For years you’ve rattled off the same 5-second spiel whenever anyone asked about your dissertation. Now you need a new pitch to sum up your alt-academic job search. A clear, concise pitch will not only help make you more memorable, but also impress upon others your focus and drive to achieve a particular goal.

As a PhD student, you know how powerful an elevator pitch can be and how important it is to get it right. A well-crafted pitch can get others excited about you, your research, and the new ground you might break, while an uninspiring pitch may elicit smiles from only the politest of colleagues. The same applies outside the academy as well, particularly for jobseekers and others in professional transition. The right pitch will sell you as a passionate professional and open new possibilities by making others want to help you in your quest. The wrong pitch or a poorly delivered pitch will make you appear unsure of yourself, your abilities, and the kinds of professional opportunities you’re actually seeking.

Even if you’re still not 100% sure of what you want your next professional steps to be, project confidence to the people you meet by making your pitch as specific, concise, and clear as possible. If you know exactly what you’d like to do after you leave academia, be frank about it. If you’re open to a number of possibilities, mention the industries or fields you’re interested in. Also, feel free to follow up with a single, brief explanation as to why you’re interested in those industries or kind of work, especially if you can incorporate any key skill words into your pitch. And finally, rather than hemming and hawing, communicate any degree of uncertainty you have in your search with non-committal words like considering and exploring.


“I’m looking for opportunities in publishing, particularly in academic or educational publishing.”

“I’m looking for opportunities within the field of advertising.”

“I’m considering opportunities in the space of public history, particularly those in the New England area.”

“I’m pursuing opportunities that would allow me to apply my expertise in international development.”

“I’m exploring opportunities that would allow me to apply my skills in quantitative data analysis. I’m especially interested in the insurance and actuarial industries, but I’m exploring other avenues as well.”

“I’m exploring opportunities broadly related to education, including both K-12 and higher ed. I enjoy teaching, advising, and working with students, and I think that my skills and experience would allow me to make a real difference there.”

Effective elevator pitches are conversation starters. For this reason, your pitch can double as your opening line in job interviews, especially if you’re asked that frustrating first question, “So, tell me about yourself.” For this reason, you should also prepare slightly longer, 10- or 20-second answers to the likely follow-up questions about your interests in particular fields, your skills, your experience, and even your reasons for leaving academia.

As your search progresses, tweak your elevator pitch to maximize its effectiveness. If you notice others’ eyes glass over in the middle of your pitch, shorten it. If you come to realize that your professional interests have changed, modify your pitch to reflect your new career goals. Play around with different words and phrasing to determine what works best for you.

(Photo credit: “Elevator Button Up” by Kirian Foster, used under CC BY 2.0 / cropped and straightened from original: