Talk about what you do, not who you work for

I’ve seen it a hundred times–at happy hours, weekend parties, and family gatherings.  The conversation goes something like this:

Established professional:
Young professional:
“So, what do you do?” “I work for 3M.”
“What do you do for them?” “I work in Finance.”
“Do you enjoy it?” “Yeah, it’s a good job.”

Because it’s easy to get caught off guard, I understand that responding like this is the path of least resistance.  But a point I try to underscore is that the path of least resistance is crowded with everybody else.  In this example, Billy didn’t see the question as an opportunity.  Though his answers were technically correct, they don’t tell the full story.  In fact, they don’t really tell any of the story.  I still have no idea what Billy does.

Billy could have answered the question in a number of different ways, all more interesting, and all brief.  That’s why this is an important skill to learn.  You can answer this in a meaningful and interesting manner if you build a response in advance.  We’ve all worked on our elevator pitch–this is something different.  We don’t always have 30 seconds to outline our position and our background, and we’re often taken off-guard.  Or we’re in a non-business situation where we’re definitely not wearing our professional hat.  So in one sentence, how do you describe what you do?  How do you convey more than your company or position?  Start with practice.

“I help creative new ideas get the funding they need to become real products that meet consumer needs.”  Why didn’t Billy say that?  Because he has never thought about a simple, one sentence answer to the question.

“I monitor at-risk clients to make sure the financial products they buy are suitable for them.”  That’s much better than “I run reports and send them to my boss.”

“I research consumer trends to help identify untapped market needs that our company could help meet.”

And that’s it.  A well-crafted sentence about what you do speaks volumes about who you are, the pride you take in your work, and your understanding of how you fit into the bigger picture.  I bet it takes the average person only 20 minutes to build their own, and that’s time well spent.


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