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.
But there’s another thing that can be communicated when you answer that question.
When you say, “I’m a lawyer” and offer nothing more, most people don’t know where to go with a short answer like that. They may dig further and ask, “What kind of lawyer?”, but they also may not. A truncated answer can lead to a truncated relationship.
If you want people to refer business to you, tell them how you help, not what you do.
So How Do You Answer ‘What Do You Do’?
If you’re at a networking event or trying to foster referrals, you’ll need a better answer than your job title.
The question “What do you do?” isn’t going to go away, so you may want to have a canned answer that can help you make the most of these exchanges.
Even if you’re in a job that you feel doesn’t require much explanation—for example, in accounting, law, or finances—giving more than your job title in response to this question is important.
But how can you do that without looking like you’re bragging or espousing your resume?
Here are five ways to answer this common question so that you don’t sound arrogant, but still demonstrate exactly what you do.
1. Talk About How You Help People
You might be a digital marketer (wink). Or you might be someone who helps lost websites get found. And doesn’t the latter sound infinitely more interesting?
Using a unique phrase to describe your job instantaneously removes stereotypes about what you do 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. Share an Anecdote About Your Business
Storytelling is always compelling. It helps us make connections. You get to provide context for the person you’re talking to, instead of relying on them to fill in the blanks with their own limited experience.
For example, let’s say you’re an estate planning attorney. You can say, “I just finished up a probate case that ended with a $45k settlement from my client’s mother’s estate. She expected she would need to come out of pocket to sell her mother’s home, but instead we were able to help her through this difficult time.”
Find a great anecdote about your business and share it. Infinitely more relatable.
3. Educate Them
When someone asks you what you do, they are asking to learn about you. Educate them! You are educating the other person on the subject of you.
Talk about the most interesting thing you’ve learned lately. Talk about the void in the market that you are filling. Talk about the latest thing happening in your industry.
Demonstrate expertise, but ideally, give them information that may be useful to them.
4. Be Self-Promotional
Wouldn’t the world be a better place if everyone just let down the veil and really opened up about what they are good at? More people would be doing things they love. We would, collectively, be happier.
So, don’t be shy. You’re actually doing everyone a favor by being honest about what you’re good at and it makes you infinitely more interesting and referable.
5. Ask About Them
Demonstrating who you are can be as much about what you say as it is what you DON’T say.
If you want to really engage someone, give a full answer to their question, but then respond in kind. Ask them leading questions about what they do. If they say they’re a lawyer, ask them what they love about it. Who they help. What can we learn from them.
Responding this way will offer a balanced, not bragging, conversation and you could come to really enjoy the company of some of your professional colleagues.
Don’t let the question, “What do you do?” limit you. You’re not only your job title. Using the tips above will demonstrate the three-dimensional person you are and help you connect on a human level.
People love to work with and refer those they know, like, and trust. Having open and full answers to the existential “What do you do?” question will only strengthen that connection!
Not sure how you provide value to your clients? Let us help you nail your marketing strategy by booking a free consultation at GoBeyond!