“So What Do You Do?”

When meeting people for the first time, one of the questions that comes up inevitably in the first few crucial moments is some version of, “So what do you do?” The question is really an abbreviation for, “What’s your job or career title?”, and if you don’t provide the name of the employer, that may be the next question to be asked.

So given that so many of us ask the question, my question is, “Why?” I mean what is it that causes us to ask people whom we’ve just met, how they occupy their time and derive a living from that? The question of what we are doing is really connected of course to the income we derive which in turn indicates how we support ourselves financially. Make no mistake about it.

Imagine for example you overheard a conversation where someone asked, “So what do you do?” and the reply you heard was, “Oh I love to garden, take in the football matches and watch the sun go down on the back deck each night with a warm drink in one hand and my spouses hand in my other.” Well that might be all well and good and carry the conversation for the next few minutes, but something interesting would occur shortly after. “But seriously, what do you do? – I mean career wise.”

It’s as if the initial answer wasn’t taken as a serious response; was the person avoiding answering the question? Technically of course they weren’t; they answered the question in the way they wished. If the person doing the asking wanted a specific answer respective of an occupation, then the question should have been formed to ask, “So, what’s your job title?” Doesn’t that seem unnatural and perhaps a little invasive?

We all, “do” many things. We shop, dress, eat, read, rest, relax, laugh, cry and thousands of other things. But when we are asked, “So what do you do?” there is this implied understanding that the question really be poised is about occupations.

Okay so that being the case, why is this of interest to us when we meet someone new? At the root of it I suspect is a desire to assign some kind of value to the person based on our own value of the work they perform. If you think a Cashier is a rather non-noteworthy position, then meeting a person who is a Cashier may cause you to place the person into a category based on your own value system. Meet a Photographer, and you might then say you’d like to see their work – and why? Because once you’ve seen the quality of their work and their preferences for subject matter, you then assign some kind of appreciation (high or low) for not only the quality of their work, but the quality of the person.

Now is this fair? No. You may suppose that clothing models are superficial, self-indulgent and perhaps not all that intelligent. Were you to actually meet one and have a conversation of any length to get to know the person behind the runway model, you might find yourself correcting your initial assumption. And it works the other way doesn’t it? You might revere a person with what you think is a job of great prestige and engage them in conversation only to find them evasive, unsure, boorish and shallow.

Still, when we meet people, we start a process of gathering information and clues that collectively permit us to form opinions based on our own experiences. The more information we gather, the more our opinions become formed on real data rather than guesswork and suppositions. We gather information on how people dress, their posture, their smile (or lack thereof), where they live, who they know, what car they drive, their environmental consciousness, their income level, so why not the jobs they hold?

Young and old do this. Suppose you were given a list of occupations held by people in a large room without being able to first enter the room and look around. Who would you like to meet and have a conversation with based on nothing more than knowing their occupation. Are you equally anticipating a chat with a housewife and a rock musician? Without knowing either or seeing either, you’re own upbringing and personal view of each may lead you to prefer one over the other. And if it were a small business owner and an Accountant, would you care? Maybe and maybe not.

For you personally, whether you are employed, unemployed or underemployed, think carefully then about your personal response to the question, “So what do you do?” What impression do you want to make initially on others? Even if you are out of work, would you answer the question, “I’m unemployed”, or would you come back with, “Carpenter by trade specializing in historical restoration work.” Which of the two responses might generate interest in the person who asked to want to know more about you?

Here’s the best thing about the question, “So what do you do?” YOU get full control over what first comes out of your mouth and the confidence or lack of pride which your body language will communicate in answering. Do yourself a huge favour and spend some time carefully crafting a good answer. Then practice so it comes across the way you want it delivered.

Taking A Break From Blogging: An Observation

You may be in the practice of receiving or choosing to read my job advice themed blog on a regular basis. Then again, you may have only recently stumbled across it and are just getting to get a feel for the topic. Suffice to say, I’ve been writing this blog since February of 2012, striving to write it Monday to Friday with the exception of holidays.

I feel that if you are trying to recruit a following, you have to write on a regular basis; where your audience comes to look forward to your posts, and in so doing you maintain connections. So with my recent 3 week vacation, I wondered whether or not I should also take a vacation from the blogging or not. What would happen if I did or didn’t?

And so, I took a well-considered break not only from my daily job for three weeks as an Employment Counsellor, but also the same length of break as a blogger. I want to share what I’ve observed and the impact of that decision across a couple of platforms. You could learn from this.

While off, I still continued to check the daily stats on my blog site. What I noticed is that while past blogs were still being read anew, the overall number of people reading on a daily basis dropped significantly; a drop in 50% of my regular numbers in fact. At the same time, the volume of comments dropped to almost zero, with only a slightly higher number of spam comments being received over legitimate comments.

While these numbers were clear on my WordPress site, a curious thing also happened over on my LinkedIn profile. I noticed that the number of people visiting my profile to check me out personally dipped, and the number of people endorsing my skills dropped as well. And doesn’t this make sense, even though the two are separate entities on the web?

