The 30-Second Commercial

The book about the Doolittle Raid on Japan is titled, "30 Seconds Over Tokyo." Sometimes you don't have a lot of time to deliver the message.

You are running a political campaign to get yourself elected into a job, and like political candidates, you have to market yourself in 30-second sound bites.

I do not recommend using the North Carolina method of political campaigning. Telling someone, "Hire me because all the other candidates are liars and crooks" probably won't work.

I had a conversation with my wife recently and she asked me if I felt old. I replied, "I only feel old if I look back, so I'm not looking back, I'm looking forward."

I guess life is like driving a car; you should spend most of your time looking forward to where you are going rather than staring in the rear view mirror at where you've been.

And with that bit of philosophy out of the way, we are ready to discuss 30-second commercials.

Building the 30-second commercial.

The 30-second commercial should have the following qualities.

  • Look forward. A 30-second commercial should concentrate on where you want to go and not where you have been. The "where you have been and what you have done" part comes AFTER you deliver the commercial.
  • Concentrate on skills and not on job titles. This is especially true if you are trying to change careers or industries. It's even more critical if you have one of those careers that can't be summed up neatly in a two or three word job title.
  • Use statistics if you can. Impress them with numbers.
  • Be engaging. Create a title for yourself that will cause people to ask, "What is that?"
  • Use short declarative sentences. Use simple language that you can deliver comfortably and that people can understand even in a noisy room.
  • Be passionate. Watch the History Channel and look at Adolf Hitler when he spoke. The man knew how to throw his body into the game of public speaking. You can afford to tone it down a little. After all you are only looking for a job, not world domination. However, a deadpan delivery will most likely invoke a deadpan response.
  • Use a punch line. After you tell them what you can do, then tell them what you want.
  • Keep it to 30 seconds. Sounds obvious, doesn't it You have to get them in the first 15 seconds or you'll lose them. You have to wrap it up in another 15 seconds or you'll lose them. Then shut up! After 30 seconds, it's their turn to talk and continue the conversation.
  • Practice it. Time it. And please do not do the verbal equivalent of shrinking the margins and point size on a resume. 30 seconds of 240 words per minute sounds more like a used car commercial than a mini-resume.

Delivering the 30-second commercial.

There are two situations when you can deliver the 30-second commercial: formal and informal.

Formal 30-second commercials are used when you are expected to introduce yourself at meetings such as network groups. You can be more formal and "hard sell" with a group when they are expecting a commercial. Use this commercial when you "have the floor" and are the sole focus of the group.

Here is an example of a formal commercial I have given.

I'm a problem solver. I solve problems using people, process and metrics.

I lead by influence. It doesn't matter where you put me in the organizational chart. I can communicate across borders and get people to interact with each other.

I re-engineer processes. I've cut turn-around times by 2/3 and error rates by 90%.

I know what to measure and how to use it to identify, track and report problems.

Traditionally I have done this in a software application development environment, but I can apply these skills anywhere.

The thing that works well with this commercial is that until the very last sentence, the audience does not know what I am looking for. They won't dismiss me out of hand as, "Well, we don't need IT people." They will keep their minds open, Who doesn't need a problem solver? Who doesn't need people with these skills? You have yourself sold before the listener has a chance to reject you.

I am sure that the sales people in the group have used this same technique. You don't start the conversation with, "I'm selling vacuum cleaners." You start with, "I have something that will make housework easier and save you a lot of time and energy."

Keep them engaged with your talents and what you have to offer (what's in it for them). What you want is irrelevant. You are selling your skills, not your old job title.

If you can do something to make you stand out from the group then go for it if you have the skill to pull it off. Use humor if you know how to handle it. I once used this speech around campaign time.

Hi, I'm Dan Flak, and I want to be your project manager.

If selected I will cut costs, deliver products on time, and satisfy customer needs. I will work hard so you can get home for dinner more often and see more of your family.

I have 15 years' experience in software application development as a project manager, product manager, and quality assurance manager.

Go with a candidate that has proven leadership skills, and a track record for managing multiple projects at once. I wear many hats and take responsibility for any project I take on.

Once again, I'm Dan Flak, and I want to be your next project manager!

Informal 30-second commercials are used in social settings such as after hours, trade shows, chance meetings, etc. where the contact is more one-on-one.

Instead of waiting around passively for someone to ask you what you do, go on the offensive and talk to them. Ask, "So what does your company do?" or if it's an individual, "What do you do for a living?"

These questions are inviting a counter-attack. The questions will prompt the people to ask you what you do out of courtesy. By getting them to talk first, you are establishing a rapport and winning them over to your side.

You should be more colloquial when doing an informal 30-second commercial. Be prepared to ease into the conversation with a transition phrase such as,
Right now I'm working on a career change where I can solve accounting problems for small to medium size companies …

If you plan to stay in the same field, speak as if you are still doing the job and if they ask where you work, then you can tell them,
In my last assignment with … I …

In my case, I actually talk about my last 3 assignments.

I'm lucky enough to have a part-time job to talk about.
Right now, I'm having a ball getting a small company on its feet. They brought me in to make order out of chaos and I get to play project manager, QA, trainer, tech writer, and even do some marketing! The only bad thing is the contract is up in a couple of weeks.

I get a chance to take a breath as they ask "What kind of company?" "What kind of business?" or similar ilk questions.

It always pays to be creative. Part of my job is to set up and manage a system that issues gas masks to marines. So my most recent commercial goes like this:
I help keep United States Marines alive. My company has a contract with the Martine Corps to manage their nuclear, biological and chemical defense gear. My piece of the action is the field protective mask. I manage the tracking and issue of over 80,000 masks in warehouses and on the hips of Marines from Cherry Point, North Carolina to Okinawa and beyond. I see to it that no mask gets issued that I wouldn't issue to my own son..

Now that I grabbed them with this story I continue:
I do this by leading people and using process and metrics to assure quality. I put in place practices to bring order to exploit the successes of the initial phases. Traditionally, I've done this in companies or departments doing IT software application development, but as my current position proves, I can do it in any industry.


In a world of 30-second sound bites, and split screen news with rolling banners at the bottom of the display, the competition for attention is fierce. Andy Warhol was wrong; you do not have 15 minutes of fame. You have 30 seconds and the clock is ticking now ... .

I am looking for feedback and other examples of 30-second commercials. If you have some, send it here.