“So, what do you do?”

January 16th 2020 in Uncategorized
“So, what do you do?”

It is the standard question at every networking event. If you want to get to know a person and their relationship to work, ask what they do.

I know a lot of career coaches and consultants tend to put the question down. Their line of reasoning is that you should focus on what you’re trying to accomplish, not what you do. That is, in fact, great advice and a much more holistic way to look at your work-life.

However, the question is still a good one in my experience.

Not only is it so ubiquitous it will definitely be one which you will answer time and time again over your career but it’s also a good place to re-focus yourself on what you’re trying to accomplish. Using this seemingly generic question, we can dig deep and come up with some insights into our jobs and careers. “What Do you Do?” can be so much more than a request for title and job description- it can be an opportunity to connect to others by selling what you can do.

Think about what you ‘do’ in your work from a few various angles:

  1. How do you earn a living? Your paycheck comes from your ability to deliver an outcome. Every profession can be viewed as both an organizational function but making it a mission helps you understand what your outcome does. The adage of the bricklayer working on Notre Dame who stated he was building a cathedral always rings true because it points to the value of seeing what you do as more than just a job but a mission. See your contribution for what it is- valuable. Never undersell your contribution.
  2. How do you do what you do? Your abilities (skills, talents, knowledge, etc.) play a large role in how you enjoy your job. Knowing what you can do in a technical sense and being able to demonstrate to others what you’ve done with those skills should give you a sense of confidence. What’s commonplace to you might be completely foreign to someone else. Never undersell your talents and strengths.
  3. How do you deal with others? Defining your job in terms of how you interact with others defines you more than your title ever can. How you treat others and how you behave is an insight into many aspects of your character. We all knew teachers in our past, tragically, who were only there because they were paid. We also knew teachers in our past, hopefully, who were there to make a difference. Never undersell how you’re making a difference in others’ lives.
  4. How are you giving back? Many never find a source of inspiration in our jobs or careers, often by choice. Most actively seek employment just because it pays the bills. Those who don’t care about their vocations usually have found purpose and meaning in life through avocation- those things we do which are work but not employment. Where you volunteer or spend resources can have a larger impact than our jobs. Never undersell your life outside of your work if that’s your source of passion.

When I write a resume or coach a client, I always start by asking “What can you do?”. I go on to ask what a client has accomplished in their careers/lives, where they’ve worked, what certifications/education they have, where they volunteer, etc.

It’s always the best place to start, but it’s just that- a place to start.


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