You are at networking event and everything is going on well. People are talking to colleagues and acquaintances, drinks are being passed around, everyone is having a good time. You walk over and join a colleague who is talking to a lady you have not met before.

Your colleague introduces the both of you, and a second after expressing your pleasure at meeting the lady, the dreaded question comes from the lady:

So, what do you do?”

This question has become a natural part of conversations, either when you are meeting new people for the first time or when you are catching up with old friends and acquaintances you have not seen in a while.

Despite being a very common conversation starter, many people dread this question, and rightfully so.

On the surface, it looks like a very simple question. In reality, it is a very loaded question that is usually accompanied by some level of judgment and awkwardness.

Beneath the simplicity of the question are other subliminal questions, such as:

Do you actually work? What exactly do you do to earn your paycheck? How much money do you earn? Do you earn more than me? How intelligent are you? What’s your socioeconomic status? How powerful or connected are you? Can you help me in any way? How should I judge you? What phase of life are you in? How ambitious are you? Should I give you my time and attention?

Generally, people like categorizing things. It makes it easier to make sense of the world. By asking what you do, people are looking for an easy way to define and judge you. Your answer to the question allows them to put you in a certain category and then assign you the qualities/traits they associate with that category.

For instance, if you say that you are an investment banker, a person might immediately assume that you earn a six figure paycheck, you spend your day entire day poring over financial reports, and you probably have an over-inflated ego.

Unfortunately, your job does not define you, which is what makes this question an awkward one to answer. You are aware that there is more to you than what you do, yet at the same time you know that people will judge you based on what you do. This explains why most people dread and try to avoid this question.

The good thing is that you don’t have to be afraid of this question. Since you know that it will be accompanied by judgment, whether willingly or inadvertently, this question gives you an opportunity to shape other people’s perception of you.

In addition, since the question is used as a conversation starter, you answer to the question determines the direction that the conversation will take. If you answer it the right way, you can paint yourself as an amazing person and get the other person interested in knowing more about you, thereby giving both of you a chance to forge a close friendship.

On the other hand, if you give a boring answer to the question, it will be the beginning of the end of the conversation, and you will find yourself having little success in networking events.

So, if this question is virtually unavoidable, yet it determines others perception of you and shapes the flow of the conversation, what is the right way to answer the question?

Below are 7 ways to answer the question that are better than simply stating your job title or trying to avoid the question.

HIGHLIGHT WHAT PROBLEM YOU SOLVE

Why do you do what you do?

If you are employed, your employer did not hire you simply because they needed someone to sit at a desk and receive a paycheck at the end of the month.

You were hired to help the organization solve a certain problem. If you are a freelancer or a business owner, clients do not pay for your products or services simply because they have money to spend. They pay you to help them solve a particular problem.

The reason you get paid is a better explanation of what you do that your job title. When someone asks you what you do, instead of answering with your job title, tell them about the problems you solve as part of your job.

A good way of doing this is to use the following template:

I am a {insert job title} specializing in {insert what you actually do} to help {insert group of people} {insert desired outcome}

For example, let’s assume you are a freelance writer. You don’t just write for the sake of writing. There is a certain problem you actually solve for your clients. Using the above template, a great answer to the question “what do you do?” would be,

“I am a freelance writer specializing in creating in-depth and high value content to help business owners attract visitors and convert them into paying clients.”

Answering the question by highlighting the problems you solve as part of your job is a lot more interesting than simply saying that you are a freelance writer. Instead of pigeon-holing you into a certain category, this response is more focused on the value you bring to the table.

In addition, it provides an avenue for the conversation to go further, since the other person might be interested in learning how exactly you go about solving the problems.

TELL A STORY

Human beings love stories and narratives. Stories are hardwired into our brains. They make things more believable and more memorable, and help us to build connections with other people.

According to a study by researchers from Princeton University, when someone is telling a story, the brain activity of the listener mirrors the brain activity of the story teller, thus enhancing the connection between the two of them.

Since humans already love stories, you can make your answer to the question regarding what you do more interesting by weaving a story into the answer.

