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Holiday Party Prep: it’s time to perfect your pitch

The holidays are officially upon us! If you’ve been wanting to find a new job, you may think the best thing you can do is wait until the new year.  Not true!  The holiday season presents a number of great opportunities to network with existing contacts and make new ones.

But before you venture out, you should take a little time to perfect your pitch.  Many of the job seekers I’ve worked with have never heard of this concept. The idea behind an elevator pitch is this– If you had the good fortune of riding in an elevator with someone important who could potentially help you (think the head of a company or a hiring manager), what would you say in the time it takes to ride in an elevator?

An elevator pitch should be very clear and very brief (30 to 60 seconds), and should contain the following:

  1. Who you are
  2. What you do
  3. Why would you be good at the job you want to do

Even if you aren’t talking to a hiring manager, use this same format when you talk to friends or networking contacts who may be able to help you. It gives them a picture of what you’re looking for, so they can help you.

I recently met with a recent graduate from my Alma Mater of Pepperdine. He’s looking for a job, and although I didn’t know him, I was willing to meet with him because of the connection. He was smart with a good resume and was looking for help identifying jobs to apply for. So I asked him, “What sort of job are you looking for?” The answer he gave is one you never want to give: “I would like any kind of job. You know, in any area of business. Doing anything. I’m a really hard worker, and whatever it is, I can do it – and do it well.” In reality, this recent graduate was no doubt trying to be open to experiences. He was trying to cast his net wide to gain as many potential opportunities as possible.

The problem with this approach however is that it gives the impression that you have no direction. You don’t know what you want, and frankly, you might be desperate. Your friends and contacts have no idea which way to point you, and it could be a bit risky for them too. After all, if they find a hot job lead for you, it will probably be related to their own work in some way. They might know the hiring manager personally, or it could be at the company that they work for. Either way, they are putting their own reputation on the line when they recommend you. In the end, by casting your net so wide, you will actually find less opportunities. Your network of contacts will not want to risk their credibility on someone who can’t explain what they want to do.

With that in mind, it’s time to perfect your pitch. Here are a few tips:

  1. Come up with a specific idea(s) of what you want to do. If you have 2 or 3 very different ideas, that’s okay. But you will need to develop 2 or 3 pitches, and select which one to use when.
  2. Write down your pitch. Writing it down will help you to organize your thoughts and minimize rambling when the time does come to give your pitch. The entire thing should take up less than one sheet of paper. Typically, a typed double spaced piece of paper will take you about a minute to read. Keep it under this length.
  3. Ensure you are answering the three questions: a. who you are, b. what you do, and c. why you’d be perfect for this job
  4. Speak in straight forward, simple terms. This is not the time to display all the fancy words that you picked up while studying at that college of yours. Focus your time on answering the questions at hand, not showcasing your vocabulary.
  5. Be prepared to adjust your pitch. Remember, the idea behind a pitch is that you may randomly meet someone who could be very helpful. This could be in an airport, at a party, or walking down the street. You never know. Be ready to change up the contents of your pitch to fit with the other person. For example, if you have 3 very different pitches, give the one that is the most closely related to the person you’re pitching to.

Being able to customize your pitch on the spot comes with practice. Learning to pitch yourself is like learning to hit a golf ball or play the piano. The more you do it, the more natural it becomes.

When I was in graduate school, I took my own pitch practice to the extreme. My school was located near Los Angeles, and there happened to be a number of national conferences going on in LA that year. Each conference hosted a career fair, and would charge a small fee (~$40) to attend the fair (but not the conference). Each had about 300 employer booths. I would spend an entire day going from booth to booth, giving my pitch over and over to every recruiter. It took hours. It was exhausting. But in the end, I was prepared. I could pitch any type of employer on my background at the drop of a hat. I’m an introvert, so forcing myself to go through this exercise helped to build up my stamina for talking to people about my career interests for long periods of time. This comes in handy later when you find yourself in an 8-hour interview.

If you don’t have the opportunity to attend a giant career fair, there’s still hope. My first suggestion is to start with an older relative or parent who doesn’t work in your industry. I started out my career in technology, so I would often pitch my ideas to my mother, who is a musician. Our fields were so vastly different that if she could understand my pitch, I knew that I had nailed it. You will not always pitch to someone who knows what you do. As a matter of fact, it’s rare. You’ll be talking to someone who knows someone. In my personal example, I was pitching to HR recruiters at the career fairs.

Once your initial practice runs are complete, it’s time to get out in front of people you don’t know. Look up networking events in your area on sites like LinkedIn and Meetup.com. Consider a wide variety of events such as young professional events, industry specific meetups, or cocktail parties. Attending different types of events will allow you to meet different types of people, in different industries, and from different age groups.

But before you go, be prepared. Don’t be shy about giving your pitch. It’s just like introducing yourself, but a bit more advanced. After some practice, it will feel more natural. In the meantime though, fake confidence if you have to.

And, don’t forget your business cards! What’s the use of giving your pitch if the person doesn’t know how to contact you afterward? It’s easy to say, “I’d love to give you one of my cards” or “Here’s one of my cards” or “Do you have a card?”

You get the idea. Good luck, and remember – practice makes perfect!

Happy hunting!

Angela Copeland

@CopelandCoach