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How to Answer “What Do You Do?” to Build Better Connections

Asking someone about their job or occupation with the question, “What do you do?” is a common ice breaker at social events or public gatherings. In casual encounters or low-key conversations, an informal response is fine. A person can just state the job title and let it go at that. But when someone is trying to build professional connections and create a positive image, there are more effective ways to describe what a person does for a living in discussions with other people.

Describe Your Job in a Way and Outsider Can Understand

Instead of beginning your response with just a position title, give your audience more. Most listeners will be interested in hearing about your daily duties and what the job entails.

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For example, instead of indicating your job title is a graphic artist, you can explain how being part of an energetic team that is working to promote companies’ success facilitates a combination of creativity and collaboration to bring a brand to life for public consumers.

Rather than informing others of a job position as insurance agent, you can describe types of insured protection that are available for every facet of life, from real property to pet health.

Teachers might reply that they educate young minds and teach children how to learn while developing important life skills. Provide details about what you do at your job that makes it worthwhile and interesting.

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Explain What Your Workplace As a Whole Does

When explaining where you work, include what the company does for the community or its industry as part of its regular operations or as a charitable endeavor.

You might answer, “I work for Harrison & Kapper, a law firm that specializes in ensuring clients are treated fairly in the court system.” Someone who works at a paper mill could explain that the company produces eco-friendly, high-quality paper products for professional or everyday use.

While you don’t want to sound like an ad for your employer, you can succinctly say positive things about the company as reasons for your employment there to show that it is not just a paycheck but also a valued part of the community.

Clarify that this is a job you take pride in, not a workplace that makes you feel downtrodden or used.

Show the More Personal Side of Your Work

Any job title can be expressed in a way that feels more human and personal Many jobs do have those meaningful interpersonal qualities, although that is not always clarified in casual conversations.

A factory foreman could explain that in addition to overseeing the work of a seven-person department, the foreman also reports to the VP of Production and prepares an annual report showing the department’s contribution toward the company’s five-year goals.

The professional connections within the organization and your personal role can clarify to others your values rather than merely being a place-filler or one of many nameless employees on the payroll.

Discuss Benefits to the Greater Community

Another way to represent your professional role is to touch on your company’s benefits or contributions to the local community. You could mention that the organization prioritizes diversity and inclusion in its hiring and promotion policies, which helps to recruit untraditional applicants from the area as well as routine applicants.

A listener might be interested in hearing that your company donates monthly to the regional food bank or sponsors a youth sports league during the summer.

While these aspects might not pertain directly to your job position, you can show respect and admiration for your employer, which helps to underscore its larger importance to the area and your role within this type of role model organization that believes in giving back to the community that supports it.

Include What You Have Learned or Personal Growth

In addition to telling others what you or the community get from the company, you can add what you have learned or are learning in doing your job.

Training received or experience gained at your workplace depict a two-way reciprocation that speaks well of the company’s perception of you as an individual and not just a commodity, and it expands your role to a progressive one that may lead toward eventual advancement.

Learning new skills on the job could carry over into your personal life as well, such as training provided for computer proficiency or negotiation strategies. Revealing what you have learned is another way to show multi-dimensional aspects of your job that make it a meaningful career point.

Indicate Your Professional Goals

If your current job is a minimal position, you can detail a brief overview of where you worked before and how you got your present position as well as where you plan to be working in the next few years.

Putting your job in long-term perspective showcases your career plan and the fact that you are making steady progress. Everyone admires a person who sets goals and consistently works toward meeting them.

Pointing to your career endgame will encourage listeners to respect your achievements thus far and support your continued growth.

Everyone has a story to tell that often includes a career path, beginning with the job they currently hold. Each of us is so much more than a job title. Use questions about what you do for a living as a springboard to project a larger picture of your life up to this point and your future professional path.