How Do You Answer...“What do you do?”

Originally published to LinkedIn on February 17, 2016

“So…what do you do?”  Does that question sound familiar? Or…”What do you do for a living?”,” Who do you work for?”,”What industry are you in?”…  You probably don’t realize it, but people are asking you this every day in a variety of settings, and it is almost always the question people ask when they first meet you, right? It’s an easy way to break the ice and get to know someone. Best of all, it’s also an easy way to get to know who they know and make opportunities happen. But chances are you are likely missing out on the chance to strike, to tell them who you are, what you want to do, and most importantly, what you bring to the table. And the best part…show them how they are going to help you do it.

When someone asks you…”What do you do?” your immediate reflex may be to respond with: “I am a litigation attorney at a medium-sized law firm,” or “I work as a portfolio manager in financial services.” or “I dunno, not much, sort of between jobs”. (eeek!) In response, you’ll likely ask them what they do for a living, go back and forth for a few seconds, and move on to different conversation. Or you’ll turn to watch the baseball game on TV, watch others playing pool, flip the burgers, whatever. Big mistake!

The “what do you do” question is an extremely valuable and time-sensitive opportunity to dramatically enhance your network and your job search. Instead of answering what you “do”, focus on the expertise you bring to the table. It’s much more interesting and you’ll have your listener’s attention immediately.

Example conversation:

John Smith: “Hi Mary, what do you do for a living?”

Mary Jones: “I have over 15 years’ expertise providing financial strategies and easy-to-grasp investment solutions to those people who are either too busy to manage their own funds, or don’t necessarily have their finger on the pulse of the market like I do. I’m looking to speak with savvy professionals who understand the importance of having a financial strategist like myself to partner with to manage their finances.”

…but don’t end there….

Mary Jones, continued: “Is there anyone you know of that might benefit from a quick chat about my services, or alternatively do you have any advice on how I might best expand my network in that area?”

John Smith: “Interesting…tell me more about those strategies…” or “Actually my good friend Bob Johnson has been looking for a capable financial manager. He’s right over here, let me introduce you to him.”

It’s a critical part of securing a job lead. Don’t ask them what they do right after your initial statement (you’ll get there eventually)…ask them to think of people they know who work in the field you want to be in.  Ask for advice, and you’ll receive it. Guaranteed! If you ask for a job, or if you offer your resume, people won’t be interested in what you have to say. Also guaranteed!

Remember, keep the focus on yourself and ask them to refer you or introduce you to someone in their network. That person will probably know someone who knows someone who can get you a conversation with another someone at the company you want to work for. You’ll eventually expand your network dramatically.

The best way to prepare for this? Practice! Practice what your value proposition is. Don’t make it too specific. Make it general enough to appeal to anyone you meet. You can sort out the details as you continue your conversation. Once you have your 2-3 sentence hook and follow-up question rehearsed, you’ll see you job prospects multiply. Now go out there and make it happen!

If you find that this post was helpful to you in any way, please share it with your connections, fellow group members, and share it on your social media. This is exactly how I pick up great tips and ideas from some of the other thought leaders on social media, and I’d greatly appreciate any efforts you make to do the same. And naturally, please leave comments below, I really do want to hear your thoughts on this topic!

Stay tuned for my next post where I cover other career coaching topics and tips. If there is something you’re interesting in hearing about…drop a suggestion in the comments! If you haven’t done so yet, sign-up for my free report “Hiring Managers Will Find You on LinkedIn that lays out a LinkedIn strategy that will get your profile noticed much more by hiring managers, decision-makers, key influencers, executive recruiters and human resources professionals! 

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“Why chase a job you’d settle for when you can target the job of your dreams?”

Looking forward to charting your course to success, and have a great proactive day!