Getting your foot in the door to any opportunity is difficult, and often confusing. This podcast helps break down what networking is, best practices for elevator pitches, and how networking can change over the course of your young professional career. Networking basics guides young individuals through what networking looks like by providing examples from our hosts, Isaac and Michelle, as well as hearing their own stories about their networking experiences.
Resources mentioned in this episode or used in the creation of this episode:
Networking Tips Sheet: https://bit.ly/3TnKf4s
Networking Resources: http://bit.ly/3UfWX6N
Additional Networking Resources: http://bit.ly/3TjfPQZ
Disclaimer: The information shared here reflects the opinions of the host and interviewee and do not reflect the views of the Interagency Working Group on Youth Programs.
Isaac: Hello everyone, and welcome to an episode on the Youth Engaged 4 Change radio. I am Isaac Espinal, my pronouns are He/Him/His, and I am your host for today’s episode. I am currently serving on the YE4C Editorial Board and am an MBA Candidate at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas. I am 21 years old and a proud Mexican-Honduran. With me today is a special guest, a fellow board member and civic activist, Michelle Kim. Welcome Michelle.
Michelle: Hi everyone! I'm so glad to be here.
Isaac: Before we continue with the episode, could you tell the listeners a little bit more about yourself?
Michelle: Sure. My name is Michelle, she/her pronouns, and like Isaac, I am serving on the YE4C Editorial Board with a focus in youth civic education and engagement. I’ve had experience working at the local, state, and federal levels of government in various areas of interest, but I primarily work with topics that relate to youth education, civics, and health. I live in California and will be an incoming freshman at UCLA this fall. I also have a really cute shih tzu dog named Barney.
Isaac: Thank you so much for that incredible introduction, Michelle, and in fact in today's episode we will be discussing exactly what went into that seemingly simple introduction. A simple introduction that we use every day, but when looking at it from a lens of professional development and career advancement can play a large role in the way in which people think about you and your future.
Michelle: Absolutely — first impressions can be the first step into a completely new opportunity sometimes, regardless of it taking place in a personal or professional setting.
Isaac: That is right Michelle, in fact a lot of people underestimate the value of having an elevator speech on-hand for whatever opportunity may arise.
Michelle: Before we get into things — let’s establish what an elevator pitch, or elevator speech, is. Isaac?
Isaac: Thanks, Michelle! Let’s explore what an elevator pitch is and how it is used in the first part of this podcast!
To start, an elevator pitch is defined by the American Psychological Association as a concise, rehearsed statement of who you are, and your research interests and experience, that is intended to be shared informally and orally in various professional contexts.”
That is a broad definition and is worth noting that everyone has a different take on it, depending on if you’re in-- the business/ academic/ professional development world. But Michelle, what does it mean to you?
Michelle: An elevator pitch is a super-short introduction that gives all the most important things you have to offer to someone who you have very limited time with. It needs to be delivered within 30 seconds or less and include only details that you think make you stand out the most.
Since it’s hard to put in a lot of actual information in such a short speech, an important part of an elevator pitch is how you deliver it. Practice talking in a way that makes you seem confident and assured — chances are, the person you’re talking to won’t remember what you say, but how you say it.
For example, I’d say — Hi, my name is Michelle, I use she/her pronouns, and I’d think about some sentences I could say that would interest who I’m talking to. What I’m experienced in, what I want to learn more about, what my passions are, and even a fun fact about myself — if the situation calls for it — are good places to start when thinking about some sound bites I would use.
Isaac: Michelle, you bring up a few good points that are reflected in both of these definitions, which are: short, stand out, and practice. All three are important to consider when attaching your personal definition and purpose for having one.
The word intentionality, and in the same way, authenticity, need to be considered when thinking about the personal use of our elevator pitches. Intentionality, when creating your elevator pitch, have a clear goal in mind of what you are trying to communicate. In the same way, authenticity, it is important to be honest with yourself in your elevator pitch. Oftentimes it is easy to copy other’s elevator pitch or maybe feel pressured to stay within certain norms. It is okay to have slight differences to those of your peers, if it means that you are communicating a stronger version of yourself. Because at the end of the day--they are that, personal elevator pitches.
Michelle: Agreed. A good balance of personal and professional is key, depending on who you talk to.
Isaac: I think that one aspect that is important to note when creating your elevator pitch is the view on how you see yourself as a professional. This absolutely plays into the quality and depth of the pitch.
Isaac: So, Michelle, it can be intimidating as a young person to interact with others in the professional world - how do you use professionalism as a young person?
Michelle: I’m a pretty confident person in general. Being used to public speaking from doing competitive debate and mock trials in school definitely helped, but I think more than my public speaking skills, what always reassured me was my peers.
I’ve had the privilege of interacting with some amazing youth and it makes me think — how can I reach that level? Though age can be a hindering factor sometimes, I know that there are ways that I can make what I want work.
To me, professionalism is that passion combined with time and diverse experiences. So having had that kind of passion for a while, combined with the opportunities I looked for in high school and the time I dedicated to pursuing them, makes me more confident in my ability to say — in some way, at least, I am a professional in this area of interest or another.
