It may sound hard to believe, but for many professionals in transition, one of the hardest (if not THE hardest) questions they’ll encounter in their job search is the innocuous little query “What are you looking for?”

This question, which forms the backbone of almost every networking interaction, is a vital part of every job hunter’s self-marketing toolbox and will have enormous implications on the amount (and quality) of assistance, leads, and referrals a person is able to generate from the people around them.  And yet, in my experience, the majority of job seekers are extremely unprepared and uncomfortable when it comes to answering this question.  Some people go completely blank.   Others stutter out stiff-sounding answers that sound like they’ve been lifted verbatim right off their resume.  And others, still, commit the greatest sin of all and take you on a guided tour of their entire career history and each and every one of their former feats of glory.  What you rarely hear out there is a polished, powerful statement that clearly outlines a person’s career goals and gets you really jazzed up to help them!

So if you’re in transition, yourself, you simply can’t afford to ignore this aspect of your search.  You need to set aside dedicated time to draft, polish, and practice a 30-60 second “elevator pitch” that will educate the people around you about what you do, who needs it, and how the person you’re chatting with can potentially help you.  Please hear me loud and clear on this: This step isn’t optional if you want to have a serious chance of finding work in today’s competitive marketplace.

What should go into this magical message?  Well, that’s where it gets tricky.  If you read books or start searching on-line for advice about elevator pitches, you’ll find a wide range of different opinions about what you should include in your presentation and how long it should ideally be.  And while most of the advice you’ll come across is probably more or less on target, it still tends to leave a lot to the imagination — as well as the individual’s own creativity and copywriting skills.

So I’m going to take things one step further and give you a basic, functional, fill-in-the-blanks template that you can use to get started if you’re “pitch-challenged” and struggling to pull your piece together:

Matt’s Handy-Dandy Elevator Pitch Template

“Hi, nice to meet you.  I’m __________________________.   At the moment, I’m actually between assignments, but am searching around actively for a new opportunity in the _________________ field.  Specifically, the kinds of problems I’d love to help solve for a company include _________, _________ and _________ and the types of organizations (or industries) I’m therefore targeting most heavily are ____________ and ________________.  For example, ______________ and ______________ are both companies I’ve got my eye on at the moment.  And while I do have a few promising things in the hopper, I’m obviously not going to count my chickens until they hatch, so I’m always looking for more leads and contacts that might be relevant to my expertise.  In fact, if you had a few minutes, I’d love to get your help with (or thoughts on) ____________________________________.”

Is this pitch infallible?  Or as brilliant as such messages could possibly be?  Not even close.  It’s basic vanilla — and you’ll definitely need to put your own spin on it, deck it out, and throw some sprinkles on it to really make it your own and turn it into something highly effective.  If nothing else, however, this paint-by-numbers approach will hopefully get some of you pointed in the right direction and illustrate some of the core components that need to go into this type of communication.

Remember, if somebody doesn’t understand what you do, or who needs it, it will be almost impossible for them to provide useful assistance — and help you get that next great job!