Google “Elevator pitch” and you will get plenty of results explaining the term in the context of selling your business plan to potential investors in anywhere from 30 seconds to two minutes.

But you’ll also find it’s just as important in the job search.

That’s because your elevator pitch is your way of selling yourself, by succinctly summarizing your experience, skills and attributes, and desired role. It should be used at official networking events and cocktail parties, in a job interview, on the soccer sidelines or while waiting for your coffee at Starbucks.

Make no mistake: this is not small talk. Instead, you need to be prepared to introduce yourself in a compelling way, says Carroll Welch, a career coach focused on career development, transition, and reentry.

“This takes thought, preparation and practice. You just can’t ‘wing it,’” she says. “By developing and consistently using an effective elevator pitch, you’ll position yourself for your desired type of work by helping people see you as a credible candidate in that area.”

But with a gap in your resume, how should you approach the task of crafting a pitch?

Do The Groundwork First

When delivering your elevator pitch, you want to encapsulate what you offer as well as the kind of position you seek in a brief but impactful statement.

To do that, “take inventory of your own skills and experience,” says Welch, including volunteer work and freelance projects that show results achieved. “Know what your relevant accomplishments are and how to describe them. These items are the building blocks of a strong elevator pitch.”

Debra Wheatman, president of Careers Done Write, warns that this is not a time to “rattle off your life’s story, go bullet-by-bullet over the points listed on your resume, or recite your certifications, degrees and other qualifications.”

Instead, give some thought to what it is you want the listener to know about you. Your elevator pitch should boil down the most important facts about how you add value. A strong pitch gets right to the point.

Welch offers this example: “I am a former consumer goods marketing manager, and after taking a four-year hiatus to raise my children, I am looking to return to work in marketing with a health and wellness-related company. I’ve always been recognized for my focus on quality and productivity. My two years of experience with an entrepreneurial healthcare venture have also enabled me to understand and anticipate what consumers want.”

Do Be Prepared To Tailor Your Pitch To Suit The Circumstances

While your pitch will in essence remain standard, the level of detail and formality may vary depending upon whether you’re meeting someone at a picnic or at a professional conference.

At times, “you may wish to add personal details, or highlight something that may be of particular relevance or interest to your listener,” says Welch. “If you’ve done all the groundwork, you will be more ready to tailor your pitch with ease as the circumstances warrant.”

Don’t Fail To Practice

In high school, you prepared for your first big debate or lead in the Spring play, and in college you spent countless hours prepping for semester-end exams. Nailing your elevator pitch is no different. Speak it aloud in front of a mirror, then give it over and over in as many kinds of real-life scenarios as possible.

“Challenge yourself to say it three times at an event you’re attending,” says Welch. “Pay attention to how the listener responds and what questions they ask, and then tweak your pitch as needed depending upon what you’ve learned.”

Do Deliver It With Energy, Enthusiasm And Authenticity

Talking about yourself positively sets the tone for your conversation and makes you relatable. Welch suggests using words that are dynamic, and a tone of voice that reflects your excitement about the career path that you’re heading along.

Your elevator pitch “allows you to show the interviewer who you are, and what excites you about [returning to work,]” says Wheatman, “and it’s all entirely in your own words and on your own terms.”

Need more advice? Start the writing process with these prompts, and be sure to watch The Elevator Pitch and Personal Branding in the age of Social Media. It’s led by career coach Shannon Houde and offers step by step instructions.

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