Tongue-tied when Networking? Let this quick Elevator Pitch Script put you at ease
Updated: May 18, 2022
Career transition is scary, but opening ourselves up to connect can reduce its challenges. New sights and sounds, novel experiences, and interesting people we might meet or with whom we can reconnect after an absence can all expand our horizons. As our intended destination gets clearer, we can discuss the opportunities we hope to land, making it more likely our network can deliver.
Few people love the word “networking,” which conjures images of glad-handing, back-slapping, nudging-and-winking inauthenticity, but a reframe can help. Think of networking as a quest to meet interesting people that you will genuinely appreciate.
Some of this quest will feel more structured (informational interviews, formal networking events, job fairs) and some of it, more casual (meetups, happy hours, coffee dates). Initially, networking will be expansive and exploratory. Later, when you have a focused career goal and are searching for jobs, you may return to many of the same individuals for more targeted advice. When you meet with people—new and established connections—they can help you more when you furnish an engaging yet specific statement of your skills and the field you are targeting. Some people call it an elevator pitch, but I prefer to call it a basic message.
We would like to think that people will remember our new career plans after we tell them once, but this is rarely the case. You will need to repeat your basic message repeatedly to people who knew you in your past career and work on making it engaging and, well, believable. You may have to help people connect the dots, especially if you’re making a drastic change like moving from graphic design to naturopathic medicine. People will want to support you, but you have to make the case for why this change makes sense and deliver it with conviction and enthusiasm.
The key to an effective basic message is to choose words that convey: 1.) your core strengths, passions, and skills; 2.) the field in which you want to use them; 3.) the people or cause you wish to serve; and 4.) the problems you seek to solve. When you have carefully crafted a basic message that sounds natural and pleasing, role-play it with a trusted friend or career coach in the form of a conversation, which is usually how it’s presented. Then, challenge yourself to say it often in different setting and contexts. Keep practicing until it’s not only succinct and accurate but also compelling and memorable.
When you start sharing your basic message, resist the tendency to: 1.) repeat too often the story of how your last job ended; 2.) reveal your utter confusion about your next steps; or 3.) complain about the competitive job market. Chelsea Handler wisely said once on her Netflix show Chelsea, “Not everyone deserves your truth.” Leave the messy past and the horror stories where they belong—shared only with a few intimate, well-trusted people who will help you make sense of them and then point your way toward a better horizon.
The optimal basic message is strengths-based and future-focused and is delivered with a “hell, yes” timbre in your voice. Don’t wait until you have a super-specific job goal; begin using it when you have a few points of clarity. Here are some examples from four successful job seekers.
State the core skills and experience you want to bring to the next job:
• Albert: Background teaching college-level journalism and top-notch research, writing, and public speaking skills
• Becca: Several years as an executive-level secretary with outstanding organizational and leadership skills, computer skills, and a knack for mentoring and connecting people with opportunities
• Carrie: Stellar interpersonal skills, strong administrative skills, and attention to detail and a long career in human resources
• Diane: A seasoned PR pro with countless media connections, event-planning, and fundraising chops and a strong appreciation of architecture and sustainable building
List one to three fields in which you can picture yourself and/or passions that would give you purpose:
• Albert: Nonprofit/government agencies that provide low-income people with basic needs
• Becca: Arts, spiritual, or higher-education organization
• Carrie: Green-collar job creation, entrepreneurship, and combatting climate change
• Diane: Organizations committed to housing, environment, or international issues
Put these together into a coherent basic message:
• Albert: I plan to use the research, writing, and public speaking skills that I developed teaching journalism in a position in government or a nonprofit to advocate for families with children on the autism spectrum and raise awareness about the needs for services to help them thrive and succeed.
• Becca: I would like to bring my organizational, leadership, and computer skills and passion for connecting people with resources to an organization that is focused on the arts, spirituality, or education.
• Carrie: I want to use my blend of people skills and strong administrative capacity to encourage the growth of job and entrepreneurial opportunities in sustainability and agriculture with a focus on promoting strong labor unions.
• Diane: (Sometimes you will create more than one basic message.):
Basic message #1: I would like a position with an organization focused on sustainable building and affordable housing that makes use of my PR, media, event-planning, and fundraising skills.
Basic message #2: I am seeking a position in which I can apply my passion for international issues and my leadership, PR, communication skills, and event experience.
Basic message #3: I see myself thriving in an organization that lets me leverage my public relations, development, and event-planning skills and strong media connections to promote sustainable home-building or environmental protection.
Keep refining your message over time as you realize how it lands with people and as your clarity improves. Continue to develop other basic messages to use in different contexts, considering how different skills are specifically applicable to certain fields and positions.
