How Do I Perfect My Personal Pitch?

You should have two versions of your career story: a social pitch and a longer interview pitch.

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Tricia Baione ’09 is director of career education and advising for the Career Management Center at Columbia Business School.

Illustration by Kevin Sprouls

You’re considering a career change. You have an interview or informational meeting. And while you can chat all day long about your field of expertise, you struggle when it comes to speaking about yourself. You’re not alone. This is true for a surprising number of people, especially experienced professionals who may not have undertaken a job search in a while. But interviews require you to talk about yourself in a way that connects the dots for potential employers, clients, or investors, helping them understand how your professional experience, combined with your industry interest and knowledge, will make you a good fit for their companies. You should have two versions of your career story: a social pitch and a longer interview pitch. Here’s how to craft each.

The Social Pitch

Also known as an elevator pitch, this should be about 15 to 30 seconds long and can be used for everything from networking at industry conferences to introducing yourself at weddings. It’s a quick career story that includes your work experience and relevant skills, along with where you want to go. If you are talking to a potential employer, also explain why your desired next job is a good fit for both of you.

  • Make a list of all the things you would want to tell a hiring manager.
  • Reduce that list to two or three essential bullets that give a snapshot of your professional background.
  • Distill those bullets to a one-sentence statement, then connect your past to where you want to go — for example, “I was a software engineer at a multinational technology firm who transitioned from product management to business development, and I’m looking to move to a growth-stage tech startup.”
  • Practice your pitch so that you become comfortable with it but it doesn’t sound rehearsed.

The Interview Pitch

This should grab an employer’s attention and create a concise and credible case for hiring you. Remember to include what you can do to help the company reach its goals.

  • Provide an overview of your work history. Include two or three transferable skills, specific business-impact examples that illustrate those skills, and what makes you unique, which will help you be remembered. Leave out information that is not relevant to the position.
  • Have sound bites, not a scripted monologue; authenticity is vital. Exude genuine enthusiasm for the industry, company, and role.
  • Anticipate interview questions that will invite you to deliver your pitch, such as, Walk me through your resume, or, What brings you here today? Make it clear how your career story relates to the industry, function, and company you’re targeting.
  • Provide context in a way that adds information and invites follow-up questions. For example, instead of saying, “I worked in an operational role for a manufacturing company, then moved to a boutique consulting company,” say, “During my time as an operational manager for a manufacturing company, I was fascinated by the way outside consulting companies thought through certain issues. This moved me to pursue a consulting role at a small boutique firm.”
  • Time it. Your interview pitch should last no more than two minutes, though 90 seconds is ideal. Much longer than two minutes, and the interviewer is probably thinking about the next question. After three minutes, she is probably thinking about lunch. Any shorter than 90 seconds, and you’ve lost an opportunity to tell part of your story.

While the pitch concept might seem simple, nailing it requires considerable thought. Taking the time to practice will enable you to convey your unique selling proposition and position you for continued job-search success.

Considering a career change? Alumni Career Management offers one-on-one career advising, webinars, in-person workshops, and a variety of online resources, including an alumni job board. Contact Nicole Gehrmann (alumnicareers@gsb.columbia.edu or 212-854-8821) to get started.

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