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 [for a living]?” It’s an easy question, right? Providing a clear, direct answer is SO important to build our personal brand, help us find jobs, and facilitate new business….
And yet I almost never get a good answer to this basic query!
Common Elevator Pitch Mistakes
- 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.
- Too broad: “I work in technology” or “I’m a consultant” is useless. “I work for XYZ Company where I manage the help-desk group” is good. “I’m an independent marketing consultant – I specialize in developing sales promotion and direct marketing programs” is good.
- Underselling: “I’m just an order-taker on the fixed income trading desk”. Way better to just say “I work on the fixed income trading desk”.
- Too vague: “I help companies unleash hidden value.” What the heck does that mean?!
- Life story: Your pitch is not the time or place to give the chronology of your career or explain your career decisions. Monologues are bad.
- Jargon: beware of company/industry jargon until you know your audience.
- Uptalk: that’s when you’re making a statement but with rising inflection so that it sounds like a question. “I work in finance?” can make you sound weak and flighty.
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?”
- Say what you do at the present time. You may also want to mention what you want to do next. If your job is hard to explain, keep working on it till you find an easy way to convey key information that is consistent with your networking and branding objectives.
- If you are in transition, be clear about your target job/employers. Mention your recent and noteworthy former employers (or clients). Example: “I work in pharmaceutical marketing, most recently as VP for a start-up biotech company and previously for Bristol Myers-Squibb. I’m in transition; my search is focused on mid-sized biotechs, including late-stage start-ups.
- Build your brand. Be thoughtful about what makes you distinctive and for what you want to be known. This should be reflected in your pitch.
- 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.
- Always reciprocate. “And what do you do, Mark?” Even better: ask what he does first, so that you can optimize your returning pitch.