How to promote your potential: The elevator pitch

Being ready with a concise summary of your career goals can be a handy tool to initiate a conversation that could land you a job.


Imagine you’re at a friend’s annual neighborhood holiday party. You get introduced to your friend’s neighbor who happens to be a senior manager at the audit firm you’re applying to. You know recommendations are everything at this firm and want to make a great, professional first impression. What do you say?

You need an elevator pitch.

The term “elevator pitch” comes from the early internet days when web development companies needed venture capital. The individuals most successful at securing funding tended to be those who could win over finance firms with a simple pitch — a proposition so concise they could deliver it on an elevator ride.

Your task is slightly different than selling a Silicon Valley startup idea. You’re using your pitch time to find meaningful work, whether that’s in the form of an internship, first job, or new career opportunity. But how can you possibly combine your diverse passions and career goals into one quick statement? Break the old rules, of course.

Here’s how to craft a modern elevator pitch to both stay true to yourself and promote your potential in today’s world.

1. Choose an angle

There’s nothing worse than networking that sounds and feels like networking. So don’t see it that way. Instead, think of your elevator pitch as the copy on the book jacket of your professional autobiography. It’s a window into your background, your present work, your future aspirations, and, most importantly, your purpose. Why should people read your book? Why should people pay attention to you? State your end goal, whether that’s getting a job in a certain field, educating people on your business, or saving the world.

2. Speak plainly and specifically

Your words shouldn’t be interesting. You should be interesting. Don’t say you’re dynamic, a great communicator, personable, high energy, passionate, or motivated. Be those things as you talk. And nix jargon. Take this elevator pitch, for instance:

“I am a human resources professional with a strong track record in helping to identify and recruit high-level talent.”

The pitch is clear enough, but it’s too broad and boring. She might as well have said, “I’m a team player,” or “I’m proficient in Microsoft Office.” Something more specific would probably work better, like:

“I’ve been in HR for two years, during which I’ve singled out top talent and supplied [list specific company/companies] with game-changing upper managers. I’m now looking to do this on an even bigger scale for a recruiter.”

Don’t say you’re dynamic, a great communicator, personable, high energy, passionate, or motivated. Be those things as you talk.

3. Make them want more

Of course, there’s a fine line between necessary information and too much information.

Make your pitch short (less than 30 seconds), don’t pack in too much detail, and allow room for it to expand organically. Your pitch should inspire conversation and questions. For example, here’s one of my elevator pitches:

“Like lots of recent grads, I had an existential career crisis when I graduated college. Now I write about how to find professional purpose for Forbes, my blog, and brands I love. I’m also writing a book on why 20-somethings are accidentally postponing meaningful work.”

Remember, your elevator pitch isn’t a presentation — it’s a conversation starter. By having an elevator pitch in your back pocket, you’ll be able to present yourself professionally and create a strong first impression. Guide your listeners to ask the questions you want to answer. Start a conversation and help them join your story.