So it appears that readers are reading the blog first in some cases, and then checking out my LinkedIn profile to find out who I, the blog author, really am and what I’m all about. While visiting the LinkedIn profile, the same readers are sometimes endorsing my skills as they relate to what they may have just read and the help they may have received or anticipate others receive.

What is clear is that as I write on a regular basis (weekdays), my on-line presence and visibility rise. As I break from that pattern, my online presence dips and my relevance quickly diminishes.

Now if you are just reading this and thinking that I’m only talking about myself here, you’d be missing the next logical leap and that would be a shame. If my experience; my little experiment, is not an anomaly, then the same pattern of increasing or decreasing readership and visibility applies to you.

So now it’s personal for you. Suppose you have a business and as part of your marketing campaign and you’ve blogged to communicate with your audience. You write about your new products, instructions on how and when to use your services to maximize benefits to consumers, and in so doing, your writing keeps your audience thinking about you so when they do need to buy, you’re first and foremost in their thoughts. If my results were what you experienced, you’d potentially lose a large number of clients or customers who were used to receiving a daily dose of your content.

Now you may not write a daily blog as I’ve done, and if you are writing once or twice a week, your results may not be as dramatic, because the break in the receiving of the blog for your audience would only be two or three intervals, not the 15 consecutive days mine involved. The other variable here is also that if your audience is only local to your business, then they too may have been on vacation at the same time as you, and your online absence could go completely undetected. But if with the internet your audience is world-wide, the vacation factor has less impact as readers around the world are always to some degree on vacation while others are not.

My advice is to write consistently. Readers can choose to read your articles daily or not – as is their right. But if you cease to write on a regular basis, your relevance diminishes, and people may or may not follow you on a regular basis. This would be true no matter the topic. So whether it’s a self-employment business, or just your thoughts on a specific subject near and dear to your heart, consistency should be strived for.

So I’m back and the experiment is over. When it comes to dispensing advice on the subject of finding and keeping employment, I want to continue to share my thoughts and advice, hoping as I do, that my readers benefit, or pass along my words to others who might benefit in turn.

Connecting with readers certainly is welcomed, as are comments in return. If you like what you read, I appreciate that, and if you are inclined to visit my LinkedIn profile to find out about my own career path that’s great. It can offer you a glimpse into where I’m coming from and I’m open to answering any and all questions too.

Read at your leisure, and if I’m fortunate enough to educate and entertain along the way, fantastic.


Returning To Work After Vacation

I had the good fortune to be on vacation for the previous three weeks. Originally my wife and I had planned a road trip from our home in Lindsay, Ontario Canada to Newfoundland on the extreme east coast of Canada.

However, with a strike at work that set me back approximately $2500.00 and a nagging shoulder issue my wife has had for a few years now, that plan was postponed. Instead, it was three weeks of staying put at home and doing some day trips; a 2.5 hour boat cruise in cottage country, some big city shopping, and relaxing at home in our backyard which we’ve put a lot of effort into making beautiful and a place to relax.

But with the conclusion of those three weeks, it was back to work yesterday. When you’ve been off for a week, sometimes people don’t even know you’ve been away if they aren’t in daily contact with you. A couple of weeks you might be more noticed missing, but after three weeks, you sure hope you’ve been missed. After all, if you’re not, maybe they get can along nicely without you!

After that period of time, you yourself might wonder too what if anything has changed in your absence. Now in my case, I found myself wondering that more than once while off, so I checked work emails every few days from home. My own mental guidelines doing this are to weed out the needless emails so I don’t have a cluttered inbox upon my return. There was the one for example asking fellow employees to wipe the toilet seat after using it so others wouldn’t sit down in someone else’s urine. Yep, definitely didn’t need that one, and I’m glad I’m at home so the suspicion of being the culprit didn’t wash over me.

The emails did tell me new computers are coming for some of us, and some minor staffing shuffles I was glad to know about. What I was most interested in actually was a series of emails that referred to some new training starting the week I was off to help staff learn the new computer software program our entire Province of Ontario will be rolling out in November. I could have used that training! One thing to be on the look to get involved with now that I’m back.

Here’s a question for you. Do you ever notice that when some people return there is very little fanfare while for others it’s like someone called a spontaneous parade? I sure have. Upon my return, I get a rather subdued reception, where people say, “Nice to have you back” and “How was your vacation?” I have some support staff outside my office, and one of the people who works there comes in whooping it up loudly and saying, “I’m back! Did you miss me everybody?” While some of us give her the standard, “Nice to have you back”, others whoop it up just as loudly and there are hugs all round, giggling and I feel I’m suddenly transported back to my high school where the cheerleaders are all giggling at their lockers about the pep rally after classes.

Ah but different strokes for different folks. Some need that fanfare and some don’t. What’s nice however is coming back to work after vacation and actually looking forward to being back. That for me is a good sign. It means I’m looking forward to seeing co-workers, helping clients and doing the work I’m paid to do.

