How to answer “What do you do?” while networking

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Nick KossovanThis column is for those who understand the benefits networking can bring to their job search, most notably uncovering job opportunities as well as enhancing their career trajectory.

Networking isn’t just something you do at networking events. It is possible to network while waiting in line at the grocery store, with the person next to you during a flight, at a dinner party, etc. There are endless scenarios where you meet someone for the first time, strike up a conversation, and inevitably will be asked, “What do you do?” You want to answer in a way that encourages the asker to ask further questions. Answering “I’m a project manager” or “I’m MomCorp’s Financial Controller” won’t make you stand out as memorable, passionate, or exciting, even though it’s accurate and true.

Next time someone asks, “What do you do?” flip the script (READ: Don’t give the expected cliche answer.).

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No rule says that you must reply with your job title and company when someone asks what you do. Rarely does a person’s job title fully describe, or encompass, what they actually do. Therefore, after answering, “I’m a night manager at the Holiday Inn,” the person spends the next five minutes trying to explain their “real job.”

Here are three ways to reframe how you answer, “What do you do?” so you create interest and engagement.

  1. Answer by mentioning what you like most

Titles aren’t universal. Today the trend is for employers to give their employees creative job titles to describe their job in a fun, creative way. (e.g., Chief Beverage Officer = Bartender, Brand Evangelist = Marketing Manager, Head of First Impressions = Receptionist, Conversion Optimization Wrangler = Web Analyst). Personally, I find creative job titles to be pretentious.

Even traditional job titles aren’t equivalent. A Senior Accountant in a mid-size family-owned printing company doesn’t have the same scope of responsibilities as a Senior Accountant in a national telecommunications company.

Rather than simply stating your current or last job title, answer by mentioning what you liked most about your previous or current job.

For example, I managed a mid-size call centre for several years for a large UK-based tour operating company. Whenever someone asked me what I did, I didn’t say, “I’m a call centre manager for a travel company.” Instead, I said, “I oversee a call centre that makes people’s once-in-a-lifetime trip come true.” The idea of being part of making people’s dreams come true was what put a smile on my face. My answer often resulted in the asker saying, “Please, tell me more.” (I’m paraphrasing.)

  1. Answer with your “outside your job” activities

In today’s gig economy, many people don’t have just one 40-hours-a-week job. Many people have two jobs or three or a mashup of part-time positions. It’s common today for people to have a 9-to-5 and a 5-to-9 side hustle. (My hand is raised.) Why not be open about your side hustle, especially if you’d like to turn it into your primary source of income? Whether writing, web design, photography, catering, or online tutoring, your side gig can quickly turn from part-time to full-time when mentioned to the right person.

Go for it! If you want to become a full-time web designer, don’t identify yourself with your retail job. Instead, say, “I design eye-catching and SEO-optimized websites, and I work in retail to pay the bills.” You can mention your day job but put your side hustle, which presumably you hope to one day make your primary source of income, front and centre.

  1. Answer with your skills and qualifications

Answer with specific skills. “I create content that sells health and beauty products,” “I work with numbers, and I love it,” or “Businesses consult with me on how to increase their brand awareness.” Such answers invite and encourage the asker to ask more questions about where you work, what you do, and why you’re good at what you do.

Companies don’t hire titles. Employers hire skills, experience, and results. Saying, “I ensure a national franchised fast-food chain’s IT security is hack-proof,” shows what you do, skill-wise. You never know if the employer of the person you’re speaking with has an opening that matches your expertise or if their sister-in-law’s company has recently been hacked and is now looking to enhance its IT security.

Networking is a skill I believe anyone can learn. Like any skill, the more you practice, the better and more comfortable you’ll become at networking. The next time you’re asked, “What do you do?” formulate your answer to incorporate your responsibilities, passions, skills, hustles, or anything else that reveals who you are rather than just your job title. I’ve never met a person who wasn’t more than their job title.

Nick Kossovan, a well-seasoned veteran of the corporate landscape, offers advice on searching for a job.

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The opinions expressed by our columnists and contributors are theirs alone and do not inherently or expressly reflect the views of our publication.

© Troy Media
Troy Media is an editorial content provider to media outlets and its own hosted community news outlets across Canada.

By Nick Kossovan

Nick Kossovan's job search advice is pragmatic and unsweetened. "I respect my readers; thus, I tell them the truth about how to effectively navigate employers during a job search." Nick describes himself as a connoisseur of human psychology, as well as a James Bond aficionado who can distinguish a Merlot from a Pinot Noir and an enthusiast of classic American muscle cars. (He's a proud owner of a 1982 C3 Corvette.)

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