If you’ve recently completed college or grad school and are searching for a job, there are two questions you've probably come to dread: “What do you do?” and the related follow-up, “What do you want to do with your life?”
These questions are usually asked by parents, friends, and other well-meaning people trying to take an interest in you. More often than not, the questions just stress you out. You feel embarrassed if you haven’t locked down a job, and you feel judged if you don’t have an airtight explanation of how you want to spend the next two or three decades.
At this point in your life, it truly is difficult to answer the question of what you want to do. You’re not in a position to know the full range of jobs, or even the possible directions that might appeal to you, and you don’t want to answer the question in a way that pegs you as being interested in only one or two lines of work. But getting this right is an essential part of a winning job search strategy. Remember that over half of all job offers are the result of referrals, so you need these polite questioners to advocate for you and suggest you for opportunities. Having a compelling and concise “elevator pitch”–a speech that could be contained in a short elevator ride—is the way you'll hook them.
Summing yourself up in a couple of seconds shouldn’t intimidate you. There is a simple formula for figuring out what you should say. Let’s consider how you might respond the next time someone asks you what you want to do. First, try to answer the question quickly, but not in a way that makes you seem indifferent or uninterested. Second, be ready to deliver a two-sentence summary that will give people an idea of who you are, what you’re interested in, and what you’ve done in the past. The goal is that when the person you’re speaking with comes across a potentially valuable connection or opportunity that could be right for you, your name will leap to mind.
The Frame: What you’re interested in
The first sentence of your elevator pitch should help the person you are speaking with put you in a box. In order for them to understand how they can help you, you need to help them understand what you’re looking for by providing a clear idea of your interests. Assume they don’t know anything about you. The frame can be as narrow or wide as you like; the goal is to start the conversation in an area that matters to you.
The Support: Put the frame into action
The second sentence should demonstrate that you take action. After you've framed your interests, describe either an action that you have taken or one you'd like to. Adding these specifics will let you have a more directed conversation. Better yet, the person you’re speaking with will have an easier time talking about you to someone else, describing you as the person who is interested in a certain area (frame) and ideal for a certain type of activity.
The Hook: Who you are
There is no third sentence. The hook needs to be part of every word. The hook shows who you are: your enthusiasm, your ability to focus, your desire to take action. Your choice of words and how you deliver them can either make you memorable and encourage people to take action on your behalf, or be utterly forgettable. Keep in mind that the objective of your pitch is not to find a job; rather it is make a connection and give the person you’re speaking with the opportunity to help you.
How it all comes together
Some great elevator pitches that embody the frame, support and hook are below.
"I’m interested in government work and am considering law school. I’m exploring paralegal opportunities and Congressional internships to test this out."
"I love working in groups and am looking for a company that is known for collaboration and for doing its work in project teams.
"I’m passionate about the environment, so I’m looking at nonprofits that fight global warming and other environmental hazards."
"I’ve always loved the stock market, so I’m looking at a wide variety of opportunities in finance and investing."
"I’m a competitive person. I want to find a company that employs the smartest people and has a demanding culture so that I can test myself against the best."
Develop an answer to the question that’s specific enough to spark ideas and thoughtful enough to create a good impression while being short enough to plant the seed and move on. Practice your answer in front of the bathroom mirror until you can recite it at will, then tuck it away for later use.
Your elevator pitch is a core building block of a successful job search strategy. Develop and refine yours and put it to work so you can get some interviews and make concrete progress in your search for a great job.