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Developing Your Personal Brand: A Brief Guide to Creating an Elevator Pitch

Personal Growth

28 October, 2020

Colleen Tartow, Ph.D.
Colleen Tartow, Ph.D.

Director of Engineering at Starburst Data

Colleen Tartow, Ph.D., Director of Engineering at Starburst Data, outlines how to create your own elevator pitch and how building a personal brand can benefit your career.

Problem

Most junior professionals don’t know how to present themselves in a brief, compelling format. Frequently they don’t have an elevator pitch or a quick summary that would present them and help them stand out from the crowd. Moreover, they find merely describing who they are exceptionally hard. They don’t know how to take the essence of who they are and what they do professionally and translate it into a short, well-structured story that would help another person understand what they do and what they can offer.

Over the past few years, I’ve honed my personal brand, developing a two-minute pitch of who I am, where I come from, what I do, what I am looking for, and what I can offer. I find it immensely useful in a variety of professional settings, including social networks.

Actions taken

To create an elevator pitch, you need to know how you want to present yourself to others, especially in a networking or job interview setting. The best way to approach it is to open up a blank document and list ten things that you are exceptionally good at and proud of. For example, you write clear code, build persuasive visuals, and are good at explaining technical concepts to non-technical people. Next, bucket those ten things into themes. For example, I would bucket being excellent at creating slide decks and having stellar writing skills into a bucket of outstanding communication skills. Finally, translate your “buckets” into stories. Being good at explaining technical concepts to non-technical people can be also framed as a story-like narrative: “I love taking complex technical concepts and breaking them down into digestible pieces that non-technical people can understand with ease.”

Many people can feel uncomfortable itemizing their strengths as it may feel like bragging. Writing from the third-person perspective could help remove the embarrassment. Or, you can always pretend you are talking about your best friend or someone you know well when compiling the list. To make sure that your list is complete and realistic, you can also ask your friends and colleagues to help you out with identifying your strengths. Often people are unaware of their strengths or tend to downplay them, and another person’s perspective can be highly valuable. Once you feel everything is included, turn the pitch into the first-person narrative and start practicing.

Your pitch shouldn’t be longer than two minutes, but if you can’t remember it immediately, you can start practicing it bullet point by bullet point. Try to be natural when presenting it. It shouldn’t sound like a speech learned by heart but be more spontaneous and artless. Have it handy all the time. You’ll find it useful when you network, interview, talk to a recruiter, or present at a conference. There is a difference, though, between the spoken and written version. The spoken version should be up to two minutes while the written one shouldn’t be longer than a few sentences. Everything written about you should include the same messaging - this is what makes it into your brand. From your LinkedIn page to your resume to your website (if you have one), everything about you should have a consistent message about who you are. I also find it handy when I interview candidates, it’s an easy way to level-set early on in our conversation.

Having a personal elevator pitch is enormously beneficial. Many people are exceedingly nervous when introduced to other people. Having something prepared in advance that you know well and can easily fall back on can help you compose yourself and feel more confident. If you’ve already repeated your pitch hundreds of times, you will feel comfortable and poised no matter who is in front of you.

As your career evolves and you grow professionally, your pitch will change to include your most recent professional successes. My first pitch started as, “I am a data engineer obsessed with data and I love consulting other people about data”. As my career grew and my management and leadership skills improved I added that to my pitch. , I recently added more detail around my leadership skills, too, as well as my passion for mentoring, diversity, and inclusion.

Lessons learned

  • The story of you should be the easiest story to tell, but that’s often not the case. We are trained to consider any positive talk about ourselves as bragging and therefore most of us are uncomfortable doing it. Imposter syndrome and being part of an underrepresented group can also play into the feeling that it’s inappropriate to talk yourself up. This isn’t so - you should practice being your own biggest fan with a solid brand and pitch.
  • When I heard for the first time the phrase ‘personal brand’ I was appalled, it felt dishonest to reduce myself to a product for sale. But there are situations wherein you need to be able to talk about yourself clearly, succinctly, and with a strong message around your skillset. By practicing and honing your own elevator pitch, you’ll be more comfortable and at ease with these situations going forward.

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