Although a college degree has been sold to Millennials as a surefire ticket to high-paying jobs, many recent college graduates are finding they can't get jobs that pay much more than minimum wage.  

One reason for the difficulty is college is a bad place to get career advice. After all, tenured professors haven't hunted for a job in decades while adjunct professors get paid peanuts.

Not surprisingly, colleges provide very bad advice to graduates looking for their first job. For example, here's a direct quote from a UC Davis guide on presenting yourself to a prospective employer:

"An elevator speech is a clear, brief message or 'commercial' about you. It communicates who you are, what you're looking for, and how you can benefit a company or organization.

"It's typically about 30 seconds, the time it takes people to ride from the top to the bottom of a building in an elevator. (The idea behind having an elevator speech is that you are prepared to share this information with anyone, at anytime, even in an elevator.)

"At a career fair, you can use your speech to introduce yourself to employers. It is important to have your speech memorized and practiced. Rehearse your 30-second elevator speech with a friend or in front of a mirror.

"The important thing is to practice it OUT LOUD. You want it to sound natural. Get comfortable with what you have to say, so you can breeze through it when the time comes."

Here's why this advice is so awful:

  1. People hate commercials. People spend billions of dollars worldwide every year on streaming video in order to avoid commercials. Why would you think a hiring manager would want to hear a commercial?
  2. People hate sales pitches. The entire idea of a sales-pitch-like elevator pitch is ridiculous. If you actually launched into a sales pitch in an elevator, the other person would hit the next floor button and leave. A conversation, maybe, but not a pitch.
  3. People hate memorized speeches. Only some droning professor could possibly imagine anyone wants to hear a rehearsed speech, especially a sales pitch. As for the idea that you can "breeze through it" -- ugh. Sounds like the Home Shopping Network.

The UC Davis guide then gives some examples:

"Hi, my name is Samantha Atcheson, and I am a senior environmental sciences major. I'm looking for a position that will allow me to use my research and analysis skills. Over the past few years, I've been strengthening these skills through my work with a local watershed council on conservation strategies to support water quality and habitats. Eventually, I'd like to develop education programs on water conservation awareness. I read that your organization is involved in water quality projects. Can you tell me how someone with my experience may fit into your organization?"

"Nice to meet you, I'm Alex Biondo. I'm currently a senior and am studying computer and information science. I hope to become a computer programmer when I graduate. I've had a couple of internships where I worked on several program applications with a project team. I enjoy developing computer applications for simple business solutions. The position you have listed in UO-JobLink seems like it would be a perfect fit for someone with my skills. I'd like to hear more about the type of project teams in your organization."

Here's my translation of the examples above:

"ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME. But enough about ME! Let's talk about what you can do for ME!"

No wonder college graduates can't find good jobs!

Rather than this kind of claptrap, college students should be taught the rudiments of selling as it's done in the real world.  

An elevator pitch, for example, is not a 30-second block of motor-mouthing. Effective elevator pitches consist of three answers to three implicit buyer questions:

  1. The benefit (answers "What's in it for me?")
  2. The differentiator (answers "Why buy it from you?")
  3. The call to action (answers "What's the next step?")

An effective elevator pitch is delivered conversationally, rather than as a speech, like so:

  • Exec: "So, Brad, what are your plans?"
  • Brad: "I convince Millennials like me to begin investing when they're young." (Benefit)
  • Exec: "How do you do that?"
  • Brad: "Because I'm a Millennial, I understand what motivates my peers." (Differentiator)
  • Exec: "That's interesting. What motivates them?"
  • Brad: [after providing an anecdote that illustrates the differentiator] "It sounds like you might be interested in hiring somebody who could attract successful young investors."
  • Exec: "Yes, that's in our plans."
  • Brad: "We should talk. What's the best way to get on your calendar?" (Call to action)

As you can see, this elevator pitch is focused on the needs of the buyer (i.e., the hiring manager) and introduces the candidate's experience only as proof of the candidate's ability to deliver.

Savvy readers will realize immediately the same thing is true of all sales and marketing messages. If your message is about YOU, it's the wrong message.

Published on: May 26, 2016
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