“So what do you do?” If you know anything about Washington, D.C., you know that this is the most frequently asked question — on the Metro, at the coffee shop, and yes, in the elevator.
Designed to succinctly summarize your professional self in the time it takes to ride an elevator (about 30 seconds), a successful elevator pitch contains three ingredients:
- Your background — what you’ve been working on; this is a great place to mention any notable achievements.
- Your skills — what you bring to the table and what makes you unique.
- Your career aspirations — what you plan to accomplish in the future.
But What If I’m Just Starting Out?
Don’t worry if you don’t have a lot of professional experience under your belt; something like the following example is a perfect place to start:
“Hi, I’m Sam — I’m a junior at Acme University studying law and criminal justice. I’m passionate about criminal justice reform, and through my internship at ABC organization, I plan to develop the skills and connections I need to launch a career in this field after I graduate.”
Not only must your elevator pitch be concise (remember, 30 seconds or less!), it also needs to be memorable. You don’t want to ramble on, or pad your elevator pitch with technical phrases — you’ll lose your listener. Therefore, we recommend tailoring your basic elevator pitch to whoever you’re speaking to; check out the examples below.
The Stranger in a Public Place:
In this scenario, assume that your listener has little to no knowledge of who you are, and what your industry is like. Since this will be a very basic introduction, keep your elevator pitch short and simple; avoid anything that’s too technical or specific.
“So what do you do?”
“I’m Taylor, and I’m a communications major at Summit College. I’m interning this semester with ABC organization, where I help create press releases and social media posts, which I really enjoy because I feel like I’m getting a headstart in the public relations field.”
In an Interview With Your Future Supervisor:
In this situation, your listener has high knowledge of your industry, but little knowledge of who you are and what you can bring to the table if hired. As a result, your elevator pitch should focus on guiding your listener to visualize you as a valuable contributor in the workplace.
“Tell me about yourself.”
“While working towards my degree in business administration, I also campaigned twice for, and successfully won both times, the position of President for the Women in Business club at Washington State University. I’m passionate about advocating for more female and minority representation in STEM fields, and I look forward to the opportunity of using the knowledge and organizational skills I gained while campaigning at school to help increase awareness of ABC organization’s mission.”
With a Coworker in Another Team:
Depending on the size of your organization, the knowledge your coworkers have about you can vary. Furthermore, since you’ll spend the majority of your waking time with your coworkers, it’s important to establish a positive relationship; you can add a call to action at the end of your elevator pitch to keep the conversation flowing.
“I haven’t seen you around before, what do you do?”
“Hi I’m Eric, I’m interning for the semester with the Marketing department, where I help manage our company’s weekly podcasts. We’re always on the lookout for ideas and even speakers; is this something you (or someone you know) would be interested in?”
Bonus Round — With Family and Friends:
If you think an elevator pitch is meant only for professional purposes, think again — every time a family member or friend asks “What are you doing this summer?” or “What will you be doing after you graduate?” those are all prime opportunities for when your elevator pitch will come in handy.
“What will you do after graduation?”
“I plan to work as a paralegal so that I can gain more experience and build my network, which will make me more competitive for top law schools in the U.S. I’m currently in the middle of interviewing with a couple different companies, but if you know anyone who’s hiring, I welcome any recommendations you may have.”
Perfecting your elevator pitch is just one of many valuable skills that will prepare you for launching a career you’ll love — interested in learning more? Read our summary of the top five skills every young professional should have.