Career advisors, myself included, talk a lot about the need to develop a snappy “elevator speech (or pitch), which is a brief (one minute more or less) statement of who you are, what you do, how you can be a resource to your listener(s) and, perhaps, what sets you apart from your competitors. The elevator speech is indeed a pitch – designed to sell, to impress. But before you develop an elevator speech you should be clear about what I call your career “stance,” the “positioning” from which you will be soliciting information, ideas, advice, leads, and contacts.

The ideal stance is one that begins in the past with where you’ve been, touches on the present, and then projects into the future where you’d like to wind up, or at least like to head. It’s less of a pitch and more of a narrative that gives coherence to your professional trajectory, and is particularly important to construct when you feel that the trajectory is not all that coherent. It’s a snapshot of your career situation, one that you should show to people you trust and value in order to obtain maximum benefit from their perspective and expertise. Here are some (abbreviated) examples of stance for workers in mid-career:

– I’m a forty-year-old who’s had a highly successful career in marketing (or finance or technology, etc.) but am finding that I’m no longer challenged or truly stimulated by my work. I’m looking to identify opportunities for me to use my creative (or analytical or technical, etc.) skills, working as part of a team to impact people’s perceptions of (biofuels, the disabled, money, etc.), but am not sure about the best ways to find those opportunities.

– I’m a fifty-year-old ( or forty-year-old ) who’s done reasonably well as a small businessman producing (greeting cards, machine tools, energy drinks), but am recognizing that the future in my industry is being increasingly by big players. I want to stay ahead of the curve, using my entrepreneurial talents to start an entirely new business, but am not sure in what area. I’m trying to learn about opportunities that might offer the greatest potential, because deep down I’m confident that I have the drive and the smarts to

– I’m a fifty-year-old ( or sixty-year-old ) who feels he’s never really been as successful as he’s deserved to be. Although I’m smart and energetic, I chose a career path early in life (accounting, hospital administration, HR) that placed safety and stability above advancement. Now I’m wondering whether to try to “step up my game” in the field I’m in (and what steps I might undertake to do that), or whether to try to strike out in a new direction. In either case, I’m ready to do what it takes if I can get a better sense for what that is.

A stance for someone just starting their career?:

I’m a twenty-five year old who’s always had an interest in law, but wasn’t able to afford a top law school and didn’t feel the investment in a mediocre one made sense. I am finding that the job I have as a paralegal isn’t engaging, nor is it making the greatest use of my strategic skills (I’m adept at synthesizing the issues underlying complex problems and identifying broad solutions). But I don’t know what would be the smartest and affordable steps for me to take in order to find the right career niche for me.

With the nation having just wrapped up a contentious election season, an analogy comes to mind: a stance is more like a party platform, whereas the elevator pitch is more like a campaign speech or ad. You need to define your platform before you can go out and sell yourself.

The key difference between a stance and a pitch is that the stance is designed to elicit guidance of various kinds, rather than to sell the listener a particular bill of goods. It doesn’t need to be exceptionally specific, but does need to give the listener a sense of who you are and how they could be of help.

If you’re a bit fuzzy about the exact nature of your current stance, let me know, and I’ll help you construct one that can accelerate the forward movement of your career.