The No-Fail Guide to Answering, "So What Do You Do?"


Having an elevator pitch (aka a short and sweet explanation of what you do) is crucial—just as crucial as bringing business cards to a networking event.

But it’s often hard to get started. Virtually all working Millennials can describe what they do, but those first few words can feel awkward. You don’t want lots of “ums” or a rambling preamble, but blurting something out can feel like just that—blurting something out. “There are so many tips out there for crafting the perfect elevator pitch, but none of that helps if you’re nervous about the first few words or you freeze up when delivering,” says Melody Wilding, a New York City-based therapist and career coach who focuses on professionals in the first 10 years of their careers.

So, how to approach this? Read on for five ideas to make the perfect elevator pitch roll right off your tongue:

1. First, practice with a friend.

Step up rehearsing how you deliver your elevator pitch with a friend who will challenge you. Neeti Chokshi, 29, head of product at, a startup that helps professionals build their brand online, created a system to practice her “So, what do you do?” answer until she could deliver it effortlessly. “My fiancé would randomly catch me off-guard and ask me my elevator pitch,” she says. “With practice, I’ve come to learn that a short and sweet message shows confidence.”

2. Be the one to initiate shop talk. 

Sure, asking what someone does isn’t the most exciting party question, but at least being the first person to ask will give you the opportunity to optimize your own elevator pitch. “I always try and get the other person’s elevator pitch first so I can tailor mine accordingly,” says Michelle Shemilt, founder of Nudy Patooty, an undershirt line for women that prevents perspiration and deodorant stains on clothes. “If it is someone else in your industry, you can get a bit more technical without their eyes glazing over, but if it’s someone from a completely different field, you know to keep it super simple.”

3. Work in the person’s name. 

“People’s favorite sound is their own name, after all, and there’s no faster way to get someone tuned in than to repeat it back to them,” says Wilding. For example: So, Jane, what I specialize in is XYZ. Wilding adds, “Having the confidence to know your pitch is being listened to will create a positive feedback loop to help you feel more secure.”

4. Trade fancy jargon for simple and straightforward.

“It sounds obvious, but the main reason why we trip up when trying to get those first few words out is because we’re trying to say everything at once, often getting too technical to really make an impression,” says Shemilt. “When developing your elevator pitch, keep it so simple and straightforward that someone can turn around and tell another person exactly what you do, in exactly your words.” Example: “I cover startups for a Silicon Valley-based technology blog.”

“Play the role, and you will become it.”

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5. Channel your superhero self.

When you open your mouth to say your elevator pitch, feeling confident will make the right words come out more easily. “Many people listen to their inner critic and have a problem really believing and internalizing their value, and can unknowingly sabotage their pitch,” says Wilding.

Wilding recommends creating an image of your “best self”—and putting that persona on when you go into a networking situation. “Think of it like developing your own version of Beyoncé’s Sasha Fierce,” she says. “Play the role, and you will become it.”

This article was originally published on Levo