The Proverbial Elevator Speech

Every time I hear the term “elevator speech,” it makes me cringe. I know it serves a purpose and I’ll talk about that in a minute, but most people use an elevator speech to talk “at” people – about themselves – far too often. That is especially true when one is in job search mode. Think about a wife talking at her husband, or vice versa. How much listening is really happening? Or, is the other person …

– planning what s/he is going to say next;

– mentally wondering what else is on his “to do” list;

– trying to determine how soon he can disengage from the me-centered conversation; or

– strategically scanning the room to see who else is there?

That is a consequence of using an elevator speech when a back-and-forth conversation would be much more effective. Such communication is much easier when you understand your value and can articulate it in problem-solving language. When asked what do you do, there are conversation stoppers and more intriguing conversation hooks with which to respond. For example,

I am a CFO for XYZ Company; or

I help small mid-cap companies meet their growth objectives.

The first response is typical and completely misses the value piece of a message. Short of something like how long have you been there, the conversation is on its way to a quick end. Conversely, the latter response invites a follow-up question. If you are skillful at handling the follow-up questions, you can keep the conversation flowing while simultaneously creating rock-solid problem solving positioning.

Save your elevator speech – that 60-to-90 second spiel that tells people about you – for round table networking events and when answering the question “tell me about yourself” during an interview or in a conversation with a recruiter. At that point, it is both appropriate and useful because your written marketing documents (resume, cover letter, leadership brief) and digital footprint have already answered the value question.

Proverbial or not, I do not believe an elevator speech is appropriate when you are standing in an elevator or attending a networking event. Talking at people will never be as effective as engaging people by talking with them.

Copyright CFO-Coach 2017


Cindy Kraft is the CFO-Coach and America’s leading Career & Personal Brand Strategist for Corporate Finance Executives helping clients understand their marketability, articulate their value, and position themselves as the clear and compelling choice. She is a Certified Reach Personal Brand Strategist, Certified Reach Online Identity Strategist, Certified Career Management Coach, Certified Professional Resume Writer, and Job & Career Transition Coach. Cindy can be reached via email, by phone 813-727-3037, or through her website at

20 is the New 2

During a coaching call this morning, my CFO client was bemoaning the fact that it is becoming increasingly difficult for him to deliver his message. He said he targets 2 minutes as the time to deliver his responses to interview questions, but finds himself getting cut off after completing one sentence.

20 has become the new 2. 

20 words vs. 2 minutes. Welcome to the new world of messaging courtesy of Twitter, texting, Blackberry, and iPhone

I can hear you now. I can also see your eyes rolling. It was evident in my client’s response, too. How can you possibly deliver your message in 20 words? 

Realistically, you can’t afford not to. If your responses are getting cut off, your message isn’t resonating. Conversely, if you deliver a crystal-clear 20-word hook that invites a follow-up question … SCORE!

20 is the new 2. You have to know the new rules if you expect to compete and win!

I Never Heard Back

I’m hearing this from some of my CFOs …

–A recruiter called me, said he had a great opportunity for me, asked for my resume, and I never heard back from him.

–I had an interview 3 weeks ago and was told I’d hear back in two weeks, but, I haven’t heard back from anyone.

–After lunch with a CEO, and a great prospect, he indicated he would talk with the senior leadership team and get back to me by the end of the week, but I never heard back. 

So I’m wondering …. Have we lost all professionalism and courtesy in this country? Does anyone who says they will follow up within a specific time frame actually follow up anymore? Does our me-centric world revolve around us to such a degree that we can no longer exercise any form of etiquette to others? 

While we certainly cannot control the behavior of others, we can control what we do. 

— Say what you mean and mean what you say. If YOU utter the words … I’ll follow up with you within XXXX days or weeks … do it. Even if it is only an update to say no progress has been made, do it. Treat others with the same courtesy you expect. Your reputation is at stake here and apparently, it will take very little to differentiate yourself from others … simply be courteous.

— If you’re a recruiter and you’ve given a Chief Financial Officer the cold shoulder, letting him hang after you’ve thrown him a bone … he won’t forget. They tell me they won’t forget. So don’t be surprised to find yourself snubbed when he’s landed and sitting inside the nice corner office refusing to take your phone calls.

Why did you leave your last job?

A finance executive recently contacted me for some coaching on how to answer the inevitable interview question regarding why he left his last job. He struggled to put those unpleasant details and experience into an answer that was both positive and truthful.


The tendency is usually toward bitterness when you’ve been let go … for any reason. After all, you gave them 60+ hours a week, the best years of your life, kept them solvent … whatever. You did your best and what thanks did you get? It comes through in your words, tone, and even body language. 

The result is usually going negative in your answer. So keep your answer short, don’t blame anyone, and then deflect with a question to move the conversation to more neutral territory.


