An Easier Elevator Pitch

Job-seekers, especially early in their careers, often find it difficult to talk about themselves.

Unfortunately, the conventional wisdom on elevator pitching or formatting an introductory email or cover letter doesn’t really help. Too often, we demand that people who are already feeling out of their element develop and memorize a little script, wait in line to talk to The Person, and then gulp, shake hands, and just push play on the script.

But what if that’s backwards? The person who’s uncomfortable talking about himself has to do that, while the person who’s just finished talking on stage has to listen. And your little pitch is supposed to somehow be identical in form to all the rest, yet also distinct enough to stand out in memory. Unlikely.

The thing about the elevator (or the intro email, or the post-keynote handshake) is that it doesn’t automatically give you permission to talk about you. It gives you the opportunity to get that permission. That’s what those 15–30 seconds are really about. And the way to do that isn’t to deliver a broadside about you. It’s to start a conversation the other person wants to continue about a topic they care about.

The easiest way to do that is to ask a question, identify a problem, or make a connection. If you have another 30 seconds, you can tell a little story, too. In any case, the point is not to recite your resume, but rather to position yourself as someone worth working with.

The next time you meet your dream employer, the choice is yours: are you going to recite your resume and hope, hope, hope it’s somehow going to be more memorable than all the rest, or will you be creative enough to start a conversation so that they ask you to follow up?

Remember, what you choose to talk about in this situation and how you choose to talk about it will tell a lot about who and how you are. And unless your dream employer’s dream employee tells a slightly more polished version of the same story as everybody else, or is already too comfortable talking about himself, it might pay to tell a different story about who you are by talking about something else.