Elevator Encounters

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Professional Development - Tips to Build Your Career

Elevator Encounters


 Peter Redl, PhD, Data Scientist, Google

Peter Redl. Photo courtesy of Peter RedlMost days you will encounter someone you haven’t met. You may even see a lot of the same people every day but never talk to them. If so, you could be missing out not only on some interesting characters and fun stories, but also on people who might help you progress your career.

How do you go from complete strangers to professional contacts? Most people are eager to help, but they can’t help you if they don’t know you. The easiest way to break the ice is with an elevator pitch—a short introduction that conveys enough information about you for the other person to quickly determine how you fit into their network.

I recently had a chance encounter on a train ride. As I settled in for a long ride, I was hoping that the train would be relatively empty and the seat next to me would remain open. That didn’t happen, but I kept working, trying out a new version of the machine learning framework TensorFlow.

My neighbor noticed what I was doing and asked about my job. I gave my elevator pitch, explaining that I am a data scientist working on artificial intelligence problems. He listened and then gave me his elevator pitch. It turned out that he is also a data scientist, a little further along in his career. We exchanged contact information and went on to enjoy the rest of our train ride. In the movie Fight Club, Edward Norton’s character calls the people he meets on flights “single-serving friends.” But with LinkedIn and other networking tools, it’s easy to stay connected to new contacts today.

I’ve had many chance encounters in my life. Some have progressed my career and others have led to new friends. Most of the time, I’ve at least gotten to hear an interesting story. I don’t know what will come from this particular interaction, but if I take enough train rides, talk to enough people in coffee lines, and ride enough elevators, chances are that my life and career will be positively impacted. At minimum, I’ll get to meet a lot of fascinating people and have some good stories to share.

An Elevator Speech on the Elevator Speech, from the Careers Toolbox

An elevator speech is the 30-second version of who you are professionally, what you’ve accomplished, and where you hope to go in the future. Think of the elevator speech as a short conversation with a purpose—to open the door to a conversation with a new connection. 

You should practice your elevator speech several times so that you can easily recall the highlights when an opportunity arises; however, you do not want to sound too rehearsed.

Let’s say that you are standing in line for coffee at a meeting, and you notice a Nobel laureate standing next to you. What do you do? Take a selfie? Maybe, but definitely give your elevator speech!

Your elevator speech must explain:
● Who you are
● What you’ve accomplished
● Where you hope to go
● What you are passionate about

For more, visit the Career Toolbox at spsnational.org/sites/all/careerstoolbox/.

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