Go to any networking event, meet anyone new for the first time, and within seconds, you’ll undoubtedly be asked some version of the question, “So what do you do for a living?” The clock starts now, and you’ve got a short period – approximately 30 seconds to explain concisely what it is you do in a way that the other person can make sense of it.
First let’s look at why people generally ask what you do for a living. The most often cited reason is that quite frankly people want to know where you stand in relation to them. Can you be useful to me? Do we share any common areas of interest? If you find you have something in common, it gives you something of mutual interst to continue the conversation. While it’s true that meeting someone who does something completely foreign to you is an opportunity to learn, most people initially find areas of commonality easier and more profitable as a starting place to begin a conversation. For example, if I’m in the business of helping others gain employment, I’m likely interested in meeting with other Employment Counsellors and Career Counsellors and discussing our approaches to helping others through the subject area.
Okay, so having established the reasons behind the reason the question gets asked early in a first meeting, it would seem to be worth thinking about the quality of your answer as you are going to be asked the question frequently. Give an answer that’s too short and concise and people will move on to others if they don’t feel like probing. Here’s a poor example of an exchange:
“So what do you do for a living?” (Genuine interest)
“Oh I’m a plumber.” (Minimum requirement, question answered)
“Nice to have met you” (Conversation over, time to move on to someone else)
A much better respsone to the above would be to indicate your professional role as a plumber but to elaborate and show some enthuisasm for what it is you do, or how it’s unique in some way from other plumbers. Consider this:
“So what do you do for a living?”
“Plumber by trade. My area of expertise is in working with older properties, bringing them up to today’s code requirements while respecting the integrity of century properties”. I take enormous pride in my workmanship, and working within clients budgets. I know folks want service people in and out and they only want the work done once; right the first time. If I’m your plumber, you’ve got one less thing to worry about.”
Now that’s a 30 second pitch! See this question as an opportunity not to be missed to sell yourself. In the above answer you get the profession, attributes of pride, respect for customers, quality work, and you’re left with a snappy closing statement to leave a branding impact on you.
Think about what you do then for a living, and how you can improve your answer to this question. You might find people are more interested in you and your business and they might remember you more. That’s worth something. Never throw away this opportunity to make a solid first impression.