Never. Ever. Ever. lie! First of all, you have to remember the lie you told. You don’t need to respond in gory detail, but your response must be honest.  Second, the Internet has made it very, very easy to uncover the truth. You should regularly Google your name to see what a potential company might find if they searched your name … and they most likely will. That way, you can go on the offensive and be prepared to answer those hard questions. 

Be sure to prep your references, particularly if they work(ed) for the same company, in the event the “why you let” question is posed to them. 


If iPhones, Blackberries, and Twitter have taught us anything, it is that brevity is king. The surest way to sabotage your interview is to let a pregnant pause loosen your tongue. Prepare. Practice. Answer. And then, unless you are deflecting with a question, be quiet.

As a brilliant finance executive or CFO, working yourself out of a job is much different than losing a job. There is much power in the former, very little in the latter.

Failing to Plan … Planning to Fail?

A finance executive called me last week because he knew that his resume was not selling value, he struggled when answering questions about his atypical career track, and he had an important interview coming up in the next couple of weeks. He understood that without a compelling value proposition that mitigated his unusual career progression and which leveraged his market differentiation, he would always be on the defensive while being interviewed.  Smart guy. 

Except, that when his pending interview was postponed indefinitely and the immediacy of the situation gone, he put his strategic planning on hold. Without the urgency driving his steps, he would have had the luxury of time to get his positioning right … while gaining confidence and re-energizing his search. 

The reality in proactively managing one’s career is like anything else … failing to plan could very well be planning to fail. The choice to not be proactive is a decision, by default, to be reactive. 

More from the Kennedy Conference

Thanksgiving was here and gone and it’s already December. Only 3 weeks & 2 days until Christmas, and then we will speed right into the New Year. Are you already thinking about your New Year’s resolutions? Dreaming about what you would like to be different next year. Thinking and doing are two different things.

As you think, and plan to do, here are a few more gems tweeted from the Kennedy Conference that might help you in your planning.

––36% of CEO's lack confidence in their own company's recruiting department (Steve Lowisz, CEO of Qualigence)

It seems inconceivable that CFO–types would actually want to be going through HR to secure their next position. But, when you play the Internet job search/job posting game, that is exactly what you get … unless it is a specific TPR (third party recruiting) listing, and those are rare.

Sitting in front of a computer searching for posted positions on public job sites is safe, and a HUGE timewaster, because it is ineffective and keeps you from doing the things that are effective and will move you towards that next position. Remember the old cliché, “if it looks too good to be true it probably is.” It’s true.

HR is a screen designed to filter out candidates who do not meet the list of requirements. They have no decision–making authority. Great candidates rarely succeed in this process. Even if they meet all the skill requirements there is still culture fit, work ethic, and track record of bottom line impact to consider. Bypassing HR gives great candidates a fighting chance.

–– Elements of a killer brand: Choice and expectation. Every choice that will be made will be based on expectation. (Steve Bonomo and Steve Fogarty, Adidas)

Expectation – People make decisions in life – and in the hiring process – based on emotion. And decisions about the brands with which we choose to associate are incredibly emotional. An assessment about you is typically made within the first 3-5 minutes of an interview. Think of the power your brand brings into that interview. They probably already like you based on the connection they feel – which is based on who they believe you to already be. Set the expectation.

Choice – The candidate gets to choose where he wants to go rather than accepting whatever is offered. What is different and unique about what you’ve done in your finance career that will position you from a place of power rather than commodity, and shift the paradigm to choice … yours?

Interview Your Future Boss?

 Should you interview your future boss? Absolutely! While it seems like a novel idea, it really isn’t. Rather, it is a strategic move … whether you are a CFO or other senior–level executive. Your ability to ask great questions of a potential company says as much about you as do your answers to their questions.

Interviews should be conversations, not interrogations. Landing in a new position should be a mutually–beneficial decision. If it isn’t the right place for you, the result is a costly mistake for the company and another job search for you.’s article, “Nine Things to Ask Your Future Boss, the CEO,” is a good read. I would add that being clear about your brand – how you do what you do – will increase the likelihood that the answers to these questions will be what you want to hear.


Dr. Sullivan calls it “Speed Interviewing,” based on the speed dating concept, but whatever it’s called, from a candidate's perspective it is the skill of stripping down a marketable value proposition to its most succinct and compelling delivery.

Malcolm Gladwell in his book Blink talks about the concept of “thin slicing,” taking an activity and breaking it down into micro segments.

I alluded to this concept in a former post on Twit Pitches. The Internet is changing the way we communicate … and that includes the way you will need to sell yourself to a target audience. If you really only had about 20 words to deliver your value prop, what would you say?

Dr. Sullivan’s article is certainly an interesting, and perhaps scary, read.