For reasons best known to the gods of coincidence, I’ve recently been in several formal networking situations. In those situations, some people have used pitches, and others have not.
Here is what I have noticed about pitches:
1) If the conversation is going to last more than 10 minutes, it might just make sense to make your pitch right at the start. In fact, forget about it being a pitch – it’s an introduction to who you are in the context of the work you want to do. So, when you’re launching that informational interview, go ahead and say why you’re considering the career that you are, and what made you think you might be good at it. This helps shape the direction of the conversation and lets the other person know why you’re there.
2) If a conversation is starting to close, and you haven’t said what you want to say about yourself, throwing in a pitch right at the end can be awkward if it disrupts the conversational flow. Worse, it can make it sound as if the conversation preceding the pitch was unimportant to you, and that you were just waiting to make your pitch. Instead, try setting up a future conversation by saying something like, “It looks like the next concurrent sessions are about to start. Could I email you after the conference? I’d like to get your opinion on [whatever you’d like to get their opinion on…the field in general, their workplace in particular, etc.].” That way, you’ve set the stage for a conversation where they’re expecting you to ask for and share a certain set of information.
3) In some situations, setting up a further discussion is a challenge – say, if you are conducting an informational interview and don’t want to further impose on the person’s time. In that case, save what you want to say for the thank-you message afterwards.
4) No pitch, no matter how polished, is guaranteed to work – especially if you don’t know what the other person needs or wants. So, much as you should know what an employer in your area would need to know about you in order to figure out whether the two of you should talk further, know what else would make networking successful for you. Getting a job might be your primary goal, but if you’re looking for a local job and you’re talking with an employer who’s a giant commute away, you could find out whether they have contacts local to you, introduce them to someone of potential interest to them, chalk it all up to networking practice, or just enjoy the conversation.
5) Caveats aside, having a self-introduction is a good idea, for you and the people you network with. People come to formal networking settings because they have some need that they think someone else can fill. By stating what it is that you most want to do and how you can do it, you can help the people you speak with get past the awkward small talk and into the needs that brought them there in the first place.
When adapted to the context of your networking conversations, the self-introduction isn’t a sales pitch, but a courtesy and a useful tool.