I have spent the last few days working on short essays and cover letters, which I will refer to here synonymously as elevator pitches, for my various summer applications. During that time, I learned a lot about systematic mistakes I had been making in my writing, gleaned some great tips from mentors on how to avoid these pitfalls, and applied them to my work, seeing great improvements in just a few drafts. Through the course of this blog post, I hope to be able to pass some of them to you, enable you to write better elevator pitches, and help you get closer to the career outcomes you desire.
For many who are applying for jobs and internships for the first time, the “elevator pitch” is an oft-heard dreaded phrase that elicits feelings of anxiety, fear, and general unhappiness. Many people wonder how you can possibly describe your background and particularly your academic achievements and career experience in as little as thirty spoken seconds or two written paragraphs. The task can be even more daunting if you are sure you have found that dream job or internship and know that the written portion of your applications marks the thin line between an offer and a rejection. Some reasonably point to low admissions rates in the single digits and ask how much they can actually do in their application to distinguish themselves from others in the crowd. While these blog post does not promise to be a panacea, I think you will be able to be able to better strategize how to approach the college and work life elements of your elevator pitch if you read the next few paragraphs.
First, I encourage you to sit down somewhere quiet with a pencil and a blank sheet of paper. Spend five minutes writing down everything you know about yourself: where you come from, what fascinates you, your most formative academic and career experiences, and so on. When those five minutes are up, you will hopefully have a lot to work with.
My mentor gave me a funny metaphor for me to visualize the next step.
He asked me, “What are your favorite fruits?”
“Apples, oranges, and bananas,” I replied.
His point (and your next step!) is that you need to organize your arguments and sub arguments in threes because the human mind is best at processing items in that quantity. Try to have one paragraph dealing with your background and initial interest, another on your academic achievements, and a third on your career achievements, for example. Think about how to best categorize your different kinds of “fruit” and then think about the order of the paragraphs themselves (or, if you are like me, do these steps in the opposite order).
Finally, I encourage you to imagine yourself sitting on the other side of the table as the recruiter. Look through your internship job description. Formulate a series of criteria about the kind of applicant you want and write them down. I did something similar for a policy internship below.
Criteria for policy internship:
1. Is she likable?
2. Will she do a great job?
3. Does she have a good, clear rationale for wanting the job?
4. Will she be professional and does she demonstrate a good writing ability?
5. Is she reliable?
6. Does she demonstrate attention to detail?
Once you come up with your 5-10 questions, reread your elevator pitch and go through each question one by one. Strive to answer every question; you will have your final draft done when you have done so. Before you send an important application or make that elevator pitch in person, be sure to practice with your mentor and have him or her offer you tips.
Danni Ondraskova will graduate in 2018 from Wellesley College. Danni plans on earning a dual degree in law and business and dreams of working for JP Morgan’s Global Investment Management division.