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What Do You Do for a Living? How to Answer It Like a Bestseller

what do you do for a living

What do you do for a living? Before you cringe over the question, let me show you how to make this question your best friend.

What do you do for a living? Those six words used to feel like a dissection into my being. A part of me pulled back like ‘did this person just ask me what I look like naked? Oh wait… no, no they didn’t actually.’ Yet, in my mind I heard something like that. Then I’d ask myself ‘why do I sound like an anxious teenage girl all of a sudden?’

Here’s why. For all of us, success is important. There can be a lot of pressure to win by friends, family, associates. And the more masculine you are, the more you measure your personal life success in terms of your livelihood quality, e.g. money earned, job satisfaction, status, impact. So…

What do you do for a living?

Quickly sounds like…

Tell me about your biggest dreams and goals in life and how much progress you’ve made or not made…

Followed by an innocent stare and rapid blinking by the question asker.

Most people are wary of this question

Your ‘living’ means what you do for work. How you earn a paycheck. But it obviously also has other subliminal questions attached to it. Such as:

#1 Do you actually work?

#2 How much do you earn?

#3 What kind of social importance and reach do you have?

#4 How independent are you?

#5 What phase of life are you in?

#6 How intelligent or skilled are you?

#7 How confident and happy are you about what you do?

#8 How ambitious are you?

Best ways to answer: What do you do for a living?

So, it truly is a beast of a question that quickly gives you a chance to shine or to reveal insecurities. Even if you love your job, you still might not want to boast about it. To compound things, these days many of us do multiple jobs to earn a living. So, if you haven’t taken the time to condense it all, the answer might not be obvious.

But at the core, if this question makes you cringe you probably haven’t given it proper consideration. Here’s what you want to consider to not stutter and look everywhere but at the person who asked the question…

#1 Embracing the spirit of networking. Say I don’t know you. And you don’t know me. We could skip the pleasantries, but then we’d just be dancing around the obvious. Your livelihood has a big impact on your life. And how you feel about what you do makes a difference in how you show up day-to-day. So, it’s important information in getting to know someone.

Get used to introducing yourself and talking about what you do. Roll with the conversational flow. Mostly, people just ask the question because they can’t think of something else more obvious to say. So, the less you treat it as a personal affront the better. [Read: Feeling stuck in life? How to change directions and live your dream]

#2 Considering what the question asker wants to know. If you meet someone new, they’re probably not asking you the question as if you were in a job interview.

They probably just want to get a flavor of what interests you or what you might know quite a bit about. Or to get a feel of your general life situation. Taking this perspective makes you feel less defensive or under pressure. [Read: Get to know who you really are with these 8 questions]

#3 Being realistically clear. You don’t have to use your formal job title. It’s more important to give them an accurate understanding of what sort of impact you make in your job. So, say you’re an ‘executive officer’ but your job mostly involves managing operations. In that case, saying ‘operations manager’ is a better title. It more accurately expresses your main functions.

#4 Working out what your brand is. In my opinion, knowing your brand forces you to work out your why.

a. Why do you do what you do?

b. Why does your work make you money?

c. Why does your job work for you?

Asking yourself these questions helps you capture that magic. This is important for you to know and live by, rather than to tell the person. [Read: The need for purpose in your life and what it can do for you]

#5 Condense your brand into one sentence. Short and sweet is best if it’s a casual encounter. Condense everything you do for a livelihood into one sentence. Focus it on the essence of what change you create each day. For example, an electrician might say ‘I have lots of interesting conversations each day and solve dangerous problems.’

#6 Making your answer open-ended and memorable. No one likes a boring story. Your personal brand should be something that starts a conversation, not a long script. Motivate the other person to excitement or curiosity.

For example, I might say ‘I’m a storytelling wiz–mostly freelance but focused on creating personal impact.’ I know most people have not come across many storytellers so naturally find it intriguing.

They may follow-up with something like ‘oh, what sort of stories do you write?’ This lets me add a bit more context and detail. But again, I’ll keep it condensed. ‘I’ve written a few personal development books. And I do freelance work for popular blogs and personalized content sites.’ Not everyone feels your personal brand, but you attract the right people for who you are at your best. [Read: 12 meaningful topics that ignite an intellectual conversation]

#7 Staying in the moment. The important thing’s not to make it feel as if you lead them on a pre-designated course. Just offer a description and let them generate their own ideas if they’re curious about learning more. They might simply make a remark and then you can ask them what they do.

