What is your Elevator Pitch?

By: Elise Stieren

Cultural Connections- Making Yourself More Marketable Career Workshop, October 14, 2011.

Do you desire to change the trajectory of your professional career?  Are you unsure as to how to get your foot in the door? The Museum field is a competitive industry to break through, and much effort is required on behalf of the candidate to position themselves advantageously for new opportunities.  As a graduate student and emerging professional myself, I understand that I will benefit from being proactive and equally unhesitant to network. Networking is the ability to build and utilize a set of connections of family, friends and colleagues for professional purposes, and thankfully, there is not one right way to network.  In fact, one of the tips I picked up from Cultural Connections first program for the 2011-2012 year, Making Yourself More Marketable Career Workshop, was that I could develop personal strategies for networking that fit my needs and strengths.

To start, do you have an Elevator Pitch?  According to panel speaker Lisa Runkel of SEIU UHW-WEST and Joint Employer Education Fund, your elevator pitch is your introduction to those that might influence your professional path. The pitch begins by asking yourself who you are and what knowledge and skill-set you have to offer.  Be honest about what you are looking for, what you want as a professional and furthermore, why you want it.  In a small exercise, we were asked to formulate our own Elevator Pitch and deliver it to the person sitting next to us.  I stumbled for a bit in an attempt to line-up my thoughts and quickly realized that the art of stylizing and delivering a pitch cannot be done on a whim.  The Elevator Pitch truly requires that you examine your attributes, where your passion lies and where you want to harvest that passion.  For emerging professionals like myself, the passion is there, but I am still searching for where I will fit best. Once you have established your pitch you can begin to network.

Val Miranda, the panel moderator and Consultant with Creative Sustainable Solutions, noted that museum professionals have a tendency to brand themselves with the reputation of their institution. Miranda suggests to determine first what you stand for as a professional by examining and evaluating your values, passion, and  strengths. Self-aware, emerging professionals can begin to develop strategies to move forward and surpass personal objectives step by step.

Accompanying Runkel and Miranda, and rounding out the Cultural Connections career workshop was Sarah Post from the California Association of Museums (CAM) and Jayna Swartzman representing the Creative Capacity Fund.  While successful networking involves fully articulating oneself professionally, it also requires an understanding of the market demand for your particular skills, and an in-depth knowledge of the organizations worth pursuing.  Every two years, CAM surveys California Museums, gathering data on budgets, salary and compensation for more than 40 positions within the different disciplines (Art, History, Science, etc).  The survey allows for comparison of benefits and perks across the board, giving a candidate the advantage of generating their own personal budget and the foundation to negotiate—even, play the field.

But it’s just not just networking and knowing the various institutions. Personal marketing also means getting involved and seizing the opportunities that come with applying to and winning grants.  Creative Capacity Fund awards two grants, Quick Grant Program and NextGen Arts, to artists and emerging museum professionals. The NextGen Arts Grants Program, most pertinent to emerging professionals, supports professional development by providing funds for attending and participating in conferences and workshops, as well as introductions to career coaches or management consultants—all with the intention of preparing these young professionals for positions of management and leadership.

While attending these conferences or seminars, the panel presented some ideas to keep in mind:

  • Become aware of the issues surrounding the industry.
  • Set a goal for how many people you want to make contact.
  • Always greet new acquaintances and potential colleagues with a firm handshake, eye contact and questions ready.  While practicing our Elevator Pitch, my partner and I could not help but express our shared dislike for being on the receiving end of a limp handshake.
  • Be cautious to not monopolize others time and do not take it personally when eyes begin to wonder.
  • Exchange business cards (they never go out of style) and do not feel bad about moving on.

Lastly, considering the above, try not to take yourself too seriously and don’t be embarrassed about networking.  Everyone is gathering for the same purpose—to meet new people, increase visibility and share knowledge.  Best leave feelings of uncertainty at the door and turn networking into a fun exercise.

Cultural Connections is a community of Bay Area museum professionals, coming together to exchange ideas, share resources, and inspire creativity and action.  For more information on Cultural Connections and a listing of future programming, please visit their website, http://cultural-connections.org/.

Elise Stieren
MA/MBA candidate in Museum Studies
John F. Kennedy University


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