Isaac: Interesting, has that always been your perception of yourself?
Michelle: Of course not! Absolutely not. Imposter syndrome, or feeling like you’re not good enough and that you don’t belong, is real — I struggled with that a lot more when I started out some of my passion projects. I wanted to get more involved in my school district’s mental health programs and education policy. But because I was working with peers who were already so far advanced in what they wanted to do at my age, I was like, how am I supposed to do that…and have a life? Like, they must be super different than me.
And I also told myself that it made sense that I couldn’t possibly have those achievements because I had a lot of bumps in my road. As a low-income student with a family of seven, growing up wasn’t the same as other people I knew my age, and unfortunately, I developed a health issue in my early teens that limited my ability to do simple everyday activities.
So, how was I supposed to do things that all the other super cool people that I looked up to were doing? And I really wanted to, but I kept thinking, no, I can’t do that, and I have valid excuses.
But as time passed and I got to know those people better, I realized that those concerns are universal. Not everyone has the same problems as mine, but it doesn’t mean that they have superpowers and I don’t. What mattered most in the end was persevering, and taking breaks when I needed to, but never stopping.
And like I said for the question before, as that time passed and combined with passion and experience, I got to the level of self-confidence I have today. Sometimes, I still am super pouty about how everyone seems so much cooler and better. But I also know that I worked hard to get where I am today, and if I know that the hard work was genuine, that was the best anyone could ask for.
Isaac: Which brings up the point that you should not worry about creating an elevator pitch that should “get you through high school, or college, or even the professional world”. Just like your resume and your own world view, it should change and adapt to your growth and personal goals. Focus on communicating your strong passion and genuine curiosity to the listener; this will help ensure that they believe what you are saying.
Michelle: And sometimes, you might have neither passion nor curiosity. In those times, don’t force yourself to do something you don’t care about. Of course, there is a big difference between not caring and not thinking you can do it. There are a lot of ways you can practice your pitches.
Isaac: For example, Harvard Business Review says “Getting your pitch right (not baseball, the other one) does a lot to set the overall tone of the encounter. Just like a baseball pitcher might use a changeup to keep the batter on their toes, using a dynamic voice (tone, pace, and volume) will energize your pitch.”
Michelle: Yup, sO SaYiNg THiNgS LiKe tHiS — will probably not be the best way to talk. If you get nervous with public speaking, just take some time practicing reading anything out loud. Of course, those situations are both completely different, but being confident in your pronunciation and flow of voice and tone could help boost that confidence.
Isaac: I think one of the most important things to remember is that the majority of these elevator pitches will not be recorded with unlimited takes, but instead will most likely be in a car-ride, elevator ride as the name suggests, quick 30-second Zoom round-robin, or just a social mixer with music and voices around you.
Michelle: Yep…unless you’re underage. No cocktails for me. But it’s always fun to see what kind of situations you can throw some networking into. Once, I got someone’s business card for a marketing prospect in an ice cream shop.
Isaac: Michelle, I think this brings up a potential difference in our experiences. For some context Michelle is at the point of her life where she is entering the world of college and adulthood, while I am a 21-year-old who is in graduate school, and am working on three degrees, with some experience in the professional and corporate world. In my experience, as I grew out of high school and into college I began to see more dinners, coffee sessions, or breakfasts with the people I would want to sit-down and network with. These encounters were not always sponsored by a club or school, but rather sought out on my own by sending LinkedIn messages, using my own network to make introductions, or simply talking to strangers throughout my day. I don’t remember that being a part of high school networking either because of logistical challenges or even just social conventions.
Michelle: That absolutely makes sense. It’s not nearly as common for high school students to network, because we usually don’t have to interview or do meetings for work. But you can see similar forms of communication in academic settings, too — whether you want to ask your principal a question you have about the school district or talk with other youth on topics you are passionate about, it doesn’t matter. It’s the same skill set, so regardless of how old you are or what you’re doing, it can definitely help to learn how to network.
Isaac: How do you communicate in a 30 minute to 1 hour meal or coffee your ambitions and highlights in a way that lends itself to gaining important insights or resources?
Michelle: 30 minutes to an hour is an incredibly long amount of time. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean it can’t be wasted — which means that unless you spend that time with a clear vision of what you want to gain from that person and how you’re going to get it, it’ll be over in a second.
Of course, this isn’t to say that you should be a question-spitting, resume-flaunting robot. You need to combine being personable with being professional. Be polite, thank them for their time, and get to the point.
And on the “being personable” part — remember, you’re not there to make a friend. That doesn’t mean you can’t come out of a meeting as friends or good acquaintances, but keep in mind that this is not like other conversations you are used to. It can be difficult to find that balance at first, and honestly, the right balance will be different with every person you talk to. But once you get more experience, it’ll become more comfortable for you.
Isaac: Great point! The need to go in with a goal or mission is so important when planning what to say and what to talk about during a networking session. But in the same manner, there might be some common mistakes and worst-case scenarios that people associate with networking. I know in my life there have been several that I have had to deconstruct. Among these were the expectations to know everything about the person’s area of expertise, having a pre-prepared script to network effectively, and the value that I needed to bring to a conversation. But what examples come to mind for you Michelle?
