Could you explain who you are and what you have to offer to an employer in just 15 seconds? Have you ever had to introduce yourself to a stranger and found yourself stumbling through the process? Welcome to the club – many people find this intimidating. It’s natural to be nervous.

And yet, it’s a skill we all need to learn. Even the most silver-tongued of people have difficulty talking about themselves off the cuff in professional situations without preparation and practice.

For years people have been talking about the “elevator pitch,” a term that came into vogue when the internet was new and web development companies were searching for capital. Companies that could explain themselves in a simple pitch were more likely to get funding. The best pitches were those that explained their business during a short elevator ride with potential investors. Essentially, these companies had to describe and sell an idea in 30-seconds or less. The same concept is applied to careers when meeting potential employers or networking contacts.

There are a variety of situations where you could use an elevator pitch. Career Fairs and networking events are obvious places, but the “pitch” is useful almost anytime you need to introduce yourself to a stranger, like at a conference, a meeting, or even standing in line at the grocery store. The key is adjusting your pitch to your audience.  For instance, imagine you’re at the Career Fair and you have an interest in a particular field. You might try introducing yourself like this:

Hello, my name is ______ and I’m a junior Comparative Sociology major. I’m interested in building on my experience and interest in environmental sustainability with an internship in an environmentally-friendly organization. I noticed that the summary about your organization in the Career Fair booklet mentions that you are focused on conservation with an emphasis on the Pacific Northwest. Can you tell me a little bit more about that?

Or, say you meet an alumna at an event on campus who works at an organization you find interesting. You might try this:

Hello, my name is _____ and I’m a senior Theater Arts major. I’ve been involved with Student Theater Productions for two years and I’m interested in learning more about professional roles in organizations that support the arts. What do you enjoy about the work that you do for ______ organization?

See? It’s just a conversation starter, but it’s one most people would struggle to convey effectively when put on the spot. With a small amount of preparation and practice, you too can impress the potential employers and networking contacts you meet.

Would you like feedback on your pitch before you try it on a new acquaintance? CES can help. Just ask!

© 2009 Career and Employment Services, University of Puget Sound
Photo: Kris Hay