Your Elevator Pitch: Don’t Go Networking Without It

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By Laura Hill

I attend a lot of business events that include networking. When meeting someone new, one of the first things we ask each other is “what do you do [for a living]?” It’s an easy question, right? Providing a clear, direct answer is SO important to build our personal brand, help us find jobs, and facilitate new business. And yet I almost never get a good answer to this basic query.

Common Elevator Pitch Mistakes

  1. Humor: “I help push drugs” instead of “I do product marketing for a pharmaceutical company”, just isn’t funny and makes a bad first impression.
  2. Too broad: “I work in technology” or “I’m a consultant” is useless. “I work for XYZ Company where I manage the help-desk group” is good. “I’m an independent marketing consultant – I specialize in developing sales promotion and direct marketing programs” is good.
  3. Underselling: “I’m just an order-taker on the fixed income trading desk”. Way better to just say “I work on the fixed income trading desk”.
  4. Too vague: “I help companies unleash hidden value”. What the heck does that mean?!
  5. Life story: Your pitch is not the time or place to give the chronology of your career or explain your career decisions. Monologues are bad.
  6. Jargon: beware of company/industry jargon until you know your audience.
  7. Uptalk: that’s when you’re making a statement but with rising inflection so that it sounds like a question. “I work in finance?” makes you sound weak and flighty – like a Valley Girl?

Best Practices for Your Elevator Pitch

Here are my rules for a good elevator pitch – which by the way is nothing more than your self-introduction or answer to “what do you do?”

  1. Say what you do at the present time. You may also want to mention what you want to do next. If your job is hard to explain, keep working on it till you find an easy way to convey key information that is consistent with your networking and branding objectives.
  2. If you are in transition, be clear about your target job/employers and mention your recent and noteworthy former employers (or clients). Example: “I work in pharmaceutical marketing, most recently as VP for a startup biotech company and previously for Bristol Myers-Squibb. I’m in transition; my search is focused on mid-sized biotechs, including late-stage startups.
  3. Build your brand. Be thoughtful about what makes you distinctive and for what you want to be known. This should be reflected in your pitch.
  4. Test your pitch. If your pitch generates appropriate questions and relevant conversations, it’s a good one. If your listener’s eyes glaze over or silence ensues, you missed your mark.
  5. Always reciprocate. “And what do you do, Mark”? Even better: ask what he does first, so that you can optimize your returning pitch.

Laura Hill is a founder of Careers in Motion LLC ( She works with professionals and executives on career strategy & planning, personal branding, and all aspects of job search including resumes, interviewing, networking and salary negotiations.


Excellent advice, Laura. Another tip is to keep your self-introduction short. It should be a grabber. You don’t want to give your complete history. The point is to get your listener to respond, “Tell me more.” Then you’re on your way to a potential sale.

Like your suggestions Laura.

That VAGUE mistake is unfortunately all too familiar. It’s the cousin of this one.

When people say, “Because what I do is somewhat complicated, … ” and then they babble on about something COMPLICATED. Hey buster. I prefer you explain what you do for me so I have some what of an understanding before I either listen to you or want to meet up.

What do you do isn’t a loaded question but many people’s answers are!


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