“What kind of work are you looking for?” is one of the first questions I ask when I meet someone who is looking for a job, or who is unhappy with their current occupation or career. It’s a professional habit. I know other people ask the same question to make conversation, network, provide support, or empathize. That’s all right too. Job seekers need to be prepared to respond to this question and to practice their “pitch.” Interest and conversation of any type helps in making new contacts, learning about leads, and gaining employment. I’m encouraged when a person responds with a specific job title, a particular industry, or a specific company that they are hoping to enter. It makes me giddy when the same person can cite the skill sets they hope to use, and how those skills will help their next employer. These are the people who will be successful in their job search.
I always cringe when I hear the more frequent response, “I just want a job, any job.” Where others can nod, smile, show concern, and demonstrate agreement with a pat on the shoulder or a “me too” nod, I hold myself back from saying, “No, you don’t want just any job.” I can name many jobs that you would not take. There are jobs that you would laugh at me suggesting, or that might diminish your self-esteem and pride. There are jobs that have too many hours, too few hours, that are too far to travel, that would cause you to uproot your life, or that just don’t pay enough to make them worthwhile. In reality, you won’t take just any job. So don’t say it. As an alternative, start thinking about what you will do, what you want to do, what you are skilled to do, and find the language to describe it to others in a concise, clear message.
A clear, concise message
Your message can be called a 30-second commercial, a bumper sticker or an elevator speech. I’ll refer to it as an elevator speech. It’s often called that because you should be able to complete it while traveling from the first to the fifth floor in an elevator. That gives you about 30 seconds to calmly explain what you are looking for and what you have to offer. Here’s how to build your elevator speech.
Part 1: What is your career direction?
Some people read or hear this question and say, “I want to be an accountant,” or “I want to be a construction worker...or a teacher...or a marketing professional.” Other people find this the most difficult question to answer. They know they want something, but can’t put a finger on what it is. Let me help. Because each workplace and occupation has its own culture, this question is actually broader. Sometimes looking at the breadth of the question, “What is your career direction?” can help you determine what you want to do. The question includes the queries of “In what environment would you like to work? With what type of people would you like to work? What work culture are you looking to find? For example, you might not know the job you want, but you might know that you want to work primarily with youth, or a mature workforce, or creative people. You might know that you want to work in agriculture, but not the specific job. You might know that you want to work toward ecological efforts, or in a non-office setting, with culturally diverse clients, or any mix of work place options. Whatever it is that you want, define it and put words to it. Be clear, concise, and to the point about your career direction.
Part 2: What skills would you like to use?
Think of all the skills with which you have based your paid work, volunteer work, hobbies, and special interests. Make a list of all your skills--every one of them. If you were a receptionist, you might have answered the telephone and directed calls to appropriate people, typed letters or other correspondence, organized files, and greeted customers. As a bookkeeper, you might have made income and expense entries in a ledger or computer program, organized receipts, completed tax forms, called delinquent customers, or written collection letters. In volunteer work, you might have organized committees, collected money, made change, kept cash records, greeted patrons, decorated rooms for events, and put mailings through a postage meter.
Now, from that list, identify only the skills you want to use in your next job. Let’s face it, we all have numerous skills. Even brushing your teeth, if you do it regularly, is a skill. We have some skills that we like to use for recreation and some for work. Some of us have even developed skills that we never want to use again. Right now, get focused on the ones you want to use. If your list is longer than five items, consider grouping some of the skills you want to use into understandable categories like artistic, communication, sales, human services, mechanical, problem solving, leadership, or management. Your categories should relate to the field, industry, or job you would like to have. Once again, use clear, understandable language to identify the top three to five skills you want to use in your next job.
Part 3: What value can you provide?
It’s important to recognize that the question, “What kind of work are you looking for?” when asked in a social or networking context is not wholly about what will be fulfilling to you. You also need to focus on what will be useful to your next employer, just in case he or she might be standing in front of you. Will you bring in new customers? Increase the image of the company? Enhance customer service? Provide detailed research? Increase profits? Decrease complaints? How will your specific contribution help a manager, department, or company as a whole? Or, will it help the environment, humanity, peace efforts, and social consciousness? What difference will you make or contribute to? Be clear, concise, and confident in identifying the value you can provide to an employer.
Putting it all together
Incorporate your career direction, three to five skills, and your value together to write a first draft of your elevator speech.
Example: I’m looking for a management position in healthcare, where I can use my progressive skills and experience in leadership, budgeting, scheduling, and nursing to enhance the efficiency, effectiveness, camaraderie of a healthcare environment.
Practice saying your elevator speech many times until it becomes natural. Introduce yourself with confidence using your elevator speech as you meet and greet people at both social and business events. Don’t forget to add your name at the front end, and consider ending the conversation with a business or calling card. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at the response you will get.
Note: Some people follow elevator speeches with a request for leads, or view them as incomplete without a request. Decide for yourself whether this would be inviting or off-putting to your friends and colleagues, and add your lead request to the conversation only if it seems suitable to the situation.