Starting with years of experience in elevator pitch and on resume could hurt you

It’s inevitable. When an older job seeker delivers their elevator pitch to me, they lead with something like “I have 20 years of experience in project management.” My reaction to this auspicious beginning is that it’s not…auspicious. In other words, the person’s years of experience doesn’t impress.

The same principle applies to a resume; touting years of experience in the Summary doesn’t impress a reader. It certainly doesn’t impress me. And I imagine it doesn’t impress hiring authorities, as evident by a raging poll that is only two-days old on LinkedIn.

What impresses me AND employers is what you’ve accomplished most recently, say in the last five to seven years, and that your accomplishments are relevant to the employer’s needs. In addition, because you have 20 plus years of experience doesn’t prove you’ve been productive.

Angela Watts is a former recruiter turned recruiter has this to say about showing value over years of experience:

“Years of experience in and of itself means nothing… you may have been doing a job very poorly for 20+ years. Show me the accomplishments… the pattern of success across roles and companies… your compelling value proposition for THIS open position.”

Hannah Morgan is a career coach and speaker who advises candidates to talk about relevant value and using a hook to begin the elevator pitch and the resume Summary:

This has been a pet peeve of mine since I started! It’s always about what you know how to do (problems you solve). The number of years is irrelevant. Explain the level at which you perform your job! And yes, always get them with a hook. Make it relatable!

If you ask 10 people how someone should deliver their elevator pitch or begin their resume Summary (more about the Summary below), you’ll get 10 different answers. This doesn’t mean the answers will be wrong; it simply means the components of each will vary slightly or be arranged in a different manner.

Your elevator pitch

Following is my opinion on how to deliver the elevator pitch without stating years of experience.

Start strong

Instead of beginning your elevator pitch with the number of years you’ve been in occupation and industry, explain why you enjoy what you’re doing. That’s right, tell the interviewers or fellow networkers what drives you in your work. I’m tempted to say what you’re passionate about, but why not?

People like to hear and see enthusiasm. Especially employers who are hiring people for motivation and fit. Sure, technical skills matter. Employers need to know you can do the job, but your years of experience doesn’t prove you can do the job. “I have 20 years of experience” is a “So what?” statement.

Let’s look at a sample answer to “Tell me about yourself.” The following statement shows enthusiasm and draws the listener’s attention, especially with inflection in your voice:

I knew marketing communications was the route I wanted to take as soon as I realized what an impact it has stakeholders. Playing an integral role in getting the company’s message out to the public is one of my greatest pleasures, (slight rise in voice) especially when it increases awareness of our products or services.

Back it up with relevant accomplishments

This part of your elevator pitch is the most important, as you will speak to the employer’s needs. Two or three relevant accomplishments of what you’ve achieved most recently is best. But keep in mind they don’t want to hear your life story. Keep it brief, yet impactful.

(Big smile) One of my greatest accomplishments is having recently led a social media team of five who were able to increase traffic to my previous company’s website 250% since I took over. I was hired for the role because of my (slight rise in voice) leadership abilities and intimate knowledge of the platforms we used, such as: Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.

(Slight pause)

One of my favorite aspects of communications is writing content for press releases, whitepapers, customer success stories, newsletters, and product releases. My former boss said I was the most prolific writer he’s seen. More importantly, (slight rise in voice) I increased our organization’s visibility by 40%.

(Another slight pause)

I know you’re looking for someone who can create and conduct webinars. I have extensive experience over the past five years delivering three webinars a week on a consistent basis. These were well received by our (spread arms wide) 10s of thousands of viewers. One of my favorites was interviewing the VP once a month.

Wrap it up with energy

You’ve made it to the concluding statement. Maintain the energy that makes you the go-getter all employers want. Make them look past your age and focus on what you’ve achieved. A strong ending will set the tone for the rest of the interview. Use the word “energy.” If you say it, they’re more likely to believe it.

