why it matters.

Here are the tenets of creating and delivering a great elevator speech:

  1. Be concise. An elevator speech should last about a minute and a half, the time it takes to go up a few floors in the elevator.
  2. Position yourself and your value as an employee. Your speech should contain a value proposition: why you and your business accomplishments and abilities are relevant in the marketplace. Frame your career story to reflect your value proposition.
  3. Be memorable.  Include a memorable phrase that embodies your value proposition, like an ad slogan. Another way to add interest is through an analogy. For example, one market researcher who specializes in the women’s market calls herself “the Oprah of Madison Avenue.” I often define myself in my elevator speech as “a personal branding strategist – you might say I’m a cross between a P&G brand manager and an executive coach.”
  4. Be conversational. Your elevator speech shouldn’t seem wooden or rehearsed. The key is to practice, but to avoid memorization so you don’t sound like you’re scripted. Keep an elevator speech as conversational and spontaneous as possible.
  5. Look the part. This may seem superficial -- after all, why should you be judged by your looks? But self-presentation – your visual identity in branding terms – is important. People make a link between what something looks like on the outside and what it has on the inside. The fact is that the way you look, carry yourself and dress all talk, sometimes more loudly than what you say.
  6. Project confidence. There are easy things you can do to project confidence – even if internally you’re not feeling it. Stand tall; give a good firm handshake; make eye contact; smile, and ask questions (don’t just respond to them). When you engage in conversation and ask questions, you level the playing field because you come across as someone who has options, too.

Catherine Kaputa is a personal brand strategist, speaker and founder of SelfBrand, a New York City-based personal branding company. She is the author of You Are a BRAND! How Smart People Brand Themselves for Business Success  (Originally published in hardback as U R a Brand!, winner of the Ben Franklin Award for Best Career Book 2007. Her new book on women and success is The Female Brand.

Learn the body language of making a good first impression:

Seven Seconds to Make a First Impression

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  • Catherine,

    Thank you for your really terrific advice and insight. Your six steps are my blueprint for success - as we are - architects of change.

    Posted by Lydia Leeds, 15 March 2010.