How to create an elevator pitch that will leave potential employers wanting more (of you)

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

PHOENIX -- Colleges and universities all over the country are releases their 2013 graduates into the real world. That means thousands of newly minted grads, if they haven't already, will be looking to land jobs.

An opportunity could present itself at any time. The best-prepared job-seekers will be ready with what many call an "elevator pitch." It's exactly what it sounds like -- a very short, very direct pitch to introduce yourself and all you have to offer to somebody who might be a position to help you out. All in the span of an elevator ride.

You may only have 30 or 40 seconds to make yourself stand out, make yourself be memorable. That's what the elevator pitch is all about.

The following tips will help you make the most of those precious seconds.

1. Clarify your job target. As Yogi Berra famously said, "You've got to be very careful if you don't know where you're going, because you might not get there."

So when you begin putting an elevator pitch together, nail down the best way to describe your field and the type of job you're pursuing. Until you can clearly explain the type of position you want, nobody can help you find it or hire you to do it.

2. Put it on paper. Write down everything you'd want a prospective employer to know about your skills, accomplishments and work experiences that are relevant to your target position. Then grab a red pen and mercilessly delete everything that's not critical to your pitch.

Keep editing until you've got the speech down to three of four key bullet points or sentences. Your goal is to interest the listener in learning more, not to tell your whole life story. With that in mind, remove extraneous details that detract from your core message.

3. Format it. A good pitch should answer three questions: Who are you? What do you do? What are you looking for?

Here's an example of how to begin a pitch that includes the essentials: "Hi. I am Jessica Hill. I am an accountant with 10 years experience in the insurance industry and I'm looking for opportunities in the Dallas area with both insurance and finance companies."

That speech would take about 15 seconds. Jessica would then want to use her next 15 seconds to add details about her unique selling proposition, special skills and specific ways she could help a potential employer.

4. Tailor the pitch to them, not you. It's important to remember that the people listening to your speech will have their antennas tuned to WIFM (What's in It for Me?) Be sure to focus your message on their needs.

For example, this introduction: "I am a human resources professional with 10 years experience working for consumer products companies." The pitch would be more powerful if you said, "I am a human resources professional with a strong track record in helping to identify and recruit top-level talent into management."

Using benefit-focused terminology will help convince an interviewer that you have the experience, savvy and skills to get the job done at his or her business.

5. Eliminate industry jargon. You need to make your pitch easy for anyone to understand, so avoid using acronyms and tech-speak that the average person or job interviewer might not understand. The last thing you want to do is make your listener feel stupid or uninformed.

6. Read your pitch out loud. Reading it aloud then tinkering with the words will help you sound more authentic.

7. Practice, practice, practice (then solicit feedback). Rehearse your pitch in front of a mirror or use the recording capabilities of your computer, so you can see and hear how you sound. This might feel awkward at first, but the more you practice, the smoother your delivery will be.

Keep tweaking your pitch until it no longer sounds rehearsed. When your presentation is polished to your satisfaction, try it out on a few friends and ask them what they thought your key points were. If their response doesn't square with your objective, the speech still needs work.

8. Prepare a few variations. You might want to say things slightly differently to an interviewer than to a former colleague. Also, sometimes you'll just have 15 seconds for a pitch (kind of a short elevator ride), other times you may have a minute or two.

Focus on mastering a few key talking points then work up ways to customize your speech for particular situations.

9. Nail it with confidence. The best-worded elevator pitch in the world will fall flat unless it's conveyed well. When you give the speech, look the person in the eye, smile and deliver your message with a confident, upbeat delivery.

The goal is not only to be memorable, but also to keep them asking questions and wanting to know more about you.

Get your pitch right and you might soon find yourself riding an actual elevator at your new job.

Founded in 1948, Robert Half International (RHI) is the world's first and largest specialized staffing firm. Joe Mizzi is a branch manger with RHI.