The Dreaded Elevator Speech

Alright, ladies and gentlemen, it’s go time! Interview day! You’ve spent weeks/months/years preparing for this moment. (No pressure, though.) You’ve got the degree, put in those internship and volunteer hours, printed copies of your resume, have done your homework on the institution, made sure to finalize your professional portfolio and shined your shoes! You walk through those doors as confident as you can be, take a deep breath, shake hands, and take a seat.

Photo accessed through Wikimedia Commons

Ready, set, INTERVIEW! Photo accessed through Wikimedia Commons

Now, what’s the first question you’re going to be asked? Oh, you know the one. It’s the dreaded, “tell me a little bit about yourself.” Alternatively phrased as, “give us your elevator speech”. Why does this question make us so nervous? It could be because it is such an open ended question (how very constructivist of our interviewers). What do you want to know, really? There are many answers you do NOT want to give. Do not tell your interviewer your life story. Sorry guys, pets, politics, and religion are off the table. Try not to ramble. This answer is not the only chance you will be to sell yourself. Keep it simple, keep it classy.

Employers are looking for very recent education and experience that will lead them to ask further questions and spark a conversation about your contributions in the field. To answer the question, be prepared to give a brief summary of about 5 sentences that you can practice before your interview. No need to memorize the “blurb” word for word, but it’s nice to have an idea of what you might want to say.

According to Paul Stimmler, former guest lecturer at the Cooperstown Graduate Program, the basic pitch should:

  • Summarize your career goals
  • Include recent experiences and/or education that supports your career goals
  • Highlight important responsibilities and achievements
  • Highlight functional skills
  • Be accomplishment-oriented
  • Include degree information
  • Be tailored to suit the specific position available

Here’s an example: I’m a native of the Chicago-land area and attended Illinois Wesleyan University, where I majored in education and anthropology and became interested in a career in non-profit work. I recently graduated from the Cooperstown Graduate Program with a master’s degree in Museum Studies. It was in Cooperstown that I concentrated my coursework on museum education and was able to pursue an internship in exhibition development and education at the Field Museum of Natural History. While I interned I was able to manage 10 undergraduate interns in a summative evaluation project and assist with multiple arts-based programs.

Okay, now it’s your turn! Type it up, write it out, save it in your phone or stuff it into your portfolio! Practice makes perfect and you know you’ll get asked! Have that elevator speech ready: you just never know who you’ll be in an elevator with!

Sources: How to Answer the Question: “Tell Me About Yourself”, Paul Stimmler, 2012


About catebay

Informal educator working in the world of art. Interests in public programming and community advocacy. Loves learning about people, collecting blue mason jars, and consuming Swedish fish.
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