Taking the interview to new heights

An elevator ride to the top of Regions Bank, the tallest building in downtown Tampa, takes about 37 seconds.

That’s the same amount of time students will have to make a first impression on hiring managers in the College of Business Administration’s (COBA) competition this week, said Robert Forsythe, dean of COBA.

“When you talk to hiring managers, what they’ll tell you is that within the first two or three minutes of an interview they know,” he said. “They know whether this is going to go anywhere or not.”

The purpose of the competition – to encourage students to be polished and self-confident in an interview – will help students acquire the ability to make a good first impression, said Lorie Briggs, director of communications and external relations for COBA.

“The elevator competition is a way to get students to practice up on those (skills) and to understand truly what a first impression is like,” she said.

After a preliminary contest, only 20 students get two chances to ride in an elevator at Regions Bank on Saturday morning with hiring managers from the Tampa area, who will judge them based on their ability to communicate.

The winner will receive $1,000.

Forsythe said he hears “the No. 1 thing is students need to work on their communication skills, both written and oral.”

“This is just one other way that we might get their attention and have them literally work on their elevator speech,” he said.

The competition, now in its second year, was inspired by the concept of an “elevator pitch” – a technique used by salesmen when trying to market a product in a short period of time.

For example, Briggs said, one might explain what makes a pencil cool but wouldn’t get into details of how it’s made.

“An elevator pitch is simply being able to sell something in about the amount of time it would take to ride an elevator,” she said. “So what students should do to prepare for this is think (that) the thing … they’re selling is themselves when they’re in a job interview.”

For students, it means highlighting who they are and what sets them apart from the competition.

“The elevator is the gimmick,” Briggs said.

To qualify for the competition, students had to attend one of the business seminars. More than 50 attended and signed up.

The seminar USF student Lynn Francois attended was a good way for her to prepare, she said.

“They also told us how to make your speech more direct and to kind of engage the person you’re talking to … I know now that I should probably address them as to what exactly I want to do, and in my elevator speech, I will give them an idea of what it is I want to do in the corporate world,” said Francois, a freshman majoring in accounting.

To narrow the number of eligible students, COBA will hold a preliminary contest similar to speed dating.

Students will have one minute to meet with COBA administrators and local hiring managers and share their elevator speech Tuesday night in the business building.

Watching last year’s competition, Forsythe felt students struggled with self-awareness. He said, ideally, students need a “relaxed, self-confident approach.”

“They struggle with sort of getting the right balance. That they don’t come across as too pushy,” he said. “At the same time, it also can’t be too timid.”

Francois has been preparing for Tuesday’s event and the elevator finals by practicing and timing a speech she’s pre-written.

Her biggest challenge, she said, will probably be nerves. She said this competition is a chance to practice skills she can use in networking.

“I hope to learn how to address people professionally and how to be more comfortable in a professional environment, so that when I get another opportunity to meet professionals I feel more at ease,” she said.

Steve Schertzer, a junior majoring in finance who was in the top five last year, said the elevator ride went by faster than he expected, but he focused on presenting himself honestly.

“I wanted to make sure I was communicating well with the person because you’re only there for a minute,” he said. “I wanted to make sure they understood the skills I could bring to a potential company.”

And, he said, it’s not just about cash prizes.

“For me, it wasn’t really about the competition. It was about what I’m going to get out of it in the long run,” he said. “No matter how you do, just take away the skills you’re going to gain from it.”