When Less Is More: How to Craft a Succinct, to the Point, and Memorable Professional Introduction
The Elevator Pitch
It’s not certain who first coined the term “Elevator Pitch” or when it was first used, but the imagery relates to the ability to share your expertise, skills, and credentials quickly and effectively with someone you don’t know on a short elevator ride. Since the elevator could be going to the third floor of the Graduate Center or the 103rd floor of the Empire State Building across the street, the length of the elevator pitch can vary from 30 seconds to two minutes depending on the circumstances.
Why it’s Important
The elevator pitch is a form of networking, and we know from research that 70-80% of job seekers attain their jobs through some form of networking that results in referrals and recommendations, rather than just applying to job postings cold online. Your introduction, be it spoken or written, creates a first impression, and we all know that first impressions are very important.
Where it’s Used: Spoken
1. A Dedicated Networking Event
Back in the day (and maybe sometime in the future), students mingled with alumni or employers, juggling a drink and a plate in a crowded, noisy room.
2. In Person or Online Career Fairs
This always involves introducing yourself to the recruiter.
3. A Chance Encounter
Serendipity—you meet someone is an unexpected situation and it turns out the person is somehow connected to your career aspirations.
4. “What do you do?”
This question often comes up in social situations where the people don’t yet know each other. It’s important to have a good answer because, even if it looks unlikely that the person can help you, you never know—that person may have a well-placed friend or relative in a company or field of interest for you.
5. “Tell me about yourself”
This is often the first question in a job interview; it’s the ice breaker that starts off the interview. You should have a prepared and well thought out introduction of who you are that relates to the job description. It shouldn’t be long because there are going to be follow-up questions. Don’t stumble; you have to be able to introduce yourself fluently so that you create a good first impression that paves the way for a great interview.
Where it’s Used: Written
1. A Summary Statement at the Top of Your Resume
If you are changing careers or if the experience on you resume is not clearly connected to the job that you’re applying to, a summary statement is used to draw attention to your transferable skills, qualifications, and interest in the position. It is usually 3-4 sentences and written in the third person. Because it’s the first item on your resume after your contact information, it makes the first impression by immediately drawing the attention of the hiring manager and may be the determining factor as to whether they read the rest of your resume.
2. The First Paragraph of Your Cover Letter
A cover letter often starts with what position you are applying to and a brief introduction of who you are.
3. The LinkedIn Summary
LinkedIn is part of the passive job search in that recruiters often troll LinkedIn to look for suitable candidates. One of the first things that they will see is your summary statement. It can be two or three short paragraphs, written in either first or third person, but it should contain keywords that will attract the attention of the recruiter. Those keywords can be ascertained from reading job postings in the field.
4. An Email to Request an Informational Interview
You are asking for 30 minutes of a person’s time who is working in an industry or a company of interest in order to get information. You need to say how you got the person’s name, introduce yourself, and write why you would like to meet. To show that the informational interview will be brief and to the point, the email needs to be as well.
How to Craft your Elevator Pitch
Start by answering the following questions:
- What is your name? (that’s a tough one)
- What is your most relevant work experience, academic experience, or volunteer work?
- What are your most important skills, strengths, and credentials?
- What jobs/internships are you most interested in and why?
This is the barebones, but the amount of content depends on the situation, who you’re talking to, and how much time is available. I previously mentioned that the elevator pitch can run between 30 seconds and 2 minutes so you may provide more context and background. You might also mention some connection, like you know someone who works at the same company or that it’s a company whose services you personally use. You are speaking to an actual person, so tailor it to that individual.
People have different learning styles, but I think the best way to prepare an elevator pitch is to write out the answers to the above questions. Craft it into a coherent statement. Practice reading it. Time it. Try saying it without reading it. Make it sound natural and not memorized or robotic. Record yourself and listen to it. Practice short and long versions until it becomes second nature.
Here’s an Actual Example
At this point in my career, I was a Labor Educator, teaching at the Harry Van Arsdale Jr. School of Labor Studies, Empire State College, SUNY. As a freelancer in those days, I was always looking for more work. While attending a Labor Cultural Conference, I by chance met the Dean of the Cornell School of Labor and Industrial Studies, the only other Labor Studies program in New York City. This is how the conversation went:
Hi. So nice to meet you. My name is Don Goldstein, and I’ve been a part-time instructor at the Labor College for the past five years. I teach a number of courses such as U.S. Labor History, Contemporary Labor Issues, and Promoting Union Values. I love teaching union members because I grew up in a union household. My father was the General Manager of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers union in New York City, and I’m on the executive board of my own union, United University Professors, representing the part-timers. I’ve heard of your program at Cornell and I would love to learn more about it. Would you have some time to meet for a cup of coffee?
(This took 55 seconds.)
We exchanged business cards and met him at his office the next week. Within two months, I was teaching two classes at Cornell, a gig that lasted for four years.
How to Deliver it
Make eye contact and display good body language. Sound confident and enthusiastic. Don’t speak too fast or in a monotone, and avoid rambling. Be flexible. The other person might not know that this is your elevator pitch and may interrupt. Then, it can turn into a conversation, which is all for the better. If you want to keep the conversation going, ask the other person some questions.
What You’ll Get Out of This
Whether it’s in person or written, you will be assured that you are making a good first impression. By having a prepared elevator pitch, you will have eliminated a good deal of uncertainly in many different types of social settings. You’ll be under less stress and you will improve your confidence. Hopefully, your ability to share a compelling and memorable introduction will open the door for career opportunities.