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Developing Your Elevator Speech

Tips for how to present yourself quickly and effectively to a potential employer

For many years, health care practitioners felt their careers were safe. Indeed, jobs in health care are consistently ranked among the most secure, even in troubled economic times.1However, the recession has led to downsizing, reordering or restructuring of positions, even in healthcare. The bad economy has stimulated an increase in students seeking to get a degree, hone their skills or obtain an advanced degree. In this case, "Why should we hire you?" may be the most crucial interview question ever.

A so-called elevator speech may be a fruitful first step in securing the ideal position when you find yourself in front of a recruiter. It also can help in answering why you are the exact fit for the job. An elevator speech is one that can be conducted in less than a minute. In fact, it's probably best to develop a speech that can be conducted in 30 seconds or less, based on the average human attention span.2Often, more succinct discussions can have an even greater degree of impact.

Many tips exist for developing elevator speeches in the business environment.3Although fewer exist for securing a position in health care, some good general tips come from across disciplines. For instance:

• What is the goal of your speech? You're likely trying to introduce yourself as the perfect candidate for the position at hand. Or maybe you're informing someone within an organization about your knowledge, clinical skills and interests should an opening arise. These speeches are used for initiating a conversation, not typically when you have actually secured the job.4

• What can you say about yourself that describes your passions in a sentence? This might involve simply making a statement that begins with, "I am passionate about ____" and then filling in the blank. Exuding enthusiasm is an important factor in the process.

• Tailor your discussion to the knowledge base of your audience. Are you speaking with a practitioner who understands the jargon of your field? Or are you speaking with a human resources representative who does initial interviewing? Have an awareness of the organization you are considering. What do they do? Why are you the right fit? Hiring professionals expect you have done your homework.5How can you make your discussion even more specific? Here are some general considerations:

• First, zero in on what you are passionate about in your career. This is the entire subject of the conversation. This must be clearly separated from being eager about having a job. Keep your message and passions sincere.

• Next, figure out exactly how your passion fulfills the needs within the organization. Remember, your preference is to find an open position. However, never underestimate the power of networking among those who may have positions available in the future who will know about you and your driven focus on your career. Specifically, tell your future employer during your elevator speech not just how you see yourself as a fit into the organization, but also how pursuing what you love professionally fulfills you personally as well. This will help the employer to understand you are more than just a job seeker; you are a focused and driven individual.

• Now, put it all together. Consider your passions, the goal, the subject and your audience. Figure out what you have to say about yourself and your fit within the organization. Organizing your thoughts on index cards can be helpful. Label cards with "goal, passion, subject, audience" and fill in the necessary information, then make a few sentences that flow together.

Putting it all together can be the challenge for some, while stage fright can be a problem for others. There are two main areas on which to focus as you rehearse your speech so it's polished and professional, and to make you feel at ease: content and mechanics.

As you assemble the content of your speech (passions, goal, subject, audience), ask for feedback from a clinical peer or mentor. Family members and friends can be helpful as well. This is especially true as you attempt to reduce jargon in your speech and put something together that can be understood by "generic" listeners.

With respect to mechanics, there are several considerations: The presentation of the elevator speech absolutely matters. First, remember the pace. The goal of the elevator speech is not to rattle it off as quickly as you can. Instead, your conversation should be clear, easy to understand and somewhat casual in nature.

Next, eye contact is crucial. Although you might feel nervous, do not release your gaze because your time with the potential employer may be very short. Rehearse with a friend, colleague or family member.

If finding a person to offer feedback is a challenge, or if you are not ready to have this conversation with another person, you could videotape yourself for practice.

Mark De Ruiter is the clinical program director of the Department of Speech-Language-Hearing Sciences at the University of Minnesota - Twin Cities. He can be reached at Elizabeth VandeWaa is a professor in the Department of Adult Health Nursing in the College of Nursing at the University of South Alabama. She can be reached at


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