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Career Advice

Crafting an effective elevator pitch

The essential info to include when selling yourself at a networking event.


“Networking opportunity.” If those words make your heart sink, you’re not alone. Meeting new people can be intimidating, especially if those people can propel your career to the next level. Like it or not, networking is important, especially for those on the job market. Entering these networking sessions prepared with a strong “elevator pitch” can make all the difference.

Elevator pitches, as their name implies, are concise self-promotional spiels that underline your skills and interests in the time it would take someone riding on an elevator with you to reach their floor. Traditionally they are used in face-to-face encounters, but could be adapted for anything from e-mail to phone calls.

However, an elevator pitch need not be a high-pressure affair on which your entire career hangs. You may be more successful if you approach it with level-headed expectations. “It’s unrealistic to expect every time you have an encounter with someone that it will result in a job,” says career counselor Gerry Goodine of the University of Western Ontario’s Student Success Centre. For Mr. Goodine, the emphasis should be on building relationships – a more realistic outcome that may prove fruitful nonetheless. With this in mind, the pitch is no longer to be used only with prospective employers, but also with anyone who may share your research interests.

Here are some steps for crafting an effective elevator pitch.

Before the event

If you know the networking opportunity is coming up, do some research to see if anyone you’d like to talk to might be there. It is always a good idea to know what shared interests you have so that your pitch can be personalized. This will help as you attempt to build a connection.

Getting the right details

The elevator pitch is nothing if not brief. Don’t write it out word-for-word; instead, focus on the message you want to get across. An effective pitch is a three-step affair. None of these steps should be overlooked. They are:

  1. The hook. Every pitch should lead with a sentence that captures the listener’s attention. Don’t just give the facts; spin what you do in an interesting way. Instead of “I’m a career counselor,” Mr. Goodine suggests, “I help students achieve success.” Whatever the hook, you want to leave listeners thinking to themselves, tell me more.
  2. What can you do for them? Put yourself in their shoes. Sure, they may want to hear what you do, but they’re likely more interested in how what you do could be useful to them. What value can you bring to someone who might be interested in your skills?
  3. What can they do for you? Always include a request, even if it’s just asking for their business card or suggesting that the discussion continue over coffee. It’s an opportunity to form a new relationship; without a request of some kind the relationship will have withered before it began.

Getting the delivery right

Pitching is not just about the content; delivery is key. Steve Machtaler, a PhD zoology student at the University of British Columbia, has given his fair share of pitches to visiting academics and at networking events. For Mr. Machtaler, the biggest challenge is the delivery, and so he practises whenever he finds a free moment.

“I practise by talking aloud,” he says. “Not in front of a mirror or really to anyone. I just make sure that I can get through it in a clear, concise manner.” If you are still feeling nervous, try your pitch on friends or family and ask for feedback.

Effective delivery is about putting your listener at ease. Be friendly and let your enthusiasm come out in your tone of voice. If you are excited about your work you are more likely to engage your listener.

Remember to use plain language unless you are sure the other person understands your jargon. And always make eye contact when you’re speaking.

Keep your spirits up

Not every pitch is going to go as planned. But even if you don’t get a positive result on the spot, don’t worry. Pitching is about building relationships, and you never know when someone who seemed uninterested will recommend you to a colleague down the road.

As for Steve Machtaler, he hasn’t been offered a job just yet. But he doesn’t seem worried: “I guess I have to ride in more elevators.”

Adam Crymble is a PhD student in history at King’s College London where he’s working on a platform for reading one million newspapers at the same time. He’d be happy to tell you about it at the next networking opportunity.

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