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What Do You Do for a Living? How to Answer It Like a Bestseller

What do you do for a living? Before you cringe over the question, let me show you how to make this question your best friend.

what do you do for a living

What do you do for a living? Those six words used to feel like a dissection into my being. A part of me pulled back like ‘did this person just ask me what I look like naked? Oh wait… no, no they didn’t actually.’ Yet, in my mind I heard something like that. Then I’d ask myself ‘why do I sound like an anxious teenage girl all of a sudden?’

Here’s why. For all of us, success is important. There can be a lot of pressure to win by friends, family, associates. The more you try to do something in life, the more you measure your personal life success in terms of your livelihood quality, e.g. money earned, job satisfaction, status, impact. So…

What do you do for a living?

Quickly sounds like…

Tell me about your biggest dreams and goals in life and how much progress you’ve made or not made…

Followed by an innocent stare and rapid blinking by the question asker.

[Read: I don’t know what to do with my life – The voice to find your way back again]

Most people are wary of this question

Your ‘living’ means what you do for work. How you earn a paycheck. But it obviously also has other subliminal questions attached to it. Such as:

1. Do you actually work?

2. How much do you earn?

3. What kind of social importance and reach do you have?

4. How independent are you?

5. What phase of life are you in?

6. How intelligent or skilled are you?

7. How confident and happy are you about what you do?

8. How ambitious are you?

[Read: The 12 most important questions to help you visualize your future]

Best ways to answer: What do you do for a living?

So, it truly is a beast of a question that quickly gives you a chance to shine or to reveal insecurities. Even if you love your job, you still might not want to boast about it. To compound things, these days, many of us do multiple jobs to earn a living. So, if you haven’t taken the time to condense it all, the answer might not be obvious.

But at the core, if this question makes you cringe, you probably haven’t given it proper consideration. Here’s what you want to consider to not stutter and look everywhere but at the person who asked the question…

1. Embracing the spirit of networking

Say I don’t know you. And you don’t know me. We could skip the pleasantries, but then we’d just be dancing around the obvious. Your livelihood has a big impact on your life. And how you feel about what you do makes a difference in how you show up day-to-day. So, it’s important information in getting to know someone.

Get used to introducing yourself and talking about what you do. Roll with the conversational flow. Mostly, people just ask the question because they can’t think of something else more obvious to say. So, the less you treat it as a personal affront, the better. [Read: Feeling stuck in life? How to change directions and live your dream]

2. Considering what the question asker wants to know

If you meet someone new, they’re probably not asking you the question as if you were in a job interview.

They probably just want to get a flavor of what interests you or what you might know quite a bit about. Or to get a feel of your general life situation. Taking this perspective makes you feel less defensive or under pressure.

Sometimes, when we take offense, or feel threatened, it’s not because of the malicious intentions of the person asking you, what you do for a living.

More likely, it’s your own insecurity that’s making you feel that way. If you don’t like your job, you should quit. But don’t hate someone else for asking you about your living, or for making you self-reflect for a moment and realize you truly are embarrassed of your job. [Read: How to think positive and reprogram your mind to stay positive]

3. Being realistically clear

You don’t have to use your formal job title. It’s more important to give them an accurate understanding of what sort of impact you make in your job. So, say you’re an ‘executive officer’ but your job mostly involves managing operations. In that case, saying ‘operations manager’ is a better title. It more accurately expresses your main functions.

If you don’t have a job title, or you hold multiple odd jobs, just tell them what you do. You don’t have to give them your designation, most people don’t care about it, they just want to know what you do everyday so they can understand you better. And maybe even get an insight into what to converse with you.

4. Working out what your brand is

In my opinion, knowing your brand forces you to work out your why.

a. Why do you do what you do?

b. Why does your work make you money?

c. Why does your job work for you?

Asking yourself these questions helps you capture that magic. This is important for you to know and live by, rather than to tell the person. [Read: The need for purpose in your life and what it can do for you]

5. Condense your brand into one sentence

Short and sweet is best if it’s a casual encounter. Condense everything you do for a livelihood into one sentence. Focus it on the essence of what change you create each day. 

No one likes a rambler, and sometimes, when you say too much, or try too hard to explain “everything” you do, you’d just make the other person wish they were somewhere else. Instead, just sum up your entire job description in one simple line. You can flatter yourself by saying something that makes you appear important, but just don’t lie. It’s not worth it.

On the whole, always have one sentence at the back of your mind that totally defines what you do for a living. If they’re interested, they’ll ask you more about it. If they were just being polite, they’ll nod and ask you another question. [Read: Things people hate about other people – 15 things we all love to hate]

6. Making your answer open-ended and memorable

No one likes a boring story. If you’re going to tell someone what you do for a living, don’t drone on about it. Share that one line description, so it gives the person you’re talking to, something to work on. The line that you use to describe what you do for a living should be an opener, something anyone can use to ask more questions.