A second thing I find it good to monitor and be aware of, is how long that post-vacation positive attitude lasts. Some people I hear make comments stating things like they can’t wait for the weekend to have another break, or they didn’t want to come back at all. These aren’t good signs.

One thing that’s good to remember and be aware of is that colleagues might not all be so happy to hear you go on and on about your wonderful time off, if they themselves have had their workload stretched doing both their work and yours. They might just be relieved to have you back to take that off their hands; and three weeks worth of work can pile up. In these situations, a sincere, “thanks for covering me, I really appreciate what you were able to get done” is definitely in order.

It’s only natural to spend some time-sharing how you spent your time, what you did, where you went etc. Be mindful of your audience however and take your cues from their comments. Don’t be like the host who subjects their guests to a four-hour showing of their home movies. Sometimes less is best.

It is good to be back. I’ve found I’m getting two new windows this week, and I’m thrilled with that. I know, I know big deal. But the space you work in really does have an impact on how you feel at work and you’re there a significant number of hours.

I hope like me, you find your time off enjoyable, and your return to work something to look forward to.

An Exercise In Career Exploration

One of my favourite workshops that I facilitate centers on the topic of career exploration. It’s designed for people who either haven’t got a clue what they’d like to do or be well suited to do, and as well for those who need to change careers and are stuck.

Just as sitting down to write a resume without knowing what job you are applying to is a bad decision, it’s equally a poor decision to think about jobs and careers without first really knowing who you are. In other words, until you know your skills, strengths, areas needing improvement and think about what matters to you, it’s going to be difficult to find a good match. Is it any wonder then why so many people who think this first step is a waste of time end up continually taking jobs that are poor fits and go through the job searching process frequently?

One exercise or activity I do with my clients gives them a chance to think about careers and jobs which they would otherwise entirely dismiss. For the person or people who will tell you they’ll do anything, it’s a great exercise in showing them that,’anything’ perhaps needs a re-think.

Now my workshop happens to be five days in length, and it follows a typical pattern of doing 16 self-assessments essentially taking a self-inventory of who you are right now in 2014. It’s more than just defining strengths and weakness, it also includes work values, the kind of supervisor you’d perform best under, your problem-solving style, transferable skills, preferred learning style etc. By first learning really more about yourself, you can then in the latter half of the week turn to examining careers and jobs where people with your general characteristics are best suited to thrive.

Can you already see the difference in this approach instead of just running to a job board, throwing a dart and applying for a job with a generalized resume?

But to the activity I mentioned. On the morning of the second day, participants walk in the room to find 40 large envelopes on the 4 walls all around them. Some are quite close to where people sit, and others naturally on the other side of the room. Some right at eye level, and some near the floor or the ceiling. In other words, randomly placed. There is no rhyme or reason to this placement, but participants definitely notice them and start talking among themselves and guessing what they are all about.

In each envelope is large colour photograph of a person with a career. They are dressed in their work clothes, sometimes photographed in their surroundings performing their job, and above each photograph is the name of the occupation. However, I say nothing whatsoever about what’s inside the envelopes, only saying that we’ll be using them later and please don’t peek inside any of them.

Well, nothing more happens with them on day 2. Usually what happens at some point someone asks when we are going to use them, or if no one says anything, I’ll bring it up perhaps just after lunch. “No one has looked in the envelopes I hope.” And that’s it. During the next day, the middle day of the week, I finally announce we are going to use the envelopes. Funny how a little anticipation gets them to buy-in, pay attention, get their curiosity answered, and as a facilitator, that’s exactly what I want.

One by one, each person is selected to reach inside and pick a career. They have to announce it to the group, show the picture, and they’ve got a career. Some are glad with their choice, some disappointed, some shrug and have little reaction and some – like the Pest Control Technician holding the dead rats are revolted and shudder. (But they laugh too!)

When everyone has a profession or job, I hand them a sheet of paper with a number of questions on it. Some relate to annual salary, educational requirements, required training, what is appealing and unappealing about the job, potential growth, the skills required. Also included is a section for the person to then say what skills the job requires that they themselves have. Listening skills, communication skills and other transferable skills in addition to job – specific skills.

Once the sheet is filled out, a discussion ensues. It’s interesting to ask how many randomly selected the perfect job; one they’d actually be happy in and have the requirements for. And of course the next question is how many are dissatisfied and have a job or career that isn’t of interest to them or they are totally unqualified for. By in large, some are happy, most are not. And this reflects the reality of picking a job without first doing much research. Suddenly most get what they’ve been doing and why the results have been less than satisfactory.

After this I fire everybody. I collect all the pictures and give them a second blank sheet to fill in and they repeat the random picking. We talk about how some jobs appear lofty (top of the ceiling), some are easier to get than others (right behind their seat), and some seem beneath us (nearest the floor). However, all jobs have merit and are perfect for some people. The real key is to find the job you are most happy with because it fits your interests and abilities.

Or, they could continue to just choose anything.