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How to Answer “What do you do?” – like a Pro

Estimated reading time: 2 mins

Have you ever met a stranger (at a networking event or business conference) and been asked “what do you do?” – of course you have. You probably answered wrongly by stating your Job Title.

Am I right? What reaction did you get?

Here is an alternative way of answering that is far more effective in stimulating conversation and developing people into more useful connections.

Rather than say what you do, say what you achieve:

I help my clients navigate their way through painful change to achieve things they never thought were possible.

This is what I say. I could answer “I am a Consultant” – but so what?

Answering with my Job Title doesn’t really help the other person understand what impact I have. It doesn’t help them visualize what my work results in. Stating your Job Title is a conversation-killer. But say what you achieve in your job and you have them hooked in.

To have such an answer in your repertoire – ready to roll out when this question is asked – you may need to give it some deep thought. Although sometimes it can be quite obvious, for example:

Janitor: “I make sure my workplace is spotless and all the things that need to work, work.”

This is much better than just ‘I am a Janitor’.

And we can go a step further and consider the secondary effects of what we do, which can be even more powerful.

Janitor: “I make sure my workplace is spotless and functional, so that my colleagues can focus on providing the best products in the world to our customers.”

See what I did? To get to your answer, you might need a slight shift in mindset and thinking…

  • An organization is an intricate machine, where all the moving parts (people) work together, and the better they work together the more efficiently the organization runs. Therefore whatever your job, whatever your position or status, your work is essential in the efficient running of your organization. So everybody is your colleague from top to bottom, and your work is important to them and their efficiency. So describe what impact your have on your colleagues.
  • The same is true about the impact on your customer. A janitor has no direct effect on customers, but if their work is not carried out, the basic infrastructure of the workplace starts to fall apart, and customers will then suffer an impact. So describe what impact your have on your customers.
  • Think about what state your organization is left in when you have done your job to the best of your ability. Is it faster, leaner, cleaner, happier, larger, smaller, more competitive, or more compliant? Think company wide. Think big picture.
  • Consider how your colleagues view what you do for them and previous key achievements you experienced. Colleagues are unlikely to say that a Janitor ‘janitors’ for them. No – they will describe what impact it has on them. So put yourself in their shoes and consider their viewpoint. Then protract the thinking further into secondary effects like I did above.

So how do you look at your job now? How would you answer the title question? What are your key achievements? Please share how by leaving a comment below.

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This post is part 7 of 20 in the series Effective Communication
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Simon is a creative and passionate business leader dedicated to having fun in the pursuit of high performance and personal development. He is co-founder of Applied Change, a Business Change consultancy based in the UK. Simon is also an Ambassador for Gloucestershire business. Simon is an Associate Member of the Chartered Institute of Professional Development.

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