Artwork by: Fagiani
You never know when a career opportunity might present itself. Being prepared with an “elevator pitch” can grab someone’s attention and show him or her why you’re worth paying attention to.
The world today moves fast, whether it’s meetings, interviews, presentations, or that ever-elusive random encounter with someone who could change the course of your career for the better. You never know when opportunity might strike, so it's important to be prepared with the classic "elevator pitch," designed to sell your qualifications as a potential employee or colleague. Learning the art of the elevator pitch can grab someone's attention — fast — and can set you on the path for bigger and better things.
In this article, we’ll discuss the elevator pitch and why it’s something you should always have “in your back pocket,” ready to go when the opportunity presents itself, including:
What is an elevator pitch, anyway?
How to write an elevator pitch
When to use your elevator pitch
Mistakes to avoid
Examples of effective elevator pitches
An elevator pitch is a short, but attention-grabbing, introduction of who you are and what makes you special. It allows you to connect with another person, and let them know why they should give you their attention. It’s called an “elevator pitch” because it should take roughly the same time as an average elevator ride (assuming someone hasn’t pushed all the buttons!), no more than about thirty seconds. Elevator pitches are often used to sell an idea or an invention, but it is also an effective self-marketing tool. If you ever find yourself face-to-face with someone you’ve been wanting to meet, you’ll want to be able to introduce yourself, make your case, and request a chance to stay connected, all within the time frame of a literal (or metaphorical) elevator ride. This pitch is helpful to have ready if you’re ever in a place where you might meet prospective career or networking connections.
Basically, the classic elevator pitch should answer three questions:
Who are you?
What do you do?
Why should they work with you?
Rather than being an “in your face” push for the other person’s attention, an effective elevator pitch allows you to introduce yourself professionally and engagingly and set the stage for a productive conversation, whether you're with a potential employer, colleague, networking event, or even at the beginning of an interview.
A strong elevator pitch is a valuable method of demonstrating your professional experience, skills, and personal assets. Similar to the “tell me about yourself” interview question, an elevator pitch can answer the question you’re bound to hear in a myriad of situations, providing a summary of who you are, your experience, and what you’re looking for. It will help potential new networking contacts understand why you’re someone with whom to connect when an opportunity presents itself. It also demonstrates that you can be proactive, confident in what you want, and not afraid to take initiative in achieving your goals.
So what would this look like, exactly? Here’s a general, bare-bones template, which we’ll fill in later.
“Hello, my name is <name> and I am <what you do for a living> at <current company>. I specialize in <specialty> and <specialty>. I have a strong background in <strength> and <strength>. I would like to <your point for making the pitch>.”
When crafting your elevator pitch, it’s important to keep a few things in mind:
Be clear. Understand the industry and the type of position you’re aiming for.
Determine what you can do for them. Remember, the recipient of the pitch will be thinking, “what’s in it for me?”
Keep and hold their attention. Provide attention-grabbing facts — it’s your job to relate your skills and experience and how it will benefit their company.
Be brief. This is not the time to ramble or use lots of “filler words” like “um” and “you know.” Purge any information that is not vital. You’re not having a cup of coffee. Keep it focused and concise.
Don’t use industry jargon, especially if you’re not sure of the other person’s background. Keep your words easy to understand.
Rehearse it ahead of time. Read it out loud to ensure it sounds professional but approachable. Consider practicing it with a friend or family member.
Even if you’re nervous, don’t just start chatting with someone, causing them to think, “Who is this person and why on earth are they talking to me?” Take a moment to introduce yourself. You might consider this basic information, but in the moment, it's easy to get flustered. Begin by saying your full name, offer a handshake, and offer a pleasantry like, “It’s a pleasure to meet you.” (And don’t be put off if they don’t engage in a handshake. In this age of Covid, not everyone is on board with personal contact.)
“Hello, my name is Susan Jones, and I’m a marketing rep at Acme & Associates. It’s nice to meet you.”
Give the recipient a chance to register what’s going on. Don’t ramble. You haven’t “grabbed” them yet (figuratively, not literally). At this point, they really don’t know who you are or why you’re talking to them.
You might have the urge to keep talking so that the other person doesn’t have a chance to say “no.” Resist the urge. As Anett Grant, CEO of Executive Speaking said, “There’s nothing wrong with being talkative. Unfortunately, too much chatter might curtail your leadership presence. If you understand why you're prone to rambling in the first place, you can learn to do it less and communicate your message effectively. You'll not only become a better talker, but you'll also gain some self-awareness as a result."
You'll want to provide a synopsis of your experience and background, including only the most pertinent details such as your key skills, education, or applicable career experience. If you're not sure where to begin, write everything you can think of on a piece of paper, then edit out anything superfluous, leaving only the highlights.
“Hello, my name is Susan Jones. It’s a pleasure to meet you. I’m a marketing rep at Acme and Associates, with a specialty in identifying emerging digital media trends. I have six years of professional experience, and I am currently pursuing a certification in Digital Marketing Strategies from Kellogg School of Management with an emphasis on Data, Analytics, AI, and Automation…”
This is where you're going to get down to the "nitty gritty" of your elevator pitch. What you want will be dependent on who you're pitching. You might be asking for a job, or you might just be networking to develop contacts for future opportunities. When you tell the person what your objective is, you need to make clear what assets you would bring to the company, or how this interface will benefit them and their company’s values. Hone in on what it is that makes you special, and what you have to offer. But make sure you’re focusing on what you can do for the company, not what they can do for you.
