Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Tell Me About Yourself: How to Handle the Dreaded Elevator Speech

It's something I've heard so many times and kind of thought was bunk - that you need to have an elevator speech ready to go whenever you meet someone who could help your career and/or has power over your job. But as I've been introduced to different parts of my new community, I realized that the "bunk" of elevator speeches isn't that you need to have one - it's thinking that you need just one.

This all came to a head last night as I was introducing myself to our board of trustees, who are essentially my boss' boss' bosses. They have hella power over my building, my department, and my job. When I spoke to that group, I talked a little about my previous job and how I came to be here, but focused more on why I'm happy to be at my new job. "I've been nothing but impressed with this school since the moment I came for my interview all the way to today." On the other hand, when I've had get-to-know-each-other meetings with peers like deans and associate deans and similar, I've spoken more about my passion for student success and spent more time talking about my education. Another group I've spent time with recently is peers at nearby libraries. With them, I spend a lot more time talking about my path to my current job and have even been talking about leadership training I've done.

What I'm doing in each instance is establishing my credibility.

Here is how I decide what to say to whom - I...
  • Ask myself, "who is this person to me?" If they are a possible partner it's a very different speech from how I'd speak to someone who might be working for me, and both of those are very different from how I introduce myself to people who have power over my budget. 
  • Highlight appropriate accomplishments. The fact that I've been a librarian for 14+ years or my second master's degree might be important, but other times it will be the path I took to an administration job. If you're newer to the field, it might be a project you accomplished in your graduate program or the particular focus you took with your classes.
  • Keep it as short as possible while still getting across needed information. With the BoT, there had been time to mingle before the actual meeting started, so I was able to abbreviate my introduction to about a minute. When I attended a meeting of all the math, science, and career education faculty...? It was five minutes.
  • Make it stick. A good turn of phrase will take you so far with these things. One I've used over and over again, because it's so true of me, is, "I'm persistently cheerful, but also cheerfully persistent." It captures, in seven words, a main tenet of my approach to librarianship. It's not to say that I never get mad or anxious, but that over all I can turn on the happy face. Also, I am stubborn when I have an idea I want to see in action.
  • Make it resonate. When I can do a little recon about someone ahead of time, I try to figure out what works best with that person or group. Sometimes numbers works best, other times stories. Smiling and positivity work with almost everyone.

I can come up with these things mostly off the top of my head at this point in my career, but thinking on my feet and being able to communicate clearly are two of my biggest strengths. Don't be afraid to practice these things with peers or even with close friends (who will be willing to give you honest feedback). One of the first questions you get asked in every single interview process is, "Tell me about yourself," and you want to be ready.

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