Why I hate the Question: What Do You Do?

marissa2We’ve all been there. It’s a social event where you might know one or two people. You strike up a conversation with the person next to you and the dreaded question appears: “So, what do you do?”

For some people answering that question is quick and simple:

  • “I’m a nurse.”
  • “I teach grade 4 kids”
  • “I’m a communications director for the federal government”

But for some of us, we cringe inside. It isn’t because we have nefarious jobs and we’re worried what the other person will think of us. It’s because it’s hard to explain exactly what we do. Especially if we have day jobs that pay the bills and evening or weekend passions that we work on that feed our minds or passions. Maybe we have multiple jobs to make ends meet, or maybe we’ve recently made the leap to become an entrepreneur.

The first time I noticed myself cringe at the question was my 10-year high school reunion. I had former classmates asking me “So what do you do now?”

After the 10th time I was asked, I exclaimed “Who cares what my job is – tell me about the experiences you’ve had over the past 10 years. What have you built, who have you met, what great conversations have you had, where have you travelled?” Some of my former classmates recoiled because it made them uncomfortable. Talking about jobs was a safe topic that didn’t really let people know anything about you. Some of them jumped right in and we had spirited discussions about great memories they had built over the past 10 years as we turned into adults.

Think about how this applies when you’re job hunting or looking to an employee to your company. We list skills on a resume as keywords with what we do to attract a recruiters attention  and we rely on an interview to turn the keywords into relevant experiences. If we only rely on what we do, we often miss who we are in our careers.

Move beyond the question “What do you do?” and more into “Who are you?” and you will find you build stronger interactions and set a great foundation for both professional and personal relationships.



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