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What to Say When People Ask What You Do for a Living

business.com editorial staff
business.com editorial staff

You don't always have to give a literal answer. Instead, give them a more interesting answer that leads to a longer, more memorable conversation.

  • Whether you adore your job or are completely unhappy with what you do, there is nothing more frustrating than being approached with the "what do you do for a living?" question.
  • Providing an unexpected response gets more attention than simply providing your title and waiting for their response.
  • Mastering your people skills and presenting yourself as confident allows you to respond to the question in a memorable manner.

Have you fallen into the trap of actually answering this question when people ask it? You've probably dug yourself a pretty deep hole. Either that or you were too vague, leaving too much open to interpretation.

Most of us love talking about ourselves, but it's kind of tough to turn our own enthusiasm for what we do into a meaningful connection with the person who asked the question – unless, of course, you've got a formula in place to answer the question effectively.

What's the formula, you ask? Simple.

Step 1: Answer the question with another question.

When someone asks you about your line of work, a great response is to try to relate what you do to their situation. The best way to do that is to ask another question in response. The question should take the form of some general area of need that you fulfill when you work with your clients or sell something to your customers.

Here's an example: An upscale pet supply store owner might say something like, "You know how some people are so in love with their pets that they want to pamper them in every way possible? Well, I help them do that!"

Pretty powerful, right? Far more interesting than saying, "I own a pet supply store."

But the answer doesn't end there. Let's move on to Step 2.

Step 2: Stop talking and wait for a response.

We don't give silence nearly enough credit. It can be one of the most effective ways to keep a conversation moving forward.

When you give your simple response to the other person's initial question, they will naturally want to know more. They'll want to, at the very least, get a clarification of what your answer meant. If you are silent and give them a chance to process what you've said, the chances of the conversation moving forward are much higher.

Step 3: Avoid the temptation to have the full conversation.

If there's potential for something to come out of this initial conversation, then it's probably wise not to try to make that happen right on the spot. Sadly, that's what happens all too often.

The key to moving from an innocent question like "what do you do?" to a potential referral or sale is listening to the other person's response, and offering an opportunity to continue the conversation at another time ... if, and only if, they are really interested.

This approach saves time and energy and avoids disappointment on both sides. Ultimately, it's far more efficient in moving you in the right direction.

Step 4: Share your passions.

The next time someone asks what you do for a living, instead of giving them your job title, tell them what you are passionate about, and then follow up by asking what they are passionate about. For instance, when the person behind you in the checkout line asks what you do, you could say, "I'm highly passionate about boating, hiking and knitting. What are you passionate about?"

Step 5: Give them a descriptive title.

It's not particularly important to give an exact description of your job during a conversation, especially with a stranger. So, instead of giving your exact title, use a broad term that reflects the nature of your job as opposed to the specific position. For instance, if you are a cashier at a local gas station, you could say, "I'm in the gas and oil business."

Step 6: Provide a memorable response.

For instance, if you are a life coach, respond with a memorable title, such as "breakthrough catalyst." Whatever replacement words you use to describe your title, make sure they stand out and that it's a title the other person will remember.

Step 7: Keep the conversation going.

Once you have stated your job title, don't stop. Instead, continue the conversation by going into an exciting explanation of the position. For instance, if you're a math teacher, give a detailed description of what this entails, like, "I'm an educator who provides an audience detailed information about how to break down, decipher and reevaluate a mathematical illustration."

It's marketing, after all.

So why go to all this effort? It's all about marketing. The more you think about how others perceive your personal brand and how you approach answers to questions about you and your business in a meaningful way, the more successful you'll be at getting others to work with and refer you.

That goes double for online marketing. Because online marketing isn't quite the same as answering questions at a cocktail party, you need to be sure you are addressing the right questions and helping people you encounter online to make the right decisions for themselves.


Image Credit: fizkes / Getty Images
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business.com editorial staff
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