Michelle: The main obstacle I’ve seen with people my age — when they see someone new, or someone they want to make an impression on, they freeze up. They’re not sure what to say, they’re not confident, and oftentimes, they unconsciously doubt their abilities, especially if it’s in front of someone who is more skilled or experienced than them.
This is common at any age, but for youth, we tend to have less experience talking to people with power — regardless of what kind of power that may be. So it’s completely understandable that a lot of us freeze up.
A good way to overcome this challenge is to have a mini-intro memorized by heart. This way, you’ll be able to practice something, even if the situation calls for things you feel unprepared for.
Isaac: Right, but hitting on our point from earlier we need to start understanding that although we can create a solid outline, points, and delivery, the more we practice the easier and better it will get.
Michelle: The most important thing is: the only way you will improve is through practice. The second most important thing is: a good smile, attention to body language, and good posture will go a long way.
Isaac: So, with all of these tips and best practices…what’s the point of elevator pitches and networking in general? Especially as it relates to high school students and anybody after graduation.
Michelle: Other than improving your basic conversational skills with strangers or acquaintances, networking and professional communication is a really important skill for anyone regardless of what field of work they want to pursue. Also, it can help you reflect on what your most important qualities are and what you want to improve on!
Isaac: I can tell you from my experience that I would absolutely not be where I am in my life without some key networking events. Some of the most successful methods I’ve found are LinkedIn, Zoom calls, Instagram DM’s, asking my network to make e-introductions, comment sections, career fairs, clubs, or by demonstrating a strong interest in the activities that I currently participate in. What has been your best example of the value of networking?
Michelle: The best instance of networking that happened to me honestly was super random. While I was working on a podcast with Celeste, a fellow YE4C Editorial Board member, I met another podcast guest who worked in the same area of focus as me, David Osher. We actually connected after the podcast meeting because we had a lot of commonalities in our work, and he invited me to another podcast that related to youth representation in government. After I did that, we had a chat about what I wanted to pursue in the future - and I was actually offered an internship working on more content development for federal platforms. I guess the main point is, you never know who you’ll meet or what you’re going to find if you keep networking with everyone you think is interesting or cool.
Isaac: That is awesome Michelle! Another great example of what there is to gain from networking, but also doing it in an authentic and confident way. I have a good feeling that our listeners have come to understand what and how they should approach elevator speeches, but what are some specific examples of best practices that they should keep in mind?
Michelle: The only “bad” form of networking I can think of is the networking you don’t really want to do, or networking with the goal to basically use the other person’s time or talents in a non-meaningful way for both parties.
Networking has to contribute to both sides; if you have nothing to give the other person, or if the other person has nothing to give to you, then it’s not a good use of time to network. Maybe an introduction to set up more conversations in the future could work, but you need to make sure you’re respecting their time.
If you’re unsure if networking with a specific person is a good idea or not, ask yourself: “what can I give this person?” and “what can this person give me?” Even if it’s skewed to a degree — for example, if I talk to some random CEO, and I think that they obviously have more to give to me than I give to them — networking will be valuable as long as you know that there’s something to be gained on both sides. Your story, experience as a young person, your words are all important. Make sure you have something to provide, but don’t underestimate yourself, either.
Isaac: The perspective that it is both a give and take is one that I think is good to have in mind, but is ok if it does not exist. As someone that has been on both sides of networking, a lot of people feel that networking is a way of giving it forward or giving back the opportunities that were given to them. This becomes especially true as you begin to look at what networking will look like when looking at career and job landing events near the end and post-college or in general. With that said, Michelle, how do you feel that networking will evolve or change as you go into this new part of your life that includes college and entering “the real world”?
Michelle: Networking itself will always be the same. All it is — is showing how you can be an asset to the person you’re talking to, and how working with you will make their life better. Luckily, out of the two variables in that situation — you and the other person — you will always know at least one of them. Yourself!
As long as you know how your experiences and work provide value to the other person, half of the networking part is basically done. The only thing that changes every time you network is who you’re talking to. Knowing how to market yourself to different people — a professor, a potential business partner, a boss, whomever — will show you how to complete the other half of the puzzle. What are they interested in? Why are you interested in them? How can you tailor your experiences to fit what you think they need? Answering those questions will make your networking journey smoother and more approachable
Isaac: Awesome! I think it will be interesting to see how your answers grow and change by the end of your college journey. I don’t doubt that you have many successful networking instances in your future, and overall success! Thank you so much for taking the time to help our listeners, and with that said, any last words?
Michelle: My adorable fluffy dog and I believe in you, and so should you. So, good luck!!
Isaac: Great words! Wrapping up, we have a few resources for you all. The first is a guide called Networking, LinkedIn and Elevator Pitch Tips from Penn State University’s Business Career Center, which discusses different means and styles of communicating during networking events . And the second is an in-depth resource list for networking by the Community for Advancing Discovery Research in Education. You can find links to both these great resources in the notes section of this podcast.
Thank you so much to all of you for listening to YE4C Radio and we hope to see you on the next one. Bye!