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So what do you do?

14 January, 2015

This is perhaps the most commonly asked question when meeting someone for the first time – and one that can be answered in many ways! Experts in networking will tell you that merely giving your “job title” is counter-productive as everyone will have their own idea of what you “do” – depending on other people they have met with the same job title. For example – think of what image you would have if someone you met said “I’m an accountant” or “I’m a Marketing Consultant” …. your “unconscious bias” inevitably kicks in!

Instead, your answer should incorporate the end result, the benefit or effect you have when delivering your product or service. This is often known as an “elevator pitch” – i.e. what you could say to describe what you do for a living in the time taken to share a lift journey with a stranger. The pitfall I have encountered with many “elevator pitches” is that they can often sound glib, over rehearsed or at worst full of “management speak”! Whatever you say – avoid sounding “cheesy” or “salesy”!!

In conversation, I prefer replies which are very short (six words!), focus on one main aspect – and which have an element of a “tease” … in other words which do not fully say what you do – thereby inviting a further question. In addition – it should be something you can say with a smile – almost a cheeky “throwaway” statement that doesn’t make you sound like a salesperson! Thus an accountant might say “I help people save money!” and a marketing consultant might say “I help companies increase sales!” – the inevitable response to both being being “How do you do that?” To which the accountant could say “by helping them pay less tax” and the Marketing Consultant “by helping them get their message across”. Of course the other benefit of such an approach is that it starts a dialogue which you can develop as you wish, without having your new contact begin their conversation from their inevitably preconceived – and possibly misconceived – idea of your profession!

The temptation to give the answer in your response should be avoided – the accountant could easily have said “I help people save money by paying less tax” – which defeats the object! Too much information – no tease and already sounds like a telesales script – to which the answer – instead of being “how do you do that” could easily be “oh – so you’re an accountant then?” – followed by a quick look over your shoulder to see if there is anyone more interesting around! (Don’t get me wrong – I know many interesting accountants! Such as Mark Lee who has a lot more to say on this subject!)

Our “job” should not define us in other people’s eyes (after all – we spend more of our life doing things which are not our “job”) but inevitably it does. We often assume that someone’s profession makes them what they “are” as a person.

The above is only a suggestion for when you are striking up a conversation – either to an individual or a small group. At a networking event you may be asked to speak to everyone for a short time (say 1 minute) so your elevator pitch would obviously have to be longer – yet the same principle of focusing on the benefits of what you do applies – and that you do it in a humorous “jargon free” way!.

At a social event I often think that instead of asking “what do you do” the question should be “so what do you enjoy doing?” Then they can answer either with their job (which hopefully they enjoy!) or any other aspect of what they do in their life! As a “small talk” question – this one opens up all sorts of possibilities and in my opinion is the best conversation starter there is! (Especially as finding out what they do is as important as letting them know what you do!)

So – next time someone asks you the WDYD question …. please do NOT start by telling them your job title! First tell them what you actually “do”!

In my next post I will tell you how I answer the question as a professional speaker. (I also bet I know what your next question would be!)

Do you have a favourite question you ask when you first meet someone? What’s your elevator pitch? I’d love to know! Please use the comment form below to share your ideas!

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