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What "What Do You Do?" Really Means

Barbara Wayman

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"Build your reputation by helping other people build theirs. "
-Anthony J. D'Angelo

Aside from “How are you?, " “What do you do?" is probably the question you've been asked most often. Recently I heard a networking expert share what she thinks the question really means. Her take? It means “How do you help people?" or “How can you help me?"

I thought this was an interesting re-frame because it totally changes how one answers the question. Let's say you are a computer consultant. Your standard answer, “I'm a computer consultant, " doesn't really enlighten your listener aside from now knowing you work with computers. How much better to say, “I help companies develop procedures that keep their online information secure. " Much more helpful, right? And more clear.

Revising your answer this way is more engaging and is especially useful if you need to sell your service in some capacity, either inside or outside your organization. The added clarity on exactly how you serve others makes it easier for others to purchase your service or refer you to others.

  • TIP: Take a moment and think about the results that your work delivers to others. When someone asks you “What do you do?" pretend they asked, “How do you help people?" Then play around with some new ways you might answer the question and see which ones create the most understanding and interest. When people seem able to completely grasp your role without needing a lot of follow-up questions, you'll have a winning answer.

This article may be reprinted when the copy right and author bio are included.

(c) 2008 Barbara Wayman, APR, BlueTree Media, LLC.

Barbara Wayman, APR, president of BlueTree Media, LLC, publishes The Stand Out Newsletter, a free monthly ezine for people who want to know how to leverage the power of marketing and public relations. Get your free subscription today at


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