This story is an example of an elevator pitch. It illustrates mistakes and how to correct them. It can be generalised to other professions.
Spring, the first elevator pitch example
Radha reread her resignation letter for the fifth time. Five, to correspond to the number of years she had been working in this job. It was a huge step into the unknown. The Agency had been her home, and her dream. She had intended to stay with the Agency for her entire career, and she’d been careful to keep to the intelligence support roles that avoided the risks and stresses of the case officers and field workers.
“Are you sure about this Radha?” the Human Resources woman asked as Radha handed over the letter. They were in a rambling office area in a converted building close to the Agency’s offices. The computer equipment and furniture looked like it had been salvaged from a tip.
The HR woman was dressed in a neat outfit, but she looked young and uncertain. And her phraseology was reminiscent of someone who had learn specific scripts. She was studying Radha’s round eyes, the skin that seemed to be tightening prematurely onto her bone structure, and the broad shoulder muscles from where she worked out in the swimming pool. They were probably of a similar age, but Radha felt older. It’s the work, she told herself.
“We’ll help you with relocation, but if you want to change your mind the door is still open. You wouldn’t be the first rising star who went into a temporary eclipse.”
“I’m sure. The man I love is a foreign national with background. I know he would never betray our country, but the system works on risk checklists. If I marry him, my security rating will drop too far. I won’t even be able to work in the private intelligence sector.”
“Has he asked you to marry him?” The HR manager smiled and put on a staged display of sounding excited. Her pen was ready to make a note of the response.
“We’re waiting until I leave the Agency. I don’t want to leave until I’ve found a new start.”
“We can help with finding an opening. The Agency has contacts, friends. It can be very hard writing a resumé so that does not disclose secrets. We can help. We have approved templates for your kind of role.” She rotated her chair and started tapping at her computer. There was a click and a small printer whirred into life. “Here’s an example. For this one, the cover story was a government department. We have variations.” Variations, because it was forbidden to say that you worked for the Agency.
Radha read the description. It was so abstract she couldn’t work out who the person was. “There’s something here called an elevator pitch. What is it? I’ve spent the last five years avoiding talking to people in elevators.” It was meant as a joke, but the HR person missed it.
“You need a short introduction about yourself. Its for the top of your CV – your resumé – and for when people talk to you.”
“Just one sentence? It must be a very short elevator,” she commented but that humour also failed.
“One sentence to set the scene and catch someone’s attention, and set the context. Then two or three sentences to expand and show how you’re special.”
“My research has saved lives, it’s been used to influence the decisions of our country’s leaders, and I even helped unearth a traitor. How do I put that?”
“You don’t. If you disclose secrets, you may end up in prison.”
Radha took the elevator pitch example, and a collection of hints, and an even longer collection of security warnings, and she went back to her desk. She’d always feared the complications of leaving this role. Her fears were justified.
A week later she had the first draft of her new resumé and the elevator pitch. Reading the words over she felt like the sun was shining. It was a new beginning. She would get a fantastic job and would go from strength to strength.
Rada submitted the elevator pitch and CV for a security check, and it came back with a series of redactions but no suggestions of how to replace the redacted text. Leaving the Agency was either something that happened very suddenly, accompanied by a security escort, or it was so slow that it gave them time to recruit a replacement.
The elevator pitch she started with: “I am an intelligence research collator who brings together multiple sources to create high quality person-of-interest profiles.”
The one agreed with HR and their experts was: “I am a talented and motivated researcher specialising in high-profile and unusual subjects.”
Summer, the second elevator pitch example
Radha was in tears after her first interview. She cried in the bus home, and when she saw her best beloved she collapsed into his arms at the entrance to his little house. He led her though to the wide settee with the crimson cushions she had chosen to compliment the strong colours he had on the walls and curtains.
She had known it would be hard living with the Agency’s “secrecy first” rule, and it would be a “learning exercise”, but this was a humiliation. They had asked her to give an example of someone she had researched. But she knew she wasn’t allowed to answer. Instead she explained how she researched, referring to open-source methods and data available to the public.
The interviewers waited with their pens above their papers. “This is a competency-based interview. For fairness of comparison between candidates, you must give an actual example of how you have done this.” When she failed they wrote “No answer” in large letters that she could see. It was even more insulting than if they’d claimed she was a spy and would be endlessly snooping on them.
That evening she faced the man she loved. All she could do was repeat what he already knew: it would be difficult to change her career.
The only relief was that she was still working in the Agency. She had employment. But a sneaking part of her wondered whether the whole system was designed to make it impossible for her to leave.
She tried again, but the opportunities were infrequent. And eventually she sat down with her best beloved and asked the obvious question: What should I be doing differently?
They researched, they asked friends and heard a lot of conflicting opinions. But one was consistent: companies hire people who work in the ways they want. It’s all about standard skills and experiences that can be replicated.
So Radha read-up about skills, she sat in her bedroom and took online courses, and she worked out how to change her CV so it would read like a normal professional description. As she looked over the wording of her new elevator pitch, she knew she would be ready for September when the job markets picked-up again.
Her new pitch: “I am an open-source intelligence researcher, experienced with complex datasets and the latest tools, and researching diverse topics.”
