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So, what do you do?

In the DC area, we are infamous for the first question we usually ask those we meet: What do you do? It’s our go-to conversation starter in all situations professional or social.

In a social context, the expected response is usually just your job title and employer. Or perhaps, simply your profession. For example, you might answer, I’m an HR director. Or, I teach music at a private school, or, I’m a loan processor for a bank. If your employer has name recognition, you might simply say, I work for Capital One, or Marriott.

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Photo by Oleg Magni on

One notable exception: If you have one of those jobs that makes you privy to super top-secret stuff, you might say, “I’m a government analyst” and raise an eyebrow with a look that discourages additional inquiries. In the DC region, we learn to respond by saying, “Oh…” and move right on to the commute.

Those responses are fine for social small-talk. But what if you’re speaking with someone in a professional setting, such as a networking event? Then, you want to answer the question with what you actually do. This is often referred to as your elevator pitch.

What is an Elevator Pitch?

An elevator pitch is an essential tool for your professional networking toolkit. In an elevator pitch, you briefly summarize your background and experience in a way that invites the other person to engage. General guidance says it should be 30-60 seconds long, but I suggest aiming for the low end of that range. Elevator speeds vary (and so do attention spans). If it sounds too sales-y, then just think of it as a way to start a conversation.

anonymous person pressing button of lift
Photo by Kelly Lacy on

What’s in an elevator pitch?

Create your elevator pitch using this general framework:

What you do | In what context | What do you specialize in (or why you like it) | Where you’re headed

Here are three examples:

I’m an HR generalist in a director role for a closely-held diversified investment company. I like working as a Department of One where I can manage the full HR program and report to a senior executive. I love what I do, but I’m hoping to transition from my corporate role to self-employed consulting within the next two years or so.

I started right out of college with a public accounting firm doing mostly tax work, but soon after I made supervisor level, I transitioned to in-house accounting with a law firm, and worked my way up to CFO. Now, I’m starting to think about how I might use my financial skills to help a nonprofit, perhaps through a position on a board of directors.

After a decade of volunteering with the PTA while my kids were young, I’m ready to return to the workforce in a part-time role where I can use my Ninja-level organizational skills in an administrative support role. 

As the pandemic continues, it’s possible that you won’t actually share an elevator with another person anytime soon. So, reimagine the elevator pitch as a way to start a conversation whenever the opportunity presents itself, virtual or otherwise.

Elevator pitch = personal brand statement

What you’re actually doing with an elevator pitch is articulating your personal brand. You can (and should) use this material in the “About” section of your LinkedIn profile, in the professional summary area of your resume, or in your cover letter. 

If you work with me to transform your resume, we will talk about personal branding in the context of the professional summary that usually appears at the top of your resume. You can use that as a jumping-off point to refine and perfect your elevator pitch.

(Check out my post about personal branding.)

Recommended reading

Here are two good resources for further reading on crafting your elevator pitch:

Elevator speech examples and writing tips

Why you should have a personal elevator pitch

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