When someone asks what you do, give them a story about something that is interesting or exciting about your work. Telling stories not only makes your answer interesting, it also allows you to shape the mental picture the other person holds about what you do.

Stories allow you to provide context to what you do, thereby dispelling any erroneous assumptions the other person might have about your line of work. For instance, instead of saying you are a wildlife conservationist, you might weave in a story into your answer by saying:

“I am currently working as a wildlife conservationist. Just last month, I was at the Maasai Mara game reserve in Kenya where we tracked five rhinos by helicopter, captured them and moved them to the Tsavo Game Reserve. We are trying to re-introduce rhinos to the Tsavo after rhino populations in the Tsavo were depleted due to poaching activities.”

This answer is more interesting, exciting and engaging that simply stating that you are a wildlife conservationist. It also provides more fodder for the conversation, since the other person might be interested in knowing how rhinos are tracked and captured, how they are moved, what you did to deal with the poaching problem and so on.

They are also more likely to remember meeting you than if you had only mentioned that you are wildlife conservationist without divulging any further information.

TEACH SOMETHING ABOUT YOUR LINE OF WORK

Most people will stereotype you according to what you do based on something they heard from a friend or relative who actually knows nothing about your line of work.

When someone asks you what you do, instead of stating your job title and leaving it to them to judge you based on their erroneous assumptions, you should take the question as an opportunity for you to teach them something about your line of work.

This does not mean that you should launch into a thirty minute talk about everything that pertains to your profession. You are not giving the other person a career talk.

Simply pick a small element of your profession that you think they don’t know about and educate them about it. This could be something like the void that you are filling in the market, the latest trends in your industry, some work trivia, some common misconceptions about your line of work, some interesting information you learned recently, and so on.

Below is an example of how you might do this.

“I am a cyber-security consultant. Did you know that in the last year alone, hackers stole in excess of $172 billion from more than 978 million people scattered across 20 countries?”

Sharing such a piece of information about your line of work positions you as someone who is quite knowledgeable about his line of work. In addition, it provides an opportunity to continue with the conversation.

For instance, in the above example, the other person might be shocked that so much money gets stolen through cyber-theft and might ask you for tips on how to keep their online accounts safe.

This gives you space to talk about something you enjoy and to keep the conversation going.

PROMOTE YOURSELF

Sometimes, being asked what you do also gives you an opportunity to promote yourself to a potential client or employer.

This is particularly useful in corporate or professional events where you are likely to be talking to a decision maker who could potentially hire you or bring you some business.

Most people think that they risk coming across as self-centered by promoting themselves.

However, promoting yourself is a win-win situation for both of you. People go into professional events looking for people who can add some value to their lives or their businesses.

By telling the other person what you are good at and how you can help them or their business, you are not only making it easier for them to find someone that can bring value, but also creating an opportunity for you to get a new client. Both of you benefit from the interaction.

This method is particularly effective when you know something about what the other person does, since it becomes much easier for you to tie what you do to what they might be looking for.

For instance, let’s assume you are a freelance writer chatting up an online business owner who might be interested in hiring the services of a writer. If they ask what you do for a living, you can use it as a chance for self-promotion by saying,

“I am a freelancer writer who specializes in the financial technology niche. My content has been published on Magazine X and Publication Y, and I also won last year’s Tech Blogger of The Year Award.”

With this answer, you are essentially telling the guy that you are the best person if they need a writer.

At the same time, you are not directly asking them for a job, which would put undue pressure on them if you just met.

EXPLAIN WHAT YOU DO IN A RELATABLE WAY

Conversations are more interesting when all the parties can relate to whatever is being said. When someone asks what you do, instead of trying to impress them with technical aspects about your job and professional jargon that will leave them confused, it is much better to explain it in a way that they can relate to.

By doing this, you are taking the focus from yourself and transferring it to the other person. Ask yourself how your line of work is relevant to the other person.

Below is an example of how you might do this.

Person: So, what do you do?

You: Let’s say you just launched a website for your business, and you are looking for ways to get more people to visit your website. I’m the person you would call to look at your website and optimize it so that it easier for people to find it on Google when they search for phrases related to your industry. My job is to convince Google’s algorithms that your website is important and relevant, so that they can rank it higher in their search results.

