By Laura Hill
I attend a lot of business events that include networking. When meeting someone new, one of the first things we ask each other is “what do you do?” It’s an easy question, right? The answer is SO important to building our personal brand, getting new jobs, and facilitating new business, yet very few people have a good response. Here are some common mistakes and advice for optimizing your elevator pitch for better results when you meet new people.
Common Elevator Pitch Mistakes
- Too Broad: Non-specifics like “I work in technology” or “I’m a consultant” are the most common mistake. Better: “I’m an independent marketing consultant – I specialize in digital advertising and social media campaigns for financial institutions”.
- Humor: “I help push drugs” instead of “I do product marketing for a pharmaceutical company” just isn’t funny and makes a bad first impression.
- Neglecting to provide your function: “I work in financial services” tells me your industry but not what you do. Examples of functions are sales, corporate development, finance, IT, product management, i-banking, accounting, management consulting and equity research.
- Underselling: “I’m in software distribution” is underwhelming. Much better: “I develop strategy and pricing models for software licensing to enterprise clients; we do business with over 40% of the Fortune 500”.
- Too vague: “I help companies unleash hidden value”. What the heck does that mean?!
- Life story: Your pitch is not the time to give the chronology of your career, explain your career decisions, or share your career dilemmas. Monologues are bad.
- Jargon: Don’t use industry jargon until you know what’s relevant to your audience.
- Uptalk: That’s when you’re making a statement but with rising inflection so that it sounds like a question – like a Valley Girl? “I work in finance?” sounds unprofessional and weak.
Best Practices for Your Elevator Pitch
Here are my rules for a good elevator pitch – which by the way is nothing more than your
self-introduction or answer to “what do you do?”
- Start with what you do at the present time. Never start with “I began my career . . . ”. And if your job is hard to explain, keep refining it till you can convey key information about what you do that is understandable and consistent with your branding objectives.
- If you are in transition, start with your recent job, then noteworthy former employers, and then focus on your target jobs. “Most recently I was VP of marketing for ABC, a mid-sized biotech company; before that I came up through product management at Pfizer. I’m currently in a job search focused on mid-sized biotechs and late-stage startups”.
- Build your brand. Be thoughtful about what makes you distinctive and for what you want to be known. Who is your target audience? What’s the benefit/value of what you offer?
- Test your pitch. If your pitch generates appropriate questions and relevant conversations, it’s a good one. If your listener’s eyes glaze over or silence ensues, you missed your mark.
- Customize your pitch. Think about the audience and adapt your pitch accordingly.
- Always reciprocate. “And what do you do, Angela”? Even better: find out what she does first, so that you can customize your returning pitch. Make sure the talk time is shared.
- Exchange business cards and move on. It goes without saying that you should bring business cards with you. Avoid long conversations during networking; indicate you will follow up (if applicable) for further conversation and that it was nice to meet them, then keep networking.
Laura Hill is a founder of Careers in Motion LLC (www.careersinmotionllc.com). She works with professionals and executives on career strategy & planning, personal branding, and all aspects of job search including resumes, interviewing, networking and salary negotiations.
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