What would you say if you were in an elevator with the executive overseeing your dream job and you had 30 seconds to grab the leader's attention?
Preparing your "elevator pitch" is recommended practice, but how do you do it without sounding canned, like a cheesy commercial?
The first thing to consider is you want to get the person's attention but not bore them to death with your life story.
Keep it simple, brief and to the point. You don't need to launch into a list of every accomplishment you've made in the last 10 years. Focus on the most important things you want to communicate to them and be concise.
Also, be conversational rather than memorize a long speech. Start with just a brief statement and then ask them questions to engage them.
So what are the essential elements to your elevator pitch? Start by asking yourself two basic questions:
What are my greatest strengths? Take stock of your personal and professional assets. How would you describe yourself? Ambitious, creative, energetic or compassionate?
What skills do you have or want to use? What are your greatest accomplishments?
What knowledge have you acquired through education or training? What are your career goals?
Remember, you want to be brief, so make sure you focus on your most important qualities in your introduction. If you have the person's attention after that, you can work more of these in as the conversation moves forward.
Who is my audience, and what do I have to offer them? If you are going to a planned networking event, such as a professional conference or career fair, you will want to do some research on who is going to be there.
What do those companies do, and what jobs do they have available? When you don't know who you're going to be meeting, you should be able to describe the target audience in your profession. Who do you serve and what do they care about?
To grab people's attention you have to appeal to the "what's in it for me" mentality. What problems can you solve for people or organizations?
If you are a dietitian who works with diabetics, you might say, "I help people develop a healthy eating plan to manage their diabetes and fit their lifestyle."
A human resource manager might say, "I help organizations improve productivity by providing quality training and employee development programs."
Here are a few more examples:
■ "I am a sociology major finishing an internship with the public schools in which I'm conducting research to ensure we're effectively meeting the needs of students in after-school programs. I'm interested in applying these skills as program administrator for your community wellness program."
■ "I will be finishing my bachelor's degree in English this semester. In the past two years, I have written weekly articles for the college newspaper, which has a readership of 15,000 people, and I also publish a monthly newsletter for the Student Government Association.
"As a public relations associate at XYZ Company, I would use the writing skills I've developed to promote your organization's interest in the community."
■ "I help organizations grow their customer base by developing marketing campaigns. Recently, I managed a product relaunch that doubled sales, and I've launched new products with record-breaking sales in the first month. I can help your organization break into new markets and increase profits."
The delivery of your elevator pitch is also important. Practice it until you feel comfortable and it sounds natural.
Say it with confidence and enthusiasm. If you aren't excited about what you are doing, the other person won't be, either. Even practice in front of a mirror or with a friend to watch your body language and get feedback.
Finally, remember that networking should be enjoyable, so just relax. Make connections with people and be personable.
Theresa Mickelwait holds a master's degree in psychology and a certificate in career coaching from the National Association of Colleges and Employers. She is a senior assistant director at the University of Kentucky James W. Stuckert Career Center. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.