Have Your Elevator Pitch Ready – You Will Need It

One of the most important things for any leader to have in their arsenal is the elevator pitch, or multiple pitches for different scenarios.

Here we will summarise the most obvious ones which will come up and you can easily prep for (but we often find people underprepared for) and some advice on how to address them.

As all will know, the “elevator pitch” is a US expression from a country where there is often a more overt pitching style in business than typically found in Europe. It means to be able to convey a concise and compelling summary of information about you and/or your business/proposal in the time it takes to travel a few floors in an elevator.  And although concise, the two syllable “Lift pitch” doesn’t cut it so we won’t ever suggest translating to British English!  Also, we have less skyscrapers so shorter lift journeys for those not watching their flights step count.

The elevator pitch (EP) should be pithy and leave the recipient with a very clear understanding of you/your proposition.  While it conjures images of a single question, it is a technique that is valuable for many interactions and especially in executive interviews.

Concentrating on those that will most commonly come up in our field of Technology & Digital Executive Search, most obvious questions that require the EP response:

  1. Can you tell me a bit about yourself?
  2. Can you explain your business to me?
  3. What were your biggest achievements in X?
  4. Why are you interested in us?
  5. Why did you leave X?

1 – ‘Can you tell me a bit about yourself’

This classic “CEO/Chairman interview” open question still scuppers some of the most composed leaders. It’s not an invitation for your life story. It is intended to see how somebody can convey the most pertinent information, delivered with a little personality and panache.  Think about what is most relevant for the role, think about the overall arc of your career and think about why you are here.

Example answer:

“Throughout my career I have operated at the intersection of product & technology in high growth consumer digital businesses. My passion is creating new products that disrupt existing markets as I did with X & Y. I enjoy operating in high stakes environments where there is a clear mission and big goals and have been fortunate to find these opportunities throughout my career.  What areas of my experience would you find it most helpful for me to elaborate on?”

This EP gives immediate impact with the type of functional expertise you have, how you have applied this with relevant examples and the cultural context in which you like to operate. While you could certainly give more detail, the invitation at the end politely gives the person an opportunity to dive into the topics that most interest them, showing respect for their time and agenda.

2 – ‘Can you explain your business to me?’

Can you explain your business to me is the obvious one in a VC pitch but also an interview scenario. Whether you are a founder or an employee, you should be able to convey the key information about your business. Think about the relevant stats and metrics: employees, revenue, growth rate, markets you operate in. You should also very clearly be able to describe your business model in a way that leaves no doubt about what you do. Its perfectly acceptable to use the “Amazon of..” or the “Netflix of..”. Never assume that, even if your business is well known, that people will understand the scale and scope or where you fit into the picture.

3 – ‘What were your biggest achievements in X?’

Achievements are ones that are essential for an EP. Keep it factual, highlight the most impressive stuff and give context – what made this hard, how did you overcome obstacles and how can you (with touch of humility) shine a light on your achievements. Stats, metrics again are useful to help illustrate what you did and the ultimate business impact that you made.

4 – ‘Why are you interested in us?’

Any interview is a two-way process, but people will always want to know why you are interested in them. Try and show that you have thought beyond the surface of why the business, mission, team particularly appeals. Its not the moment to be sycophantic (even if you have a strong love for the leadership) but should leave the audience with a sense that you have made a considered decision to explore this and it is also an ideal moment to help sell your suitability by emphasising the strong fit between what you have done, what they need somebody to do and the mesh between your ambitions and their goals as a business.

5 – ‘Why did you leave X?’

This is always a tricky one to approach and people often get it wrong. Everyone knows that you shouldn’t speak negatively about your employer in an interview but context of why you moved on is always important, even if the circumstances were challenging. Less is more here. Give the brief summary, and focus on the positives of the move that you made next. A fluid, coherent response is the most important aspect as hesitation might lead people to believe there is something to hide.

There will of course be other examples but these are all worth prepping for so you can relax knowing you have responses for some of the most common questions prepared!