The Better Way To Answer, “So What Do You Do?”

Don’t just state your job title and smile.

The Better Way To Answer, “So What Do You Do?”
[Photo: Flickr user Aaron Tait]

You’re on the hunt for a new job and you’re networking. Or you’re pursuing new clients for your business. In either case, it won’t be long before someone asks, “So tell me, what do you do?” The quickest way to bungle that opportunity is to state your job title and the name of your company and leave it at that.


There’s a much better way to pitch your skills or your company’s services to the person who asks that question. You want to be not only memorable but convincing–to leave the impression that you’re the person they’ve been looking to meet all along. Here’s how to do it.

1. Figure Out The Problem You Solve

When someone asks what you do, they’re really asking, “How does what you do affect me?” Never forget that in business contexts, people are primarily concerned with themselves and their companies. That’s just the reality. So the best way to be relatable is to solve a problem they have.

That problem might be the overall focus of your business or one just one aspect. It doesn’t matter. You want to zero in on the problem your listener is most likely to identify with.

Let’s say you’re speaking with an entrepreneur who’s starting a business without real sales and marketing knowledge, which you possess. Bingo: problem identified.


2. Reframe The Problem As A Question

Pose that problem to your listener as a question: “You know how it’s hard to . . . ?” or “You know how X is so important but it’s hard to achieve because Y?”

What you want is a first sentence that actively engages the person you’re speaking with by giving something to relate to. Your question should make them think, and then get them to agree with you that yes, that really is a problem–my problem. So for instance:

You know how a lot of talented entrepreneurs struggle with their businesses because they don’t have a sales or marketing background?

3. Now Mention Your Title

By putting this information after the problem, you’re identifying yourself as part of the solution.

Well, I am a business performance and leadership coach with X years’ marketing experience.

4. Describe The Services You Offer

Now it’s time to get into the specifics about whom you work with and what concrete expertise you can bring to the problem your listener faces.

I provide expert counsel and timely solutions to help small service-based business owners grow their companies.

5. Explain The Results You Can Deliver

Still with an eye on the problem you’re aiming to address, acknowledge that you understand the scope of the challenge.

As a consultant I help A, B, and C types of companies avoid costly mistakes like X, Y, and Z by helping to customize market-proven strategies.[/i]


6. Follow Up With Credentials

Now mention the real-world proof that your work is effective.

My background includes a bachelor’s degree in business administration, leadership-coach training, and a master’s degree in psychology. Some of my past clients and successes include D, E, and F.

7. Say How You Ended Up Where You Are

Conclude by summing up what’s unique about what you do and how you arrived at doing it.

I wanted to make a real difference in people’s lives, so in 2001 I left my executive position and launched my practice. My unique background enables me to take a holistic approach to business and marketing that includes supporting the client both as an individual and as a business owner. As a result, my clients are more successful professionally and personally, and I can tailor that approach to the unique marketing needs their companies face.

When you put it all together, be sure to not run through each step breathlessly. Pause after reframing the problem as a question, and adjust your approach depending on the response you get.

Whatever happens, you can feel secure in knowing you made the most out of this encounter, and your listener knows much more about what you bring to the table than if you had just stated your job title and smiled.

Gina Rubinstein is an Emmy Award-winning executive producer who now works as a media consultant and networking expert.