Most job seekers, when actively searching for a new position, spend a great deal of time at job fairs, informal interviews, and networking events. In all of these cases, you have a finite amount of time to spend outlining your qualifications and experience. Job fairs are a bit like speed dating in that regard – by the time you’ve said a few words, the recruiter is moving onto the next person because there aren’t enough hours in the day to give every candidate sufficient time and attention.

Instead of feeling discouraged by these challenges, you would be best served by learning how to use them to your advantage. Figuring out how to sum up your work history, qualifications, and other selling points in a short amount of time can be a huge asset, especially if you’re able to do so successfully. This is where an “elevator pitch” comes into play.

What is an Elevator Pitch?

Pretend you just got on an elevator and a recruiter for a prospective business is in it with you. The time you have with him is limited to the time it takes to reach one of your floors, so you have roughly 20-30 seconds to get him interested in you not only as a person, but as the ideal candidate for a position.

It is crucial to have the ability to give a clear explanation of yourself that peaks a recruiter’s interest, and to do so as quickly as possible. Achieving this will give you a huge competitive advantage on your search for a new career opportunity.

Developing and Perfecting Your Pitch

One of the keys to developing and perfecting your elevator pitch involves understanding what it isn’t. Such a pitch is – in theory – not the last time you will ever talk to this particular recruiter. You don’t have to cram in every bit of work history. The goal is tell them enough in a short time to entice them to schedule a more formal interview.

If one particular requirement of a job is that you’re proficient with Excel, for example, you don’t need to spend five minutes illustrating that point. A job recruiter doesn’t need to know that you took a course on Microsoft Office in college or that you spent time keeping track of deadlines in Excel for your high school newspaper. They just need to know your level of knowledge; proficient, advanced, or expert.

Though that might be an oversimplification, developing and perfecting your elevator pitch is something you will do by keeping that same basic concept in mind. Don’t use ten words when five will do. If you can say the same thing in three, that’s even better.

To get started, write down a list of your major career accomplishments that reflect on the job you’re trying to get. It’s incredibly helpful if these accomplishments involved solving a problem or had tangible benefits, such as improving efficiency or increasing revenue. Next, rank those accomplishments on a scale from “most relevant” to “least relevant” for the desired position. Then, determine how to explain each of them until your description is cut down to a sentence or two. Once you place them together in a logical order, practice saying your pitch out loud, eliminating some as needed, until you can get through it in 30 seconds or less. At this point, you’ve got an ideal elevator pitch!

One of the most important aspects of your elevator pitch is that each individual element needs to be memorable. You can’t just say “I increased productivity at my former job,” as it does nothing to differentiate you from the competition. Instead phrase each item as “I increased productivity at my former job by doing X, Y and Z,” or “I performed X, Y, Z to increase ROI by X%.” Actual benefits that you helped a company attain demonstrate the value you provide to an employer, which is both meaningful and memorable.

Remember, however, that you still need to keep yourself calm, cool and collected – the same way you would in a more formal setting. Don’t stand in front of an interviewer and recite your practiced speech as quickly as you can. Let it flow out naturally, like you are having a conversation with a friend. Practice makes perfect.

If you’re clear and concise, keep everything about the value you bring to the table, and make a lasting impression, you’ll find the elevator pitch one of the most valuable arrows in your quiver as you hunt for that next job!