What Do You Do for a Living?

Let’s suppose you are attending an evening event sponsored by the local Chamber of Commerce.  This is a networking event where you are to mingle and pass out business cards.

During this event, someone will invariably approach you and ask, “So, what do you do for a living?”

Are you ready with an answer?

Your Answer

            If you have not thought about this question before, now is the time to work on your answer. 

From my experience, I see four typical answers to this question, each of which tells more about you and your company than you realize.

1.         Most people simply state their job title.  This tactic conveys the least information.  Most of us who have been in the workforce for some years understand the well-kept secret that titles most often do not convey what people actually do. 

Or, more importantly, they do not convey any real information about an action, which is what the verb “do,” implies.  Take my title, for example, Chief Executive Officer.  Not a verb in sight that might imply anything about what I do.

Stating your job title is a way of beefing up your level of responsibility because it sounds more interesting than what you do on a daily basis.

2.         Some people find it necessary to be clever or cryptic.   The classic line, “I’d tell you, but I’d have to kill you.” often says that they do not really know what they do, are embarrassed by what they do, or are only at the networking event to drink free booze.

            Humor is a great way to “break the ice” to meet new people and engage them in conversations.  But the goal is ultimately to be able to effectively and proudly convey what your vocation is in such a way so that when they need your type of services, they would know who to contact.

3.         Those who have thought about the answer will respond not by telling you a job title but by telling you what their vocation is within the company they work for.  This, of course, requires you understand your vocation which I covered in an earlier blog title Vocational Coherence.

            As an example, let’s assume you are a nurse.  You could answer this question that you are a nurse.  Or, you could say you provide medical care and comfort for cancer patients (assuming that is your assignment).

            Saying you are a nurse is an admirable response and might lead to a follow conversation.  But, by responding about your vocation, you have shown what you are passionate about, that you are proud of your responsibilities, and will most likely open the door for as much conversation as you want.

4.         The first two responses demonstrate a lack of understanding about your role at your company and your responsibilities of representing your company at the Chamber of Commerce event.  Neither response leads to any real networking.

            The third response is the right response because it shows an understanding of your role not only in your business but the overall workplace.  But like the first two responses, it lacks an understanding of your role in the networking event.

            When someone asks what you do for a living, what they are saying is please ask me what I do for a living.  Most people, after all, really only want to talk about themselves. 

            So, when asked what you do for a living, give a good, solid vocational response, and then as quickly as possible, ask in return what they do for a living.

The Bible

            Responding with a vocational description and following that by turning the tables and ask in return what the other person does for a living has two strong biblical principles.

            Understanding your vocation is to see how you fit in God’s greater plan.  You do not have a career at a specific company, you have a life mission, and your calling is to fulfill that mission despite who you work for.

            Jeremiah 29:11 says.

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

            As for getting the other person to talk about what they do for a living is the epitome of humility.  Plus, you will learn a lot more while listening than talking, which is what networking is all about.