The question “What do you do?” has basically become synonymous with “Who are you?” There’s a reason it almost always follows “What’s your name?” in polite conversation: It’s helpful. It’s get-to-know-you shorthand.
The one-word answer to “what do you do?” lets people categorize us and gives them a snapshot of what we do or who we are.
But there’s also a dark underbelly to introducing ourselves with this kind of shorthand: When labels go wrong, they can lead to stereotypes.
Perception becomes more about the experiences accumulated by the people you’re talking to than anything that they may or may not know about you, personally.
You Say: I’m in sales.
They Think: You’re a pushy, sweet-talking charmer.
You Say: I’m a lawyer.
They Think: You’re the argumentative type.
You Say: I’m an accountant.
They Think: You’re a numbers geek.
Maybe I’m being a little harsh, but you get the picture; odds are, whatever quick description you’ve used in the past barely does what you do—or who you are—any justice.
But everywhere from networking events to family gatherings, this question is going to live on.
So we need to find a way to answer it so it’s an energizing conversation starter, instead of a fast track to the pigeon-hole.
Here are seven ways to reframe this common question to help you come up with a more compelling answer.
Experiment with different ones during conversations in the next couple weeks to see which allows you to represent yourself the best and build more meaningful relationships.
1. Talk About How You Help People
You might be, say, a copywriter.
Or you might be someone who helps companies tell compelling stories about their brands.
And doesn’t that sound infinitely more interesting?
I’ve used this at dinner parties to great effect: It instantaneously removes stereotypes about your job title and explains the value you bring to the table.
Start your next response with “I help people…” and see where the conversation takes you from there.
2. Tell an Anecdote About Your Job
Narrative is always compelling.
It helps us make connections.