How to Answer That Dreaded Question “What Do You Do?”

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I asked a client of mine what her biggest struggle is right now? She said, “I really hate going to networking events. Every time someone asks, ‘So what do you do,’ I get choked up and don’t know how to respond.”

Ah yes, that dreaded question, “What do you do.” How do you respond? My client hated that question because she has rambled and mumbled and stumbled in her response. Then she found people’s eyes glazing over and not getting it.

My client’s experience with so what do you do brings me back to 7th grade.

I was a new student in the Pine-Richland School district, and I didn’t have any friends. Can you imagine what was the worst period of the day? Lunch.

I opened the cafeteria doors with my paper bagged lunch in hand and stood there like a fish out of the water. Everyone stared. Luckily, someone saved me. She asked me to join her group of friends at their lunch table. She probably felt bad that I didn’t have any friends, but meehh…at least I didn’t have to sit alone.

As soon as I sat down, I was bombarded with ten thousand questions. Everyone wanted to know me, but what should I say? I didn’t want to say the wrong thing. I wanted them to like me. So I kind of choked up and mumbled through a few conversations explaining who I am. They weren’t too interested; so they left me alone after that. So I decided to listen to the various conversations flying around the table. Once I discovered some commonalities and like interests, I spoke up and asked questions to learn more. I shared some of my stories when it was appropriate. By the end of that lunch period I had six new friends. What’s more, I understood how to relate to people and win friends.

How to say what you do?

So why do you get choked up when answering what do you do? Because often your answer is about you. You talk about your process or modality or your mission.

For example, “So what do you do?”

“I’m a life coach and I use voice dialogue and hypnosis to solve any problem you have.”

Huh? The person in front of you has no idea what that means and their eye glaze over. When you see that, you get nervous and then ramble on some more about your mission or how you do what you do.

When was the last time talking about you felt comfortable? It rarely does because it feels self-centered. So when you respond with your process, mission, or modality, that’s equivalent to talking about how great you are. Weird, right?

That was my mistake at the lunch table. They asked about me, so I went on and on and on about my great life and bored them to death. It was all about me. It also felt weird and egotistical, so of course I mumbled and stumbled around. Essentially, they lost interest because it was a conversation with myself.

Are we a match?

That’s what the people who desperately need your services are wondering. They want to know if  1) you understand who they are, and 2) do they belong with you.  

When someone asks, “What do you do?” rather than responding about you (your process, mission, or modality), respond in a way that communicates I understand who you are. When you do that, you have their interest, attention, and possibly a potential client.

In my group course Roots: More Clients and Money, we invest 3-4 weeks to learn how to respond to “What do you do?” By the end, each person will have a succinct one liner and a story version of how to say what you do. This way, you’ll be able to discover Are We A Match? and take the next steps to having a new client.

For now, however, here’s what you need to know.

1. It’s okay to share a little about you, but make sure to reflect and deflect.

Someone asks, “So what do you do?” Take a moment for reflection. Gather and collect yourself. Take a breath. This pause slows your mind down so you don’t blurt something out and ramble.

Go ahead and respond in a short sentence about what you do. You could say, “Thanks for asking. I’m a life coach. I love helping people with relationship problems.” Stop there. Be succinct, and then deflect by asking them a question: “So tell me your story?”

You shared a little bit about you, but most importantly you started a conversation. You opened the doors for that person to share about their life. Now listen and engage. Keep asking questions to further discover their situation and you’ll both soon know: are we a match?

Why are you doing this?

First, networking and marketing are about building relationships and helping people. In this situation you are genuinely wanting to know this person. Maybe you can help and point them in the right direction.

Second, if you’re curious and get to know their situation, you’ll discover that your services might help them. Then you can ask that person if they want support. Maybe you could offer a free article or assessment? Maybe they’ll sign up for your newsletter?

2. Talking about their problems is key.

Everyone is walking around with certain problems, challenges, and needs. It could be a devstating problem, such as getting a divorce, or it could be a simpler problem, such as a millionaire who can’t find a yacht for the weekend. They are both problems that need solutions.

What you want to do is speak and label those problems. Here’s what I mean:

“So what do you do?”

“I help people who are going through a heartbreaking divorce.”

“Yep, that’s me. Can you tell me more?”

By speaking to a specific problem you help solve, that person standing in front of you has identified “that’s me.” You have their interest and you have their attention. And if they don’t identify with that problem, it’s easy for them to think of a friend or family member who have that problem. Now you might have a referral.

Talking about problems is a heart-centered approach, even more so than talking about solutions (I share with you why in my free download for this article). When you understand and name the problems they are facing, you help them feel seen and witnessed for their situation. It opens the space for healing, change, and getting support from you. Here’s what you need to do: brainstorm all of the problems you solve. Make sure to use only the problems that are real. In other words, however your potential clients speak or think about their problems is what you want to use.

The way forward

The purpose of the question, “So what do you do?” is meant to discover if you, and the person standing in front of you, are a match. If the two of you are, it could lead to a new client or a referral. The ideal way to create this are-we-a-match-space is to not talk about you and your process, mission, or modality. Instead, engage in conversation and ask questions about them. Discover their story. Also, speak and label the problem(s) you solve. When you do this, you’ll have more and more people wanting to hear about your offers and how to become a client.

Do you want to take this further?

Click here to download the free report that shows you the three elements to craft an effective How to say what you do.

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