Such an answer sounds more interesting than saying that you are an SEO consultant. It also gives the other person a better picture of what exactly you do, since they might not know what exactly an SEO consultant does.

This answer also position’s you as an expert in the other person’s eyes. If they decide to start a website, or if someone they know has a website and is looking for someone to help them increase their traffic, you will be the first person to pop into their head.

The key to making what you do appear more relevant or relatable to the other person is to show them how you can be of help to them or their business.

COME UP WITH A CATCHY JOB TITLE

Normal is boring. No one remembers normal things. Imagine going to a networking event where you meet a number of new people, including an accountant, a HR manager, a sales representative and a Director of First Impressions.

Who would you remember at the end of the night?

Who would you be more interested in chatting with to find what exactly they do?

My guess is that you would be more interested in learning more about the Director of First Impressions, even if the title is just a fancy name for a receptionist.

If you want the question about what you do to become less of a dreadful moment and more of an opportunity to create intrigue, try to come up with a creative and catchy title for what you do, one that is different from your official job title. Having a catchy title does two things.

First, it helps you stand out from the pack and therefore makes you more memorable. In our example above, you would have only remembered the receptionist because of the catchy title she gave to her job.

Second, a catchy title acts as an ice breaker. It sets the ground for fun and interesting conversation. If you tell someone that you are the Director of First Impressions, they will no doubt want to know what your job entails.

Wondering what kind of catchy titles you can use to describe your job? Here are a couple of suggestion to inspire you: Instead of calling yourself the Chief Accountant, you might decide to become the ‘Director of Bean Counting’. Instead of calling yourself a sales rep, how about you become a ‘sales ninja’? Instead of saying you are a blogger, why not become a ‘digital crusader’?

TALK ABOUT SOMETHING YOU ARE PASSIONATE ABOUT

People do not always like their current jobs. In such cases, having to tell someone what you do is the last thing you want to do. You know that you will not sound enthusiastic about your job. You also don’t want to tell someone you just met that your job sucks.

Alternatively, you might be unemployed at the moment, which makes the question a bit awkward. You don’t want to start explaining how you just got laid off to a complete stranger.

The good thing, there is a technique you can use to answer the question like a pro without having to talk about how your job sucks or how you got laid off.

The technique is to focus on something you are passionate about, whether or not it is something you get paid for. It does not even have to be related to your current job.

Let’s say you are a sales person, but that is not your ideal job. You are taking some web design and development classes with the aim of starting your own web design business. If someone asks what you do, you don’t have to talk about your sales job.

Instead, you can say, “I’m currently learning web design and development. I’m looking forward to starting my own web design business.”

With such an answer, you are taking charge of the situation and steering the conversation towards something you actually enjoy and would not mind talking about, while at the same time avoiding talking about your unemployment or the job you hate.

SKIP THE DETAILS

If you are passionate about your job, someone asking what you do might be seen as an opportunity to talk about your job and your industry for hours on end. Before you launch into a monologue about your line of work, ask yourself why the other person is asking about what you do.

Most times, people don’t really care about your line of work. They are not interested in knowing the history of your profession or why tool X works better than tool Y.

There is a high probability that asking what you do for a living was just a way of getting the conversation started. Just like you wouldn’t go into a thirty minute monologue if someone asks you something about the weather, don’t blabber about you career for hours, unless the other person shows genuine interest about what you do.

Instead, give them a short overview of what you do and then ask turn the question back to them or steer the conversation to another topic. Only go into details about your line of work if the other person makes it clear that they actually want to know more about what you do.

WRAPPING UP

A lot of people dread being asked what they do for a living, mainly because of the judgment that comes with the question. However, you do not have to experience a moment of anxiety and awkwardness when someone poses the question.

By following the methods shared above, you will have 7 ways to better answer the question, without having to simply state your job title and hope for the best.

The methods shared here allow you to take charge of the situation.

Rather than leaving it to the other person to make inaccurate assumptions and judgments about you and your job, these methods allow you to steer the conversation in the direction you want.

7 Better Ways to Answer "What Do You Do"

7 Better Ways to Answer

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