How and Why to Develop an Elevator Pitch

Coelevator up buttonmmunicating with employers is critical to what we do and it’s not easy to get it right.  We all believe in what we do and want to convey that passion as a way to “sell” our clients.  There’s nothing better than a successful placement to ramp up an employer relationship.

But, establishing initial interest from a new employer requires that you speak THEIR language.  Tell them what’s in it for their bottom line.  You can tug their heartstrings later and engage them in your mission AFTER they agree to consider hiring a refugee.

One of Higher’s first E-learning trainings will focus on communicating with employers.  Meanwhile, everyone should develop an elevator pitch – a concise, carefully planned, and well-practiced description of your service to employers that your mother should be able to understand in the time it would take to ride up an elevator. This isn’t a full-on sales pitch, but rather an initial hook to start the conversation.

Here are the six steps outlined in a great article about how to develop your own elevator pitch that should last less than 60 seconds.

  1. Identify your goal
  2. Explain what you do
  3. Communicate your unique value
  4. Engage with a question
  5. Put it all together
  6. Practice

Here’s the pitch I used as Job Developer at Caritas of Austin:

Caritas is the largest non-profit social service agency in Travis County.  We help pre-screened, work-authorized candidates find jobs at no cost to employers. (Then, I’d follow with whatever question got me where I wanted to go next.)  I saw you have a job opening.  May I send you qualified candidates? Or, Could I find out more about your hiring process and how we can help you?

When you have your elevator pitch ready, please share.  I’ll be working on mine to describe Higher’s work.  Stay tuned.

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How to Use Video for Interview Practice

Fancy Camera graphic for video mock interviewDon’t let fancy, expensive technology  scare you off.  You can use your smart  phone or desk top camera or your daughter’s pink princess flip cam to record  questions for a simple mock interview.  The How-to is outlined in this great piece from The Guardian Online.

Pre-recording interview questions simulates the feeling of responding in real time, which can help client practice feel more real.  We repeat interview questions multiple times for every client.  Using this approach can save time and help you be more than one place at once.  I can think of several ways to use this approach to help refugee clients:

  • I’m often surprised at how soon many clients are able to get a smart phone. You could record a few questions onto their phone and show them how to play them back for practice at home. They might even be able to record their final responses and bring them back in to your next appointment so you could provide feedback.


  • Volunteers could use prerecorded questions from you (loaded on to a USB memory stick) to help client practice exactly the questions you want them to work on together.


  • You could use this approach in Job Readiness classes using someone other than the instructor as the “interviewer”. This could also help clients practice comprehension with multiple speakers of English.
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Ethics and Client Job History

When is it ethical to falsify client job experience?  The short answer is never.  But, think about what you would do – or have done – in these situations:

?:  What iquestion markf your hotel HR contact tips you off that their system kicks out any client who doesn’t claim 6 months of previous work experience and promises to interview all of your clients if she can see their application in the system?

?:  What if you know they can do the job and they did the same thing as a stay-at-home-mom anyway?

?:  What if they just can’t remember dates of their experience or have large gaps in employment that you just want to make easier to explain?

?:  What if the client tells you they have the experience because they want to apply for a specific job and have never mentioned that before so you believe strongly that they’re lying?

Now, it’s not so simple, right?  I’ll admit that a couple of those examples hit pretty close to home.

Putting untrue or misleading information on a resume will have serious negative consequences.  We’re all heard about people losing their jobs when lies about their credentials were discovered.  Maybe no one will know if a job in rural South Sudan is real or not.  But, modeling this behavior to clients now can trip them up down the road.

Sure, the client can quickly learn how to do the job they claim to have experience doing already.  But, can they talk about what that job entails in a job interview?  Will your valued employment partner see a pattern and be able to spot falsified claims of past experience in your clients over time?  That could do major damage to that relationship, your reputation and that of your entire agency.

It’s easy to tell yourself that those stupid on-line screening systems are wrong anyway, so it’s ok to get around them.  I can’t bring myself to state emphatically that doing so is absolutely wrong, even though I know it is.

If clients just can’t remember date ranges for their job experience, are they supposed to just leave it off their resumes?  In this case, I want to say that helping them recreate dates is ok.  But, it’s easy to take it too far by stretching the dates quite a bit to camouflage gaps in employment.  It’s a slippery slope.

Ethical behavior is important for all kinds of reasons and the age old argument about whether the means justifies the end is beyond the scope of this post.  So, I’ll leave it open ended.  Comments?

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Technique to Help Clients Answer “Give Me an Example” Interview Questions

Supernova star burstHelping our clients master job interview skills is a basic of what we do.  “Give me an example from your experience” questions are an employment professional’s nightmare and they are becoming much more common in interviews for all kinds of jobs.

It’s a struggle to help refugees understand what work place skills are valued in the US and feel confident in which ones they can offer.  Delivering a concise, relevant example when you’re nervous already is not easy for anyone.  Then, add language barriers and your scheduling limitations to the mix.  Ugh.

The S T A R Technique – Situation, Task, Activity and Result – is a great tool to help clients structure responses to “give me example” questions.  Read more about it in an article from The Guardian, that also gives a great explanation of competency based job interviews.

This real life example from my 6.5 years working in employment at Caritas of Austin, TX applies this great approach to our clients.

A major hospital partner provided exact interview questions, each linked to a corporate value (like integrity or service to the poor).  Several of the questions required real life examples of that quality.  Building the skill to answer those questions took many steps:   Explain the concept of corporate values.  Define many of the words.  Provide illustrative examples.  Help the client think of their own examples.  Then, finally, practice each response.  We conducted small group interview preparation to screen candidates for very competitive positions at an exacting employer.

We learned that the example doesn’t have to be from a similar job or even from a work context.  The important thing is to use a real story and don’t refuse to answer.  I helped more than 50 clients apply for this job and prepare for the interview.  No client who didn’t at least try was ever offered a position.  Several who got job offers struggled with this type of question.  Their answers were real and thoughtful, but not always perfect.

Value:  Respect

Question:  Think of a time when you disagreed with your supervisor.  How did you handle the situation?

Possible Response Using the S T A R Technique:  (from a Burmese client who had worked in Malaysia)

  • Situation: When I worked in a warehouse, an important customer walked in and asked to buy 10 cases of our canned fish.  That’s a big order for us.
  • Task:  The manager was new and didn’t know he was a good customer.  He told me to tell him no because he didn’t have an appointment.  I didn’t think this was the right decision.
  • Activity:  I told the manager who the customer was and also told him I had time to work on loading the order now and still do all my other work.
  • Result:  The manager was glad that he did not make a mistake and embarrass a good customer. He introduced himself, apologized for the wait and sent someone else out to get tea while I hurried to load the order.  The customer and the manager were both happy.
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