Hacking the Elevator Pitch

Editor’s note: this article was originally published on June 17, 2013.

One of the things I most love about librarianship is the diversity of the field. People choosing library science come from any background you can think of, and once they have the degree their choices are manifold. As an amplifying degree, virtually anyone can find their options and skills expanded by graduate study in librarianship, and can enter and thrive in truly wide-ranging circumstances.

This is awesome. It does, however, create a small problem for new grads: How can we express our skills and interests to employers and networking connections when the field is so broad? How do those of us with a number of interests pick which one to focus on? More pertinently, when a combination of skills is our real strength, how do we explain the whole picture to listeners who may be more accustomed to specialists?

“Elevator pitches” vary slightly depending on the audience in terms of content, but the general understanding I’ve come across is a short, to-the-point statement that covers all relevant information, and could be given “between floors” on an elevator ride. They’re “teasers,” designed to hit all the bullet points and provide just enough information to prompt a longer conversation. For startups, they’re designed to inform and persuade listeners along three dimensions: “So what?” (What’s the issue at hand, and why does it matter?); “Why you?” (What makes you the person uniquely qualified to address the issue?); and “Who cares?” (Why should your audience become involved in your success or failure? What’s the application to their life?).

In the month since I finished my library degree, I’ve found myself giving an elevator pitch every time someone has asked “So what can you do with your master’s?” I’m willing to guess I’m not alone–any answer to the dreaded “You need grad school to work in a library?” would count as an elevator pitch, and as so many of us around the country graduated in the last few weeks, there are plenty of people asking us what we intend to do.

Ad-hoc pitches are great, and it’s an important skill to be able to improvise an answer to unexpected questions quickly–just ask a reference librarian. That said, I’m finding it more helpful to put some thought into the elevator pitch I’m giving on a regular basis. People keep asking me what I want to do with my degree, and while I have lots of answers, every time I’m put on the spot I forget something, often something I find really important. Listeners get bored with the litany of ands (“I can do this AND that AND the other thing AND…”), so finding a concise way to cover all the bases took some effort.

Here’s what I learned in trying to edit my own elevator pitch:

  • It doesn’t need to be memorized, and in fact shouldn’t be repeated word-for-word–it would become mechanical.
  • Writing it down and rehearsing a pitch a few times can ease the “I forgot something important” feeling.
  • You don’t need to cover everything. Elevator pitches are designed to prompt further conversation. Hit the major bullets, and your audience can ask for more information.
  • You can tailor pitches for different audiences. I have related, but different, answers to “What do you want to do with your degree?” depending on who’s asking–family and friends outside the LIS world, librarians, and business leaders each get information designed to be accessible.
  • Remember the “who cares?” part of a pitch–it’s great to talk about the things you’re passionate about, but it’s even better if the person listening can grab hold of something you said and connect with it.

Librarianship is about connecting people and providing information. For those of us just starting out, nailing the elevator pitch now will help significantly in the long run, as we pitch for new ideas, new careers, and new ways of doing things. Good luck!

How do you pitch? Let us all know by commenting!

Categories: Professional Life

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