“What Do You Do?” – How to Answer the Dreaded Question

Are you obsessed with professional identity? Here’s a quick test to see:

A) When you meet strangers at events, besides asking their name, what’s the first thing you ask about them?

Answer: You probably inquire, “So, What do you do?”

B) When asked to introduce yourself at an event, besides stating your name, what’s the first thing you tell people?

Answer: It’s most common for people to say, “I’m a (insert profession here).”

C) Who is the most successful person you know?

Answer: I bet you chose someone with “professional” success, right? However, that’s not what I asked, I asked for the most successful person you know, yet most people assume that implies someone who has earned a lot of money or has a lot of career prestige.

Could You Survive Without Your Professional Identity?

Let’s face it, what we “do” is part of our identity. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be able to answer the “What do you do?” question in a way that makes us feel positive about ourselves. A good day at work is a good day in life. While a bad day at work can ruin our outlook for weeks. My question, “Is it worth it?”

Challenge: Give the RIGHT Answer to the Question

What bothers me most about the “What do you do?” question is:

  1. People feel obligated to impress someone with the answer. They’re worried about being judged, so they strive to say something that earns respect – or at least avoid ridicule.
  2. People answer with a label when they should be responding with an action. Saying you are an “Account Manager” or “Office Administrator” doesn’t answer the “do” part of the question.

I challenge everyone reading this to consider revamping their answer to this question. Share what impresses YOU about the work you do. What problems do you love to solve? Better still, expand the answer beyond your work and tell people more about you as a person. Share how you are as an individual, not just a successful professional.

I’ll start. Let me introduce myself…

“Hi, my name is J.T. and I love helping people get rid of chronic career pain. People laugh when they hear I’m a cardio-dance instructor. I like cooking appetizers. Pinterest is a guilty pleasure of mine and I’m currently hooked on the show, Mad Men.”

Okay folks, your turn! I’m asking, “So, what do you do?”

J.T. O’Donnell
Career & Job Search Expert | CEO of CAREEREALISM Media

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