By answering what you do for work in an open-ended manner, you’re giving other people the opportunity to create their own interest in your work, and ask more about whatever caught their attention. Motivate the other person to excitement or curiosity. [Read: How to be more interesting and make everyone want to know you]

7. Staying in the moment

The important thing is not to make it feel as if you lead them on a pre-designated course. Just offer a description and let them generate their own ideas if they’re curious about learning more. They might simply make a casual remark, and then you can ask them what they do.

If they don’t ask you anything else about what you do for a living, it’s clear that they were just being polite and making conversation. Just go with the flow into another topic, or ask about what they do for a living.

If you focus too much on explaining your job to the tee, it just makes you appear insecure or like you’re trying really hard to clarify what exactly you do, or sell yourself. Don’t do that. [Read: 20 signs of insecurity people can’t hide when they feel uncomfortable]

8. Being relatable

We like to converse with people we relate to. Rather than trying to impress, consider if what you do for a living can help you two bond better with each other. Even if you have nothing in common with each other, your perfectly described job can make you seem like the expert at that thing in their eyes. What you do potentially affects them in some way and that understanding pulls them into the conversation.

9. Don’t explain yourself

You don’t need to explain why you do what you do. Unless you’re asked, of course. So just state what you’re up to and maybe something brief about what you enjoy about it. You’d be surprised.

Age-old story craft wisdom says to describe only the tip of the iceberg. Then let the reader fill in the rest. Saying less is more. Just keep it simple, and you’ll usually come across as interesting. Another great thing about saying less is the confidence you feel about yourself and your ability.

If someone’s uncomfortable or awkward about their job description, they usually try to explain themselves, or why they’re doing something when they could do something else. You may assume explaining yourself would justify why you picked what you do, and make you look good.

But to others, all it says is, “I’m not happy with my job, and I didn’t get the job I really wanted. I think I’m a loser, but I’m trying real hard to play it cool and impress you with my life choices.” 

10. Adding a small future plan description if they also participate

If the person seems really interested in learning more about you, and is also investing in telling you about themselves too, then you might give a small insight into your future plans. This has the cool effect of attracting people who share similar ambitions. They get a true snapshot of an aspect of your vision for your life. [Read: How to make new friends as an adult]

11. No need to be perfect

You don’t need to be able to be able to score off lines as if reading from a teleprompter. But you do need to know the heart of what you do succinctly. This means that, even if you trip up here and there in your wording, you never lose a sense of what your brand is, or what you really do for a living. You know it clearly.

12. Answering confidently

Perfection is overrated, but confidence isn’t. Keep it solid rather than being awkwardly humble or embarrassed about your work. Even if you’re unemployed, just give context.

13. If you’re courting, you may want to say less

Telling someone you want to date too much about yourself kills the magic. It looks like you’re trying very hard to impress them. And of course, It dissolves the intrigue and air of discovery. 

More important than detail is to let them see who you are by being in your presence: the way you talk, how you think, how you treat people, and so on.  If they’re curious about what you do, they’ll ask. But never use your job description to brag about yourself, or to impress someone you intend to date. [Read: 20 ways to impress someone you want to date in the very first conversation]

14. Don’t change the topic

What you do for a living is a sensitive topic of conversation, especially if you’re in between jobs or clearly unemployed. Of course, the very first thought you may get is to lie. And that’s completely fine if you don’t want to insult yourself AND it’s someone you may never meet again.

But if it’s someone you know you will bump into again, never lie. Just be honest, even if you sugarcoat the truth. 

15. Making funny fake first responses

Sometimes, this just works, especially if you don’t want to talk about what you do for a living.

If you’re trying to impress someone, these can be a funny way to make this part of the conversation less predictable. For example:

– ‘I donate plasma weekly.’

– ‘I’ve been unemployed since childbirth and sleep on this street corner just here. These shoes aren’t new, even if they do look amazing.’ 

Now, of course, if you’re talking to someone with emotional maturity, they may feel insulted by your childish answer. But unless they really want to pry and get to know you, they’ll just change the topic and talk about something else. [Read: Dry sense of humor: 20 signs you’ve mastered the dry funny bone]

16. What if you hate your job?

Get a new one. But in the meantime, let’s hope the person you’re talking to isn’t going to judge your value based solely on your job prestige! And if they do, perhaps they’re not worth knowing anyway. Being able to talk about things that aren’t perfect in your life is a sign of self-confidence.

You could add a bit about your future plans, your potential, and your drive. This gives them some small insight into what you would look like in the future.

[Read: Rock-steady self-respect: How to fine-tune your internal compass]

The ‘what do you do for a living’ question can be a great way to spark up interest and conversation. The key to answering is to not be boring, know your brand, and keep your answer open-ended.

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Anonymous Fella
Anonymous Fella
An unnamed guy with a great story and an idea to share, the Anonymous Fella is the secret voice that wants to be heard, but prefers to be masked under anonymity...