2013 Elevator Competition
Tampa, FL (April 11, 2013) — Instead of sleeping in like many of their peers, 25 sharply dressed students in dark business suits and conservative shoes headed into downtown Tampa's Regions Bank tower early Saturday morning, mentally rehearsing what they planned to say to an area hiring manager awaiting in the elevators.
They were there for the USF Muma College of Business Elevator Competition, an annual event that gives students a chance to sell themselves and practice presenting a positive, professional first impression in a very short amount of time. The students had one minute to give an "elevator speech" describing their education, skills, and aspirations to area hiring managers.
Sponsored by The Nielsen Company and Total Quality Logistics and hosted by Regions Bank, USF's elevator competition — actually held in an elevator — is a great way to help students practice such skills, said Muma College of Business Dean Moez Limayem.
Austin Lane, a 21-year-old accounting major, won the competition and its $1,000 grand prize. Fellow accounting students Magdala Saint-Louis (18) and Mary Babcock (19) came in second and third, winning $500 and $250 scholarships. Four additional students – Anna Kallschmidt, Natalie Valle, Michael Cancari, and Sarah Schmidt – made it to the competition's boardroom finals, where they presented their speeches solo in front of all 12 judges.
"Business today calls for a new type of accountant," said Lane, laughing as he described his own speech. Pointing out that professionals must be organized and able to lead others, Lane pulled up his dark slacks to reveal multi-colored socks and used them to illustrate today's successful accountants. "Accountants must also be able to communicate well, they must be unafraid to be different, and they must able to adapt to change," he said. He used his socks to illustrate that he possesses those qualities and went on to describe ways he has been able to put them to use in a workplace situation.
Hiring managers from companies such as Nielsen, Deloitte, TQL, Target, and Regions judged the students on their ability to communicate, share information about their education, skills, and abilities, professional appearance, confidence, and overall first impression.
"It's one thing to practice with a friend, but it's another to literally step into an elevator with a hiring manager with just one minute to establish a conversation and try to snag a job interview," said Limayem. He added that teaching students how to make a positive first impression is only a part of the reason USF hosts the competition.
"This competition is about much more than quickly spilling out a lot of information in a short amount of time," he said. "USF's students are competing for jobs against other well-educated students from business schools across the world. They must learn how to sell themselves from the moment they meet someone and they must take the time to really think about their strengths and skills and what they want to do with their careers."
Getting students to think about that, he said, is at the heart of the competition.
"This is not an isolated contest," Limayem said. "One of our strategic priorities – our first priority – is student success. This competition is one of several programs that, collectively, help us better prepare students for the job market. We offer a number of related events because, collectively, they help students land meaningful jobs in the industries where they want to work."
Attendance at one of several professional development workshops was a requirement for all competitors. In the last month, nearly 200 students took part in such workshops. Topics ranged from how to make a positive first impression, business improvisation, professional attire, and networking etiquette to more technical training on public speaking and developing a professional résumé.
Asked how the workshops and this competition helped prepare him for a real-world interview, Lane said that it forced him to step up and think about different scenarios. He said it also helped him practice public speaking skills and reminded him of the importance of thinking about what he was going to say so that he did not appear to be relying on scripted answers.
"I think one of the things that set me apart from other students [in the competition] was my ability to speak naturally, compose my thoughts, and convey them to different audiences," he said.
"That was the most important lesson to me," he added. "Any person I meet could be a potential boss or client."