Autumn, the third elevator pitch example
The leaves on the trees were still green and it was warm, but there was repeated rain and sometimes the wind howled so strong that Radha feared the trees would fall.
The interview season had started. And so did the rejections. “Radha,” a recruitment agent explained to her, “they said you were a strong candidate, but your CV is like so many other people. Employers look to people who worked in organisations like theirs. Yours says you worked in a government department.” And to make her feel better, they added: “Keep trying. You’ll get lucky.”
Radha curled up on the settee with her arms around her best beloved. He stared at the vase of flowers she had carefully arranged. “Are you sure your agency hasn’t got to them and told them not to recruit you?” “That’s paranoid,” she replied, but doubts were settling in. She wondered how much longer before their relationship started to crumble.
Winter, the fourth elevator pitch example
The leaves had fallen and white frost covered the ground as Radha left for work at the Agency. She was becoming resigned to the thought that that this would be her future, and she would live her life alone or with some security cleared person she did not truly love.
“You’re fantastic at what you do,” they told her at work. “Don’t leave us.”
The words made her think. She’d been reading profiles from some high-flying people on LinkedIn, and they’d boasted of their achievements. But what came through consistently were boasts of how they had helped their employers and their customers.
“Maybe I’m thinking about this wrong,” she said to her best beloved. Despite the weather they had gone for a rambling country walk with some friends. “My CV and elevator pitch is all about me as a ‘doer’. The recruitment people were right. There are lots of doers in the world. Maybe I should pitch myself as an achiever.”
“What would you put as your pitch?” he asked.
She thought about it. “I am an open-source intelligence researcher who repeatedly solves major problems for my employer.” She tilted her head. “That will catch people’s attention. And let the Agency deny it. They won’t dare.”
Her best beloved thought about it. “There’ll be queueing up to hire you.”
In Chipkoo Labs, one of the exercises for the interns is to write an elevator pitch for themselves. Some of their initial elevator pitch examples work well, and inevitably many others are a start point. It made me revisit mine, and I’ve also recently gone back to my own resumé and updated it.
What strikes me is that it’s so difficult for each of us to understand how other people perceive us, and to know what we’re meant to be saying. Hence I thought I’d capture it in a story.Adrian Cowderoy, February 2021
Related stories on this website
The Three Newbies is a story of three people, selecting their initial career path and how each turns out differently. The story is accompanied by how-to tips.
The intelligence collectors’ AI Awayday is a story of two young office workers whose career aspiration is replaced by artificial intelligence.
And completely different, A delicate liaison is a story of a young professional who chose the wrong career.
Tips on how to improve your elevator pitch
These include extra ideas not covered in the story.
How to get started?
Browse for examples of elevator pitches and CVs for people in your own area, and decide what you like and don’t like. Look at websites that provide templates and suggestions. Then try writing your own elevator pitch. Compare it to your favourite examples. Then try again.
How to check your new elevator pitch?
Find people who are experienced at recruiting and hearing elevator pitches (and reading CVs), preferably in professional areas similar to yours. Ask them for feedback. Compare the results, but don’t fully trust any person because we all see candidates differently and we don’t know your secret strengths. Keep looking for new feedback on your elevator pitch, and be prepared to refine it.
How to become self-critical?
It’s a special skill to be able to look at yourself from the eyes of other people. Eventually you may develop that skill, but it takes years to build it, it requires continuous effort, and it can still result in major mistakes.
How to stand out?
Decide how you are special. Or perhaps you are wondering if you are special at all? Perhaps your upbringing seems sheltered, or you were outshone by others at school. Those are just part of your background. List your other skills: how you interact with people, your creativity, your efficiency, your natural happiness – anything that is not common. What makes you different is this list plus your qualifications and experience.
What to emphasise in your elevator pitch?
Your CV/resumé should sell yourself as a service to an employer – that applies in public duty as well as the private sector. It’s about what you deliver compared to other people. The managers who recruit, have a budget. They are under continual pressure to get more results from their budget, or have it reduced. So normally they will choose people with proven competence at delivering that service.
Are qualifications important?
Yes. They give confidence to employers. Some may be mandatory. However it normally takes more than qualifications to get a job because people can be highly qualified yet utterly useless in the workplace.
(The exception is in organisations that have become highly defensive, where the managers are more frightened of making mistakes than of delivering results. Do you want to work in such a place and live with paranoia and deception?)
What to do about your public reputation?
If you want an elevator pitch for your ego, create a second one with powerful concepts that would appeal to your colleagues and strangers. It’s the same process as for the elevator pitch on your CV, and you should get other professionals to check it. You need to choose whether to put your ego pitch on your LinkedIn page, and if you do, you may want to keep your job title “normal” to help recruiters.
Downside: recruiters searching fast on LinkedIn may misinterpret, and ignore you.
Upside: when you start a new job, this is what your new colleagues will see when they check you out.
- Spring, the first elevator pitch example
- Summer, the second elevator pitch example
- Autumn, the third elevator pitch example
- Winter, the fourth elevator pitch example
- Related stories on this website
- Tips on how to improve your elevator pitch