the most disliked career question that ever existed (+ a worksheet for your answer because it doesn’t have to be this way)

Most people (and clients) I know hate being asked: “So, what do you do?”

The conversation is going great. You’re connecting and laughing and then suddenly the other person slips in the dreaded question.

You tell them your job title:

“Oh me .. um … I’m a Career Counselor.”

And you hope the question is satisfied so that you can continue on as you were because they asked this particular question.

(Except they go on! I mean, what are they thinking? How would they like it if you asked them what they did and ruined a perfectly good conversation by making it into an interview all of a sudden?!?)

They continue by asking something to the effect of: “So, what is that anyway? Like what do you actually do?”

(Jeez. Now what?!)

I mean, what are you supposed to say exactly? Do you tell them your job title again and hope that’s the end of it? Or do you go on at length and lose them in details of little relevance to them?

You don’t really feel like talking about work right now or teaching someone the lingo of what you do and how.

And thankfully, doing any one or all of the above is not called for. At all.

Look, you don’t need to get fancy. You don’t need to feel like you’re supposed to suddenly be bragging about yourself when you were clearly taught that was not a most delightful quality. But this is what ends up happening when you treat the question as though you’ve been asked to make a presentation rather than be in a conversation.

For goodness sake, practice before you get asked.

Because you know you’ll be asked now and again. Don’t let those moments be the only time you think about what you do to talk about what you do.

Consider: Actors practice their lines forever (okay, maybe not forever, but certainly dozens of times at least!) to have it look and be effortless for the movies you like seeing! This is the same thing.

So, I hear you (through the screen). I really do. “What can I say that sounds better!? Tell me!!”

I call this technique “I solve a problem in the world” (yes, I just made that up).

I call it that because whatever you do, you exist in a role to be of service because someone has a problem that you help with.

Here are the three parts and what they contain (I’ll be the guinea pig first and then afterwards is the worksheet for you to try yourself, so stay with me):

1:: Think of yourself as someone who solves a “regular ‘ol everyday kind of problem in the world” and present that problem in everyday language. And then form it into a question (because you are in a conversation – not a presentation remember?).

So in my case, that looks like: “You know when someone ticked all the right boxes to get where they are in their career only to still feel unfulfilled? AND they’re not even 40 yet?”

Hopefully the person totally relates and says: “Yeah, I know someone like that.” Or they nod in understanding. Displays of comprehension are good. This is how you know you’ve got the right question/problem combination.

2:: Next, you think of a sentence that sums up what you do in simple terms that anyone who isn’t in your field could relate to because you’re not in an interview and you’re not talking to people in your field. No special language required.

Again, in my case, this sounds like: “Well, what I do is teach these individuals how to become their own career advisor.”

And once again, hopefully there’s some nodding of understanding happening.

3:: Now you need a conclusion that brings everything together because “why would anyone on earth want your help with that or admit that they need help with that?! Can you really help with that?! Can anyone?!”

Using myself as an example I follow up with: “The result is that they have confidence and clarity to navigate their career while being true to themselves. Now and forever.”

So there. That’s what I do.

And that’s when someone says: “I totally know someone that could use your help. I’m going to tell them about you.”

(Oh my, of course. Who am I to stop that from happening, after all? That’s a total compliment.)

I give them my website (because they now want that information) and then I ask them about their work because it’s still such a nice conversation.

So now you … mini worksheet fill-in-the-blank.

You. Are. Welcome. :)

Part 1:

You know how/when ____________________ (category or population group of people that you help) ________________________________ (does something that they think will be fine, but doesn’t actually end up being fine) so they end up feeling ___________________________ (include a feeling or two that this group feels so that they know that it’s time to get help from you)?

Part 2:

Well, that I do is teach/show/facilitate/connect (whatever “action word” is best suited to your work) ______________________________ (a simple way of saying what you do that almost all humans in your sphere but not in your industry can relate to – in a single sentence!). Hint: Can a 10 year-old-relate to your vocabulary and understand your role in the world? Yes?! Good. No?? Don’t hate the kid, keep trying. Don’t be “too adult” or “too corporate” about this. Why? Because then you won’t sound like a human being and people can only really, truly, actually relate to other human beings.

Part 3:

The result is that _______________________ (what do the people you help now have that they didn’t have before? Name one or two feelings that show that the problem is alleviated or resolved or made peace with). It needn’t be anything “big” and by “big” I mean “egotistically grandiose.” If someone needs to find the washroom and you know where it is, it’s a big deal even though it’s a little thing. Hint: Think about what the person wanted in the first place that they didn’t have before engaging with you.

Tweak your sentences, practice them on people who love you BEFORE you get asked again and tweak as needed.

When you see head nods of understanding and receive questions of genuine deeper interest about what you do or know, get a client referral for your up and coming biz, a wild and previously inconceivable job referral or offer that is everything you ever dreamed of but totally didn’t expect – you’ll know you’ve nailed it (And you’d better write to tell me about it!).

You’ll live happily ever after without ever sweating how to answer this question ever again. Whoo hoo!

So (you knew it was coming): What do you do? And like what is that exactly?

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