How do you respond when someone asks, “What do you do?”

Most people reply, “I’m an accountant,” or, “I’m a writer.” What follows is usually a polite nod, an awkward silence or a blank stare.

Everybody has pre-conceived notions about accountants, and writers, and every other profession. If Bob hated his first chiropractor, he may hold resentment toward all chiropractors. By simply naming your professional category, you immediately put yourself into a stereotype based on the other person’s experience.

Citing your professional category is also boring, and can potentially elicit a dead-end response.

You need to answer, “What do you do?” in a way that initiates a meaningful conversation. Let’s walk through the process of creating a script using me an example so you can follow along. At the end, you’ll create your own. Here’s how to engage others in a compelling dialog that makes what do you do crystal clear:

Handshake2Q: “What do you do?”

1. Describe your target market and the biggest problem they face.

Frame this as a question to initiate a two-way conversation.

You: You know how young professionals are losing job opportunities because employers now use the web to research them online?

Them: Yes! My niece’s friend lost a job opportunity at IBM because they found an online forum where she badmouthed her old boss.

Note: Notice how you’re already relevant to someone important to them.

2. Describe how you solve the problem.

You: What I do is help people understand what’s out there about them online, and then take action to control how they are perceived on the web. I run, which analyzes and breaks down our users’ web presence into measurable components that can be improved, and recommends where they should be active online based on their field. It’s a one-stop shop to take control of your Google results for career success.

376591423_c0b3889fc6Them: Last week one of my colleagues Googled me and sent me a link to a college newspaper article where I was mentioned. I had no idea it even existed!

3. Bring up a WOW! story where solved this problem for someone.

You: One of our users had practically no Google results for her name, except one terrible entry on a college gossip site. After using our system, the first two pages of Google results show her professional accomplishments, her blog, and her interactions with the thought leaders in her industry. Because of us, she was recently hired by a top U.S. PR firm.

Note: When you tell a story about a real person, you help people relate in a concrete way.

Them: Wow, that’s pretty neat. My daughter is looking for a job right now. She could definitely use your help.

4. Drive home the benefits your target market receives.

You: We help people like your daughter build a visible, credible and involved web presence that gets them hired, rather than cut from the applicant pool. We make it easy to establish a strong and professional online presence that lasts a lifetime, from her very first job to her last.

2594048276_9b0a44ec025. Close with a call to action.

You: Here’s my business card. Have her check out our career advice blog on the back. Our team of career coaches puts out great content for job seekers like your daughter. And our system is free to try, so have her sign up and see how we can help!

Note: Tangible credibility boosters like blogs and eBooks allow them to interact with your personal brand after you’re gone.

Them: Perfect! Here’s my business card – shoot me an email later today to remind me to tell her.

– – –

Sure, it would’ve been easier to say at the very beginning, “I’m the CEO of” But the people you serve, the problem you solve and the benefits you provide are much more relevant and interesting. And you may not ever get there if they have pre-conceived notions of CEOs. You engaged them instead of relying on their idea of what a CEO does.

To recap, here’s what you need to create your script:

  1. Describe your target market and the biggest problem they face.
  2. Describe how you solve the problem.
  3. Bring up a WOW! story where solved this problem for someone.
  4. Drive home the benefits your target market receives.
  5. Close with a call to action.

Now it’s time to practice, practice, practice your script. The next time someone asks you what you do, DO NOT give your normal response. Instead, ask them if they know about your target market and the problems they face. Use this as a launch pad to engage them in understanding how you can help them, or someone they know. Good luck, and let me know how it goes!


Pete Kistler is a leading Online Reputation Management expert for Generation Y, a top 5 finalist for Entrepreneur Magazine’s College Entrepreneur of 2009, one of the Top 30 Definitive Personal Branding Experts on Twitter, a widely read career development blogger, and a Judge for the 2009 Personal Brand Awards. Pete manages strategic vision for Brand‐, the first online reputation management platform for job applicants, named one of the Top 100 Most Innovative College Startups in the U.S.