Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The first question in an intervew - The Elevator Pitch

"Tell me about yourself"

This question is almost always the first question you will hear in any interview. Sometimes the variations are delivered a bit differently:

"Walk me through your resume"

"So why are you here today?"

This is the very first question which almost always comes up. It's your opportunity to give your elevator pitch and to set the engagement ground of conversation for the interview. It's also where most people permanently ruin their interview and first impression that they make upon the interview because of the following reasons:

1) Not enough structure

BE CHRONOLOGICAL. You may have invented a brilliant new categorization system for telling the story of your life and why you should receive an offer but this question right now is an elevator speech, and creativity is not rewarded. Be chronological, be articulate, and be 2-3 minutes long otherwise the interviewer will get bored.

For people applying to college, you really only have until your current end of high-school period to narrate so it's easier. Start out with 1) Where you were born, 2) Important activities that you've done during high school (with a touch of embellishment) and 3) How all of that relates to why you're interested in whatever it is you've stated your interest in to major in or study at college (and if you haven't actually decided, make it up).

For people applying to jobs the overall format remains the same except with two adjustments. First, you should skip through high school and give a brief overview of your college experiences and how that led you into your current career field/interest. Secondly, you want to focus (especially if you've jumped around career-wise a lot) on convincing the employer that you're not wishy-washy and that there is a logical and consistent transition between all of the work experience you've had.

2) Not selling yourself

Regardless of whether you're interviewing for an academic or corporate position there are three qualities that must always present in your "image":


The first two qualities are an issue of controlling what you say. When explaining why you did so-and-so activity or went to so-and-so college, make logical, well-thought out explanations of WHY you made your choice. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter if your choices about activities, college, and jobs were actually made in drunken orgies and rampages. As far as the interview is concerned, you ALWAYS had two or three alternatives, made a logical, thoughtful decision for the following reasons, and then moved on to the next stage of your life.

Enthusiasm is an interview quality which is harder to game then confidence and maturity. Make sure in your introduction speech to answer the first question that you absolutely focus on one aspect of yourself that is relevant, and then project it across in your interview answers.

For example, if I were interviewing for admission to Engineering (say at Columbia). I'd make sure that any activities I mention in my elevator pitch focus on engineering/science-related topics. Talk about how you became really interested in the profession of engineering bc of some great Science Olympiad event you have, a pivotal moment in your childhood, etc. Don't lie, but don't let a fact or two stand in the way of a good story.

3) why, Why, WHY!?!?

Why are you interviewing for this job? Why do you want to go to this college? Here are the generic good and bad reaons.

Reasons that might be true which you should NOT be telling the interviewer:

-High burden of expectations from parents

Reasons that might not be the complete truth but which you SHOULD be telling the interviewer:

-The opportunity to learn from and interact with the smartest people in the world/industry/field, etc.
-[For academic interviews] The chance to have a world-class degree and skillset and have unlimited opportunities open to you
-[For jobs] The challenge of the job, the culture of the company, and opportunities to take on responsibility and contribute to the firm

That wraps up my post for today on the elevator pitch. Feel free to contact me at if you have any questions.


The Advisor

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