Let’s return to the template for Susan Jones’ elevator pitch:
“Hello, my name is Susan Jones. It’s a pleasure to meet you. I’m a marketing rep at Acme and Associates, with a specialty in identifying emerging digital media trends. I have six years of professional experience, and I am currently pursuing a certification in Digital Marketing Strategies from the Kellogg School of Management with an emphasis on Data, Analytics, AI, and Automation. I’m impressed with the work your marketing team has performed and I would love the opportunity to add my skills to the team…”
Remember, the most important part of an effective elevator pitch is to make a connection. They won’t necessarily remember every detail of your background, but if your pitch is genuine, conversational, and sincere, they’re much more likely to want to meet with you again.
Wrap up your elevator pitch by asking for what you want. That sounds demanding, but actually, you're getting to the point of the whole pitch. You could ask for an interview, a follow-up meeting, a job, or even ask that person to be your mentor. It can be intimidating, because many people, especially women, were taught not to be assertive. But having a call to action is much more professional than just letting the conversation come to an awkward end and having the other person wonder why you wasted their time. So make your request straightforward. Let’s add to the example we’ve been building with Susan Jones:
“Hello, my name is Susan Jones. It’s a pleasure to meet you. I’m a marketing rep at Acme and Associates, with a specialty in identifying emerging digital media trends. I have six years of professional experience, and I am currently pursuing a certification in Digital Marketing Strategies from the Kellogg School of Management with an emphasis on Data, Analytics, AI, and Automation. I’m impressed with the work your marketing team has performed and I would love the opportunity to add my skills to the team. Would it be convenient to schedule a brief call next week? I’d like to talk about any future opportunities with your company…"
If they agree, that's great! Make sure you thank them and get their contact information, and end on a positive note. If they say no (it happens!), graciously thank them for their time and express your understanding. Ask if you can send a follow-up email and inquire if there’s a better time for them to meet with you. Regardless of their answer, be polite and friendly. You have no way of knowing what is going on in their professional life, and you may have just caught them on a bad day. But no matter the outcome, you can leave them with a positive impression.
You might think crafting an elevator pitch is easy — you’re talking about yourself, after all. But there are still pitfalls you’ll want to avoid to make sure your pitch lands correctly. Remember, you only have a short amount of time to make an impact, and you want to eliminate any information that doesn’t help you.
Sure, you want to rehearse your elevator pitch, but it should sound natural. You might consider writing your pitch in an outline format. That way you’ll remember the main talking points, but it won’t sound like you’re reading from a script. If you think you’ll do better memorizing it, that’s fine, but rehearse it until it sounds fluid and conversational.
If you speed through your pitch, the listener could become overwhelmed and fail to hear some important points. Speak in a measured, unhurried tempo so that they have time to absorb what you have to say. It’s easy to race through your pitch, especially if you’re nervous, so rehearse in front of friends so you adjust to slowing down and relaxing your pace. Don’t hold your breath, either!
Breathe for success
In their book, “The Healing Power of the Breath,” Richard P. Brown and Patricia L. Gerbarg recommend “Coherent Breathing” to reduce anxiety:
1. Sit in a chair and relax your muscles. 2. Gently breathe in through your nose for six seconds, expanding your abdomen as you inhale. 3. Breathe out through your nose for six seconds. 4. Repeat this breathing pattern for 10-15 minutes.
While you should have a standard template for your elevator pitch, it’s important to make slight customizations for each situation. The more tailored your pitches are, the greater the chances of having a positive outcome. It demonstrates your sincerity and respect for the person you're speaking with. Also, consider the environment. If you're at a tech start-up convention, maybe avoid talking about working for an established company.
When making your pitch, avoid technical jargon or overly complicated descriptions of your background, which should be saved for an interview. Use simple, easy-to-understand terms and concepts that anyone can understand, which will encourage the listener to ask follow-up questions and more readily engage in conversation.
Create an elevator pitch that is memorable and sincere, and gives a hint of your personality.
Forget to smile. It shows enthusiasm and confidence
Be warm, affable, and confident, and maintain eye contact.
Let your speech sound forced or stiff.
Be willing to gracefully back off if the other person isn’t interested.
Make it all about you. You’re pitching yourself but ensure that the listener knows you care about them.
In the overall scheme of things, a brief elevator pitch may not seem all that important. But you never know who you’ll meet, and if you have an effective, professional pitch ready to go, you can turn one thirty–second encounter into a new career opportunity. With a well-crafted elevator pitch, you’ll be able to tell the world what makes you special, one person at a time.
An elevator pitch is a short, but attention-grabbing, introduction of who you are and what makes you special.
An elevator pitch provides a summary of who you are, your experience, and what you’re looking for.
When crafting your elevator pitch, be clear and brief, avoid technical jargon, and rehearse it ahead of time.
Determine what you can do for the listener, and answer their unspoken question, “What's in it for me?”
Jennifer Inglis is a freelance writer and content creator with extensive professional expertise in advertising, media analysis, teaching, writing, and literature. Prior to working for Career.io, Jennifer was a public school teacher, teaching courses in college and career readiness, writing, and public speaking. Jennifer has a master’s degree in Teaching, and is the author of two published novels.