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There are two horrible ways to answer the question, “What do you do?”
Horrible answer 1: I’m a gobbledygook-industry-jargon-thing.
Horrible answer 2: Let me take 30 minutes to explain to you the exact details of what I do, so that by the time we finish talking, you could write a book on my career.
There is also a brilliant way to answer this question, one that’s both informative and intriguing.
Here it is:
I am a [your job title] at [your company] and [what that means in layman’s terms] and [why you love it].
That’s according to Alexandra Cavoulacos and Kathryn Minshew, authors of “The New Rules of Work.” The book distills the lessons Cavoulacos and Minshew learned as COO and CEO, respectively, of career advice and job listings site The Muse.
Of course, you don’t have to use exactly that framework.
The authors share Cavoulacos’ current elevator pitch (which they define as “a concise, easy-to-understand snapshot of who you are”):
“I’m Alex, cofounder and COO of The Muse, a career platform that helps over 60 million people advance in their careers or find a job they love. Right now, I’m working on adding a CFO to our executive team and building the team in our New York headquarters – we just crossed 150 people last month!”
Your elevator pitch can be just as impressive – but it takes some work to get there. The authors share a three-step strategy that can help:
1. Write down every single thing you want someone to know about you. A starting point is, “How do you stand out in your field?”
2. Try to fit everything you wrote onto a square sticky note – that will help you choose what to prioritize. Here’s where the formula mentioned above comes in.
3. Read your pitch out loud to make sure it actually sounds conversational – not robotic or jargon-y.
The authors write that crafting and practicing your elevator pitch will help you calm down before a networking event, because you’ll be confident in your ability to make a great first impression.
Note that you can -and should – update your elevator pitch every so often, so that it accurately reflects your skills and goals.
You can also tweak the pitch depending on who you’re speaking with – for example, if it’s someone who works in your industry, you might not need to explain what you do in layman’s terms.