This exercise is designed to help you tell people what you do concisely and clearly. It will take practice to get exactly right. If you are starting a business, you will want to tweak it to speak about the clients you will help rather than the employers and positions you seek.
Step 1 What is the name of your current or more recent employer?
Step 2 Describe your current or most recent work (project management, public administration, graphic design, etc.).
List two to four top-notch skills that you offer.
Step 4 What field are you hoping to transition to?
What is your area(s) of expertise?
Step 6 What skills that you offer will also transition well to your next field? If necessary, describe your skills in the way that the field you are hoping to enter would describe them. (For instance, a government entity might call public relations “public affairs.”) Also, list relevant skills that you’ve gained through education and volunteer experiences beyond your work experience. If you’ve acquired an HR management certificate after leaving your last job, list that here.
Describe your style. (What really sets you apart? How would people describe your approach?)
Describe your dream colleagues (including supervisors).
8a Their Profession:
8b Their Personality Type: (Relaxed? Easy-going? Driven?)
8c Their Gender:
8d Their Education Level:
8e Their Collaborative Work Style: (Highly Collaborative? Independent? A Mix?)
8f Their Professional Style? (Highly Technical? Wonkish? Nerdy? Aesthetically Minded?)
8g What Distinguishes Them from Their Peers:
Describe your favorite work setting.
Okay, go! Here’s how you structure your script. This can be adjusted—start by committing to speaking it aloud and mixing steps. For instance, the language you generate from steps 8a, 8b, 8c, 8d, 8e, 8f, and 9 could address the actual colleagues you prefer to work with — “relaxed yet driven creative professionals,” or “wonks with the ability to communicate and collaborate,” — or the setting — “a company that attracts and fosters racial and gender diversity,” or “a tech startup committed to environmental sustainability.”
Hi. I’m [YOUR NAME] __________________________. I have worked in  ___________________ for ___ years but am looking to transition to a career in  ________________________. I believe the  _______________________ and _________________________ (e.g., project management, public administration, speech writing) skills I have cultivated in  ____________________ have prepared me well for a career in  _________________________. I approach my work with a  ____________________________________ style and excel when I am in a position in which I can [support/lead/supervise/collaborate with/mentor/teach] [8a] ___________________________________________ who are [8b] _____________________ and [8f] __________________ and really put my ability to  __________________, __________________ , and __________________ into full gear. I enjoy roles that allow to me work with [selective combination of 8a through 8f + 9] ________________________________________________________________________in a setting that is  _________________________________.
For example, it might sound like this:
Hi. I’m Kristin. I have worked in public relations and marketing for fifteen years but am looking to transition to a career in career counseling. I believe the personal branding, customer service, and strategic writing skills I have cultivated in my prior profession have prepared me well for career counseling. I approach my work with a supportive, strengths-based style and excel when I am in a position in which I can coach imaginative and mission-driven people who are curious, hard-working, and intelligent and really put my ability to think expansively, write and message well, and counsel others into full gear. I enjoy roles that allow me to work with people who are ready to do the hard work of transitioning their career in a setting that is relaxed, inviting, and motivating.
I changed the script a bit to make sense, but that’s part of the process. Following is another slightly altered version in which I mention that I went back to school to get my MSW to add counseling skills to the mix:
Hi. I’m Kristin. I have worked in public relations and marketing for fifteen years but am looking to pivot to career counseling. I believe my experiences building counseling skills with my MSW degree and the personal branding, customer service, and strategic writing skills I have cultivated in my prior profession have prepared me well for career counseling. I approach my work with a supportive, strengths-based style and excel when I am in a position in which I can coach imaginative and mission-driven people who are curious, hard-working, and intelligent and really put my ability to think expansively, write and message well, and counsel others into full gear. I enjoy roles that allow me to work with people who are ready to do the hard work of transitioning their career in a setting that is relaxed, inviting, and motivating.
Use the space below to keep playing with your script. It will take time to get it right, and you will want to adjust it for different settings. Try not to memorize it verbatim. Get really clear about what you would like to say and then practice saying it with people with whom you feel very relaxed.
Kristin Schuchman, MSW is a career counselor and author based in Portland, Oregon who works with creative and mission-driven professionals. She writes resumes and coaches individuals seeking support for career indecision, next steps, work re-entry, advancement, and work-life-balance. She offers a free 30-minute Zoom or phone session and presently works with clients remotely. You can find her books The DIY Website Workbook and Jump Start: How to redirect a career that has stalled, lost direction or reached a crossroads on Amazon.