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Face to Face with a CEO… Your Career in 30 Seconds or Less

Face to Face with a CEO… Your Career in 30 Seconds or Less

“What do you do for a living?”

You never know when the time will come: being face-to-face with a potential future boss or CEO of your dream company, and he or she greets you with this question. Whether attending a business networking event or running into another business professional at your local coffee shop, you need to be prepared to tell your story, in 30 seconds or less. Some call it an elevator speech, others call it your 30-second pitch. Either way, as business professionals we all need one and need to be ready to deliver it at a moments’ notice.

Think back to these moments in your own life. Did what you communicated make sense, rather than put the recipient to sleep. Did you communicate proudly about what you do, how you do it and the impact that you make within your company. Your response to that one question can make all the difference. Here are a few impactful ways to communicate, in 30 seconds or less, how special you really are.

Say What You Do, Not Your Title

Unless your title is one that is fairly common and defines the general scope of what you do, be sure to communicate what it actually is you do. Yes, titles can sound very impressive at times, and range widely in variety, but what good are they if we don’t understand what they actually mean. People often have communicated to me their actual titles, which left me confused as to what they actually do. This leads me to have to ask follow-up questions, in hopes that I don’t offend the person I am speaking with by asking them. For example, the title “User-Interface Designer” can easily be translated into someone who designs technology that makes it easier for individuals to interact with. An “Administrative Services Coordinator” can be translated at times as someone who manages the daily operations of an office environment. Then there is “Senior Associate.” This can mean many things to many people, so this will indeed require an explanation. One important thing to keep in mind is the actual question that was asked of you. That is “What do you do?” Not “What is your title?”

Content and Purpose is Key

If you do have a title that sounds important and is one you feel confident in communicating to others (which is okay), be sure to immediately define it for the individuals standing in front of you. You know your functional area of expertise the best, so don’t leave it up to interpretation by others (which can have a negative effect on what others think of you). Tell your “title story” in a way that is easy to understand, foregoing the acronyms or industry terms that may seem normal to you, but comes across as a foreign language to others. Be sure to provide the paragraph, not the novel in this case. You have a limited amount of time to create a positive first impression, so don’t be long-winded. Be concise with your overall scope of responsibility. Communicate your end goal: what you are charged with delivering upon on a daily basis. Once others know what the purpose of your role is, it becomes easier to understand.

Focus on Impact

Don’t be afraid to share success. While delivering upon the content and purpose as mentioned above, don’t hesitate to communicate the overall success YOU have in YOUR role. When faced with a situation where you are trying to impress the person in front of you for personal gain (such as a potential job), focus on a result or two where you yourself delivered impact for the company. By doing so, you are not only impressing the person in front of you, but making him or her think how you could have the same impact at his or her respective company.

Be Positive

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We all face professional challenges on a regular basis. Some days are worse than others, but don’t let the positive, potentially life-changing opportunity in front of you turn into a pity-party for yourself. Keep the mood and conversation upbeat and positive. No one likes to hear the miseries of others, so be sure to focus on the aspects of your job that you get most excited. Don’t hesitate to proactively communicate what thrills you about your job. This will show others the type of person you are, and your professional approach to your career. Some individuals are uncomfortable hearing the problems of others, so avoid putting them in that situation.

End Goal: To Extend the Conversation

While you only have 30 seconds to impress the person in front of you, the end goal is to try and extend the conversation longer and set yourself up for a future conversation. You do this by asking an open-ended question (one which requires a longer response than yes or no). Asking about what one does for a living is a natural transition in this case. However, when standing in front of the CEO of your dream company, you may already know what they do. In this case, be very strong and strategic with your question. Ask a positive, thought-provoking question that will show that CEO you are engaged in the conversation, and one that highlights your knowledge and intelligence in the industry. One key thing to be cognizant of towards the end of this interaction are social cues. Observe the body language and spoken language of the person you are interacting with. Is he or she trying to exit the conversation or in a hurry to get to a meeting? Observe social cues as precaution to not become the person who “wouldn’t let me go.” Don’t hesitate to ask for a business card or other contact information in an effort to extend the conversation into the future. LinkedIn is also an easy, modern and effective way to connect after an interaction.


Craig W. Petrus joined the Warrington College of Business in June of 2009. As Executive Director, Craig is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the Business Center Services Office and ensuring the delivery of quality career development programming and services to students within the College of Business at the University of Florida.

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