An effective elevator pitch could be the difference between a new connection and a lost opportunity.

You've heard the question before: “What do you do?" Queries like this could lead to your next job or client, but only if you're prepared to deliver a good elevator pitch.

An elevator pitch is similar to a personal selling statement, yet different from a sales pitch because it's more of a conversation starter. A good pitch lasts between 15 and 45 seconds — about the length of an elevator ride (which is partly how it got its name).

Whether you're standing in the elevator, walking down the hall, or meeting someone new at a networking event, you're faced with a limited amount of time to make a connection. Good elevator pitches should be interesting, brief, and memorable. They should also be flexible and open the door for further conversation.

Prior to drafting your pitch, consider your objective. Are you trying to broaden your network? Looking for a new job? Each of these would require different scripts. Similarly, you should also consider who your target audience is, what problems they have, and you can help solve them. 

It seems like a lot to think about, but the effort is worth it. A good elevator pitch is one of the most important tools you can have in your professional arsenal. To help, we've outlined some elevator pitch tips that will increase your chances of impressing and landing a job.

Capture their attention

Who are you? Introduce yourself and note your credentials such as your degree or current place of work. If possible, reference something that differentiates you from your peers, such as technical training or publications.

The start of a conversation is also the perfect time to establish a relationship. So, if you happen to know you went to the same college or worked at the same firm as the individual, mention it at the beginning. This will ensure that you are memorable.

Note your career or business goals and experience

Once you've completed initial introductions, draft a short, one-sentence story that answers the question, "What do you do?" If your job title is broad or highly specialized, provide a description instead. When the person understands your role and goals, then they are in a better position to help you or possibly connect you to someone who can.

Because time is limited during an elevator pitch, it's important to avoid getting bogged down in detail. The key here is to make sure your story highlights the value you can deliver or the problems you can solve.

In another sentence, emphasize your interest or experience in the field. Avoid making fluffy statements such as "I'm passionate about working with children.” Instead, offer something concrete, along the lines of "I've taken childcare courses and volunteered at the local daycare for five years."

Point to qualifications

To make a good elevator pitch, you'll also want to point to your qualifications. Now is the time to share information about some combination of your leadership, experience, achievements, expertise, skills, and strengths. Ask yourself what makes you qualified to do your job. If you're a new graduate, point to your college major. Otherwise, focus on your professional work. If you're affiliated with industry organizations or have specialized certifications, make a note of it to your listener.

Highlight unique qualities

After establishing your background and goals, you'll want to point to any qualities, experiences, or achievements that make you stand out. That person may already know somebody with 15 years of experience in childcare, so what makes you such a catch? Perhaps you volunteered in overseas schools, learning how to care for impoverished children. Or maybe you have extensive knowledge in child psychology that would allow you to identify and support children with psychological issues.

Consider what special niche or extensive knowledge you can share with your contact that will set you apart from the rest.

Ask a question

As you close your elevator pitch, make sure to ask an open-ended question that allows the individual to answer. This can help engage the person in a longer conversation. For example: "If you have some time, I would love to meet with you in person to hear more about your organization." Or, you can say something like, “Would you be able to put me in contact with the person in charge of business development so I can tell them more about what I can offer your company?”

And, of course, be sure to ask for a business card so you can follow up.

Practice, practice, practice

Take your time to craft your pitch. Practice it aloud and time it to make sure it's short enough. If you can, practice with friends and ask for feedback. Cut out anything that's unnecessary.

Remember, your pitch needs to be short and engaging. You don't have to share every unique aspect of your job or every accomplishment — just enough to pique interest from the other person and land you a follow-up meeting.

As you practice your elevator pitch, take care that you sound natural, not rehearsed — people can tell if you really believe in what you're saying or if you're just trying to sell them on something with a boilerplate speech.

Some other quick elevator pitch practice tips include:

  • Be enthusiastic and positive.

  • Monitor your body language and tone down distracting hand gestures and fidgeting.

  • Commit your elevator pitch to memory so you don't have to worry about forgetting it.

  • Practice in front of a mirror.

With all of your practice, don't lose sight of the importance of being flexible with your elevator pitch. You may even consider creating different pitches for different audiences and scenarios. At the very least, be open to making changes — it's alright to vary your words as long as the message is the same.

What to avoid in an elevator pitch

When drafting your elevator pitch, consider borrowing a concept from the field of marketing. When advertising a product, a marketer can focus on either the product's features (the things you can see, touch, and feel) or benefits (the advantages the product offers). The rule of thumb is that features don't sell a product — benefits do.

The reason so many elevator pitches are unmemorable is that people have a tendency to talk only about their professional features — what they do and how they do it — which, like when selling a product, is not likely to leave an impression. Consider a statement like, "I work in administration at startup." It's vague and something hundreds of other professionals could say.

Benefits make a much more enticing in an elevator pitch, especially when you're searching for a job, so place your focus on them.

Elevator pitch example #1

Do you know how many people [the main problem their clients have]? Well, what I do is [briefly explain the solution you provide]. I'm a(n) [__________] with [experience/qualifications], and I specialize in [__________].

Elevator pitch example #2

I'm [name] and I provide/help/serve [target audience] with [product or service]. It helps/is a solution for [problem] and allows them to achieve [desire].

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This article was updated in January 2021. It contains work written by Carrie Maldonado.

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