I’d like to end by saying that I’ve received multiple awards of recognition from my colleagues for not only the expertise I demonstrated (slight rise in voice) but also the energy I exuded. In addition, I was often told by my boss that if she could clone me she would. I will bring to your company the experience required and the energy needed to get things done.

You might be an older candidate, but by not letting interviewers to focus on your 20-years of experience and more on what you’ve accomplished, your chances of wowing them will be greater. They would if I were interviewing you.

What about the resume Summary or Value Proposition?

I propose that your Summary shows personality as well as value you’ll deliver to the employer. You might consider it a miniature elevator pitch. The example below is written in first person point of view, which gives the Value Proposition more personality.

I Identify and minimize risk by predicting the demand for products and adopting new technology with no interruption to the process.

One of my fortes is implementing strategies to speed up the processes of packing, loading and delivering products, thereby increasing customer satisfaction.

“Shannon has brought innovative supply chain strategies to (company) which made us more efficient and save cost. Our customers were extremely pleased with Shannon’s attention to their needs.” Bob Jones, VP Operations, ABC Company

The quote is not a mistake. Quotes can be very impactful because what others say about you weighs heavier that what you say about yourself, especially if it’s coming from someone as high as the VP of operations.


Selected quotes from the poll

Kevin D. Turner: Experience naturally is both Quality & Quantity but I recommend not leading with Quantity. XX Years of Experience was once a perceived value and now can be a limiter to a sizable % of those decision makers who are doing the hiring.

To many, XX years of experience, could bring up thoughts like; ‘they are set in their ways and won’t do it our way,’ ‘they have so many years of experience, we just can’t afford them,’ or ‘How will Bob with XX years of experience relate to 95% of our staff that are Millennials and Gen Z’s?” Put Quality first and let them figure out quantity.

Karen Tisdell: In Australia starting a profile with “I have 20 years experience in…” is standard. It’s also counter to our culture of mateship. 20 years implies that you are better than someone with only 2 or 5 years, and yet we all know that people don’t always have to have years of experience to be brilliant at their job.

Only recently a client of mine won an industry award and he has only been in the industry 5 years, and two of those were part-time. I dislike the ‘where’s my crown?’ implication in the 20 years rhetoric, as you say Bob McIntosh – it’s far from auspicious. It’s snooty, top-down, hierarchical.

Rich Ormond: I think that years of experience are very relevant, although certainly not the totality. If what you say is the default way of thinking, then people like me are in trouble. I’ve essentially had three careers so far — renewable energy, international aid, and now career services.

What’s more, I’ve gone back and forth between them (especially the first two). If I can only count what I’ve done in the last five to seven years, then I can never transition back to a former career.

No, if I ever decide to do so, you can be sure that I will be relying heavily on my years of experience in those fields, citing my recent years only as building complimentary skills. For those like me who do not have linear careers, listing your years of experience in a field is a must, I think.

Virginia Franco: I agree completely — your years of experience isn’t nearly as important as what you’ve done during that time. That being said, it’s confusing for job seekers because job posting usually list desired years of experience!

Meg Applegate: I wholeheartedly agree, Bob! Lead with your unique value not length of tenure. Answer the “why does this matter?” question and the WIIFM questions that hiring managers are asking when reading your resume.

LAURA SMITH-PROULX:I cannot stand to hear elevator pitches (or read resume / LinkedIn summaries) that tout XX years of experience, Bob McIntosh, because there are SO many better ways to describe oneself!

I have the unfortunate lens of having worked at an organization with longtime employees who’d simply clung to their jobs, with no real innovation or achievements to claim. Mere survival in one’s industry is of little value.

The other problem with this statement is that you could be up against candidates with a similarly lengthy career – and THEN what will you use for differentiation? Employers can quickly read or interpret your age and length of experience. Your career branding approach (throughout your elevator pitch and documents) must take care of the rest

Debra Feldman: ⚠ Years of experience can set off an alarm for older candidates. Rather emphasize accomplishments that are relevant to the needs of the employer. What’s that saying about it’s not the years in your life but the life in your years!

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