AAS Careers Post: Crafting Your Value Statement
Alaina G. Levine
One of the most important communication channels you have to articulate your promise of value to collaborators and employers is what is referred to as the value statement, also called an elevator pitch or 30-second commercial. This short, succinct communique clarifies the breadth and depth of your talent and what your specific blend of skills and expertise is. Specifically, the value statement is designed to:
• communicate what you are talented in;
• articulate what value you provide;
• convince people why they should partner with you — for a job, internship, fellowship, grant, or other opportunity (now and in the future);
• entice someone to learn more about you;
• provide the other party with information that inspires them to visualize hidden opportunities in which you could collaborate.
It’s referred to as an elevator pitch because it evokes the following scenario (which I hope doesn't become a thing of the past, given the novel coronavirus pandemic): imagine you get on an elevator with the head of a major astronomical mission and you have until floor 16 or so to speak with her and convince her that you could be a vital ally for her. How do you do it? You deliver your value statement, or elevator pitch. It’s a quick synopsis of what you can do and why and how you can do it for her.
The value statement should include:
• your unique assortment of skills, experience, expertise
• your problem-solving abilities
• your overarching goals
• the benefit you provide the other party → your value
• your competitive advantage
You will deliver your value statement many, many times throughout your career to myriad publics, some of whom are in your subfield and field, some who are not, and some who are completely outside the realm of science and engineering. The more you deliver it, the easier it will get to do so and to adapt it for different audiences.
Your Skill Inventory Matrix will be a great asset for crafting your value statement. All of those skills and interests that you determined you possess from that tool can now be used as a scaffolding to design your value statement(s).
What do I include in my value statement?
• Introduce yourself. State your name slowly and clearly so that the other party can hear you and understand it. This is especially important if your name, like mine, may be difficult to pronounce, or hard to hear if you say it quickly. Many times, I have introduced myself as “Alainalevine” and people don’t catch the specific pronunciation or even that I have a last name. Give yourself a nanosecond or so between your first and last names so the other party knows who you are.
• Describe your area of expertise. For example, “I am an astronomy graduate student focusing on Gamma Ray Bursts” or “My background is astronomical instrument design and I am currently doing a postdoc at the Space Telescope Science Institute.”
• State a strength or skill in which they would be interested in. This may be a challenge if you don’t know who your audience is yet for your value statement. But in the course of your conversation, clues will be revealed which will give you hints as to what skills that party would like to know. However, if you are delivering your value statement at a conference related to your subfield, you already know what skills the other parties will desire to know, so you can prepare your value statement based on what skills the subfield finds relevant, useful, and valuable.
• Follow that with an accomplishment (or two) that proves you have that skill. Don’t be afraid to state your credentials or something that truly separates you from the rest of the pack. “I recently completed a fellowship in in science policy” or “I was part of the team that found and authored a paper on the discoveries associated with the Event Horizon Telescope.”
• Discuss a goal that the other party might be interested in. Think about what you are hoping to communicate and the hidden opportunities you are aiming to unlock. “I am graduating with my astronomy master’s degree and am interested in pursuing opportunities in the aerospace industry” or “I write about physics for magazines like Scientific American but am thinking of transitioning to science outreach.”
The punch line: the benefit you can provide
Most importantly, your value statement should convey a benefit that you can provide. Remember networking is about not only accessing hidden opportunities for yourself but also finding hidden opportunities for the other party and providing them value so they can solve their problems. So, this is truly the moment when you get to shine the most and demonstrate your true motivation: to help the other party solve their problems. Think of this aspect of your value statement as an avenue to elicit a positive response from the other party to move forward in a collaboration in some way. Some of the phrases that you can incorporate to achieve this can include:
• I can be/could see how I can be of immediate benefit to your research group because…
• I can see that there are parallels in our areas of research in that…
• I wonder if I could assist you with your efforts because I…
• I would like to explore the potential to partner…
• I can see there may be an opportunity to collaborate because/in/in this way…
• Perhaps we can explore working together/doing X together…
Notes about design and delivery of the value statement:
• It will be customized depending on the audience, mode of delivery, and scenario. You will never have one value statement; you will actually have multiple value statements that will be communicated in many different ways and customized for each audience.
• It can and is often delivered via digital channels. When you first email someone, with the goal of possibly doing a postdoc with them, for example, you are writing your value statement. You are trying to convince them that you would be a valuable asset and partner. Even your LinkedIn profile summary is a version of your value statement. Given that it will be read rather than verbally delivered and there will be no non-verbal communication, make sure you clarify your abilities and ambition in the way that they understand. The value statement is especially effective in virtual conference settings, where you have a short period of time to write or speak and share who you are.
• It may not happen all in one shot. Very rarely do you have the opportunity to actually deliver an elevator pitch in 20 seconds or so. (The most obvious exception to this rule is at a poster session or career fair, when you do state your full elevator pitch.) Most often it is gradually revealed as you converse with someone. It involves a give-and-take approach, in which you customize your value statement for the person with whom you are speaking, based on their own answers to common questions like “what do you do?” and “what organization are you with?”.
• You can reveal your value in the form of a question. For instance, “Oh you work for the James Webb Telescope? I am completing my PhD degree in astronomy and engineering with an emphasis on systems utilized in infrared telescopes. What kinds of system architecture do you use for JWST? I like to use X”.
• You should ask “exploratory” questions. This too is tailored based on what the person reveals in the dialogue. For example, after they disclose that they are a science journalist with X magazine, you can respond with “I really enjoy writing about (my field) and how its innovations have sparked applications in everyday life. Have you thought about doing a series of articles about this type of thing? Perhaps I could assist you in this effort.”
• You should demonstrate your resourcefulness. YOU don’t have to always be the answer to the question. Instead, if they divulge that they need someone who has a coding background, and you do not possess this background, you can share with them that you have contacts with the AAS and would be happy to make some introductions over email for them.
Note: The text of this post has appeared in other works by the author, including her book, Networking for Nerds (Wiley, 2015), and presentations.
Alaina G. Levine is an award-winning entrepreneur, international keynote speaker, STEM career consultant, science writer, corporate comedian, and author of Networking for Nerds (Wiley, 2015), which beat out Einstein (really!) for the honor of being named one of the Top 5 Books of 2015 by Physics Today magazine. She is a regular speaker and consultant for AAS.