But if you still hold on to the next piece of your reply, you’ll be awkward and throw in discordant notes into the conversation. Keep fluid, improvisational, and on-rhythm with the moment.

#8 Being relatable. We like to converse with people we relate to. Rather than trying to impress, consider how what you do affects people like the person who asked the question. This immediately makes what you do relatable to their life right then in that moment.

It also makes you seem like the expert at that thing in their eyes. What you do potentially affects them in some way and that understanding pulls them into the conversation.

Example:

Them – ‘What do you do for a living?’

You – ‘I tell stories about people who wear pretty blue dresses and who have brown hair.’

Them – ‘Eh, haha, what?’

You – ‘I’m a writer.’

Them – ‘Oh really? Bla bla bla… *conversation*.’

#9 ‘Rule number 1 no explaining.’ Those are 6lack lyrics. You don’t need to explain why you do what you do *you just need to know why*. Unless you’re asked of course. So just state what you’re up to and maybe something brief about what you enjoy about it. You’d be surprised.

Age-old story craft wisdom says to describe only the tip of the iceberg. Then let the reader fill in the rest. Saying less is more *no need to overthink this however or be weirdly cryptic*. Just keep it simple. You usually come across as interesting. [Read: How to keep a conversation going no matter what you’re talking about]

#10 Adding a small future plan description if they also participate. If the person seems really interested in learning more about me, and is also investing in telling me about them too, then I might give a small insight into my future plans. E.g. ‘my goal is to write a fiction series – urban fantasy. I’m in the planning stage right now, which is the part that makes you want to rip your arms off.’

This has the cool effect of attracting people who share similar ambitions. They get a true snapshot of an aspect of my vision for my life. [Read: How to make new friends as an adult]

#11 No need to be perfect. You don’t need to be able to be able to score off lines as if reading from a teleprompter. But you do need to know the heart of what you do succinctly. This means that, even if you trip up here and there in your wording, you never lose a sense of what your brand is. You know it clearly. Journaling daily is a great way of building this.

#12 Answering confidently. Perfection is overrated, but confidence isn’t. Keep it solid rather than being awkwardly humble or embarrassed about your work. Even if you’re unemployed, just give context.

#13 If you’re courting, you may want to say less. Telling your partner too much about you kills the magic. It dissolves the intrigue and air of discovery. The feminine particularly loves to discover who their partner is through their behaviors and by physically being present in their life.

More important than detail is to let them see who you are by being in your presence: the way you talk, how you think, how you treat people, and so on. [Read: Getting to know someone – How long does it take?]

#14 Not resisting the question. Turn the question into an opportunity to make jokes and then change the subject.

So, if a girl I’ve only recently met asks me ‘what do you do for a living,’ I might just shrug and say ‘I’m all about storytelling. It’s my gift and curse.’ I might add ‘I write for a few companies and have a few books out.’

If she asks for more details I’ll just be unspecific and steer the topic elsewhere. I want her to know 30-40% about who I am through me just telling her. The rest she fills in by deduction, seeing who I am over time, and imagination. [Read: How to be mysterious without being too distant]

#15 Making funny fake first responses. If I’m in the mood, these can be a funny way to make this part of the conversation less predictable. For example:

– ‘I donate plasma weekly.’

– ‘I’ve been unemployed since childbirth and sleep on this street corner just here. These shoes aren’t new, even if they do look amazing.’ [Read: Dry sense of humor: 20 signs you’ve mastered the dry funny bone]

#16 What if you hate your job? Get a new one. But in the meantime, I wouldn’t assume the person judges your value based solely on your job prestige. And if they do, perhaps they’re not worth knowing anyway. Being able to talk about things that aren’t perfect in your life is a sign of self-confidence.

You could add a bit about your future plans, your potential, and your drive. This gives them some small insight into what your personal brand looks like in the future.

[Read: Rock-steady self-respect: How to fine-tune your internal compass]

The what do you do for a living question can be a great way to spark up interest and conversation. The key to answering is to not be boring, know your brand, and keep your answer open-ended.

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Dexter Pickett
Dexter Pickett
Dex is half werewolf. When not in the full of moonlight he writes, makes music and mentors. After clocking over-time on London’s streets and clubs with his al...
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