By Bryan Orr

“So, what do you do?”  or better yet, “What do you do for a living?”

When people ask what I do for a living I often want to reply, “Breathe, drink water and eat marginally nutritious food.” but I’ve found that this type of sarcastic humor doesn’t generally play well with strangers; mostly because it isn’t funny.

It’s a tough question sometimes to answer specifically, and we all ask some version of it to others as well  in social and business networking settings.

Imagine Nancy, standing with a few acquaintances at a Chamber of Commerce breakfast. One of the men she is standing with turns and says, “Nancy, have you met Ron?” Nancy had not met Ron or his obvious hair piece, so she replies, “No I haven’t had the pleasure.”  Ron and Nancy are introduced. This is the part when Ron puts on his very best *I’m super interested in you* face and asks, “What do you do, Nancy?”

Now Nancy is a florist, should she just say “I’m a florist?” That is certainly one way to do it; if she wants her and her business to be forgotten in the next 5 minutes.  

There’s a better way.

What do you ACTUALLY sell?

If you are an insurance agent you don’t just sell insurance; you sell piece of mind, a feeling of responsibility, and sometimes the right to not not be arrested or fined.

If you are a banker you might sell financial security, and the opportunity to get that car or home your customers always wanted.

You are selling results and outcomes, very rarely are you selling the product or service. In the mind of your customer you are selling a promise.

You are a solution.

What do you do? You are a bridge between something that people want and the reality of them attaining it.

Talk about yourself in that way.

It will feel awkward to say things like “I help match people with the spaces they want to enjoy life in for years to come” instead of “I’m a realtor,” but it’s more powerful and certainly more memorable.

Always leave them wanting more.

Don’t feel bad if your answer doesn’t allow the other person to put you in a nice little box with a bow on it. You want them to ask more questions, you want them to wonder what the heck just happened. Embrace the weirdness of giving a well crafted response.

Tell a story.

The most powerful way to convey a nuanced Idea is to tell a story. One of the executives I coach is a tremendously successful financial planner and he also has a passion for high end German cars. He is an intensely detailed, has an obsessive personality and he does a great job caring for his customers’ money because of his obsessive attention to detail.

For him to say “I’m a financial planner” when someone asks him what he does would be a total understatement. Instead he replies, “You know the kind of guys who obsess over fine details on their cars, where they will take 6 hours just washing and waxing them until they’re perfect? I am that guy and I’m obsessed about high end cars and the financial future of my clients. I’m obsessed so my clients can relax.”

So back to Nancy. She was tired of calling herself a florist so instead she said, “I help people express their love and appreciation by providing them with beautiful floral arrangements for any occasion.”

Well put, Nancy. I couldn’t have said it better myself even if I was writing a hypothetical situation about a profession I know little about.

How do you answer the question: “What do you do?”