Job-seeking graduates hone their elevator pitchesby Tim Post, Minnesota Public Radio
Career counselors say it's more important than ever for new grads to network with potential employers. At the University of Minnesota, job counselors are teaching graduates the fine art of networking, and how to do it quickly.
St. Paul, Minn. — With so many people on the hunt for work, career experts say new college graduates need to network with employers when they have the chance, and they need to do it quickly.
One technique is called the "elevator speech."
It works this way. A job seeking college graduate gets on an elevator and ends up standing next to someone who could hook them up with a job interview.
They have about 30 seconds to make a good impression, everything from a firm handshake to a quick summary of their resume, before the elevator ride ends.
Of course elevator speeches aren't only for elevators. They can be used at parties, at a coffee shop, or anytime a job seeker finds an opportunity to sell themselves to a potential employer.
Career counselors at the University of Minnesota think this is such an important skill, they've helped recent graduates practice their elevator speeches.
Recently about 80 graduates signed up for a day-long training on the university's St. Paul campus.
A career counselor role-plays elevator speech situations with a small group of grads. Other groups spread throughout the room.
The students are here to get feedback on their networking techniques from employers and university career consultants like Janet Pelto, who gives immediate feedback.
"Very well done," Pelto said. "I like the fact that you didn't just say 'I did some teaching', you talked about what that involved, so you painted more of a picture."
Pelto said it's more important than ever for new graduates to impress potential employers, and do it fast.
"(Students should provide) a quick snapshot of who the student is and a summary of what the student wants the employer to know about him or her that is relevant to the employment situation," Pelto said.
Eric Williams, who just graduated with a degree in history and Spanish from the University of Minnesota-Morris, thinks this training has given him the confidence to start networking.
"I know networking is sort of a buzz word...people with power-shaved heads and fancy suits pound their fists on the table and say, 'You gotta go network, you gotta do this.'" Williams said. "I don't really know how to go about doing that, but it helps me get my foot in the door."
But even if they get their foot in the door, graduates are finding those doorways are crowded.
"I've gotten the interviews, the prospects are good, but every job has so many applicants that it's hard to stand out," said Emily Mitchell, a new political science graduate from the university's Twin Cities campus.
For graduates like Mitchell, standing out is vital, said Charlie Anderson, a consultant with New York City-based, management consulting company Genesis 10.
"You can't come to an interview or an elevator speech and say, 'I'm very flexible and I'm very hardworking.'" said Anderson, who works in the company's Woodbury office. "That's sort of what everybody else does, and I want to see something new."
What Anderson wants to see, might not be what a job seeking grad thinks he wants to see. Anderson isn't interested in majors or grades. To get an interview, job seekers need to show Anderson they're curious or they're passionate. Most of all, he remembers their personality.
And that's where applicants really need to stand out; Anderson's company recently received 1,000 applications for just 20 open positions.
In this tough job market new college grads can't be afraid to brag about themselves, said Becky Hall, with the University of Minnesota's career services office.
"This is when you really need to speak to your strengths," Hall said. "And what is going to stand out against your competitors is a critical component."
Career counselors say college graduates should look to their college's career services office well after graduation to make connections for job networking. And they should keep practicing those 30-second elevator speeches, just in case.
- Morning Edition, 06/03/2009, 6:55 a.m.