I was at a party last week and was introduced to a Fortune 500 Chief Executive Officer of a food manufacturing company by the host. I am looking for work in supply chain management as a SAP analyst, and know that this company is always hiring for this type of role.
I chatted with the CEO about everything under the sun, from cars, to the weather to golf games. When he asked me about my work and career (“what do I do?”), much to my chagrin, I was speechless. I fumbled a bit, and then was direct in saying that I am unemployed and looking for work. Further, I asked him if he was hiring at this time. I blew a great networking opportunity as he politely excused himself from our conversation to go get something to drink.
Do you have any suggestions as to how to present myself to potential employers so that I will be able to get their help?
Signed: Fumbling and Speechless (FS)
You may not have done as badly as you think. The direct approach sometimes works. However, for this case, I would have recommended preparing a professional introduction of yourself (this is often called an “elevator pitch“) and adapting it to the occasion, as required.
I was impressed by the advice of Andrew Klappholz of The Ladders, an excellent employment advice site. In a post about this topic, he posits that in the job search, candidates face a make it or break it moment when they have an opportunity to use a couple of sentences to describe themselves to an interviewer or a new network contact. At JVS, we teach this in our Networking workshops. An elevator pitch is “a quick statement about who you are and why you should be hired. It should be so brief that you can sell yourself while sharing an elevator with the hiring manager”, says Klappholz, who suggests that “Practice makes perfect, but be sure to tweak your pitch to keep it effective.”
Employment Counsellors at JVS warn clients that it is important to memorize the pitch, but not to sound like it’s too rehearsed or unnatural. “Walk up to the CEO, introduce yourself and let him know that you are impressed with and interested in his company“, they advise. Everyone likes to talk about their job and, even more so, about themselves! If you find yourself at a party or casual setting, it’s a great idea to socialize — be personable and friendly — this setting is perfect for networking. For example, when the CEO brings up the topic of work, continue to be engaging and asking him about himself and his work. And then if he asks about you, it’s a good time to present your brief elevator pitch, customized to the occasion. Keep it casual though. “If you are in an office setting, then you should make it more formal“, add the JVS Counsellors.
In an article in Forbes Magazine, titled How To Craft A Job Search Elevator Pitch, a Career Coach recommends that job seekers prepare a 15- to 30- second elevator pitch, which sums up a job seeker’s experience and job ambitions. It should be clear and appropriately detailed, but not “a laundry list”. In social situations, the pitch can double as a networking opportunity and in a job interview it can be used to respond to the question “Tell me about yourself”. Also, in a social setting, the Coach recommends mixing in some personal details with the professional ones. Here’s an example: “I worked as a SAP analyst for over 10 years in the food industry. I handled lots of projects dealing with inventory of the hundreds of raw materials that we used in the manufacturing and I loved it. I recently took up golf. Do you play golf?” Then see where the conversation goes. The Coach notes that the pitch is “no substitute for developing a relationship with a person” — when you’re selling yourself, it is important to pay attention to the audience and context.
FS: Consider asking your host to connect you again with the CEO from the party and see if you can have an information interview with him. This is another technique for networking and looking for hidden job opportunities, which I have covered in a previous post.
Best of wishes in your job search,