Your Job is Not Your Personal Brand

Last week, I was at a typical networking-style event. We signed-in, got drinks, and then found a group of people to mingle with.

And then the inevitable questioning started: What do you do?

This is the question that always drives me crazy at networking events.  It annoys me because most people answer this question by saying the job they do at the company they work at:

“I’m a salesperson at XYZ corportation.”

This made sense 20 years ago when people stayed in the same job for decades. My grandfather spent almost his entire career at 3M. When he told people he was an engineer at 3M, that worked because that job description was his personal brand. As long as he did good work and wanted to stay at the company, 3M rewarded his loyalty with a guaranteed job.

But today, I wouldn’t recommend answering the “What do you do?” question with your job description. It is highly unlikely that what you’re doing now will be the same thing you’re doing in 3 years. In this economy, you might not even be doing that job in six months. (Either by your choice or not.)

In this recession, the job market is especially volatile, but it won’t get better. Yes, hiring will go up, but you’ll never find a job that will be secure for 20 years.

Why is this? Many reasons, including the fact that the Internet, which makes it possible to work from home also makes it possible to outsource work–even knowledge work like marketing–overseas. And also companies no longer reward their loyal employees with the guarantee of a job. Immediate profits and stock prices are more important.

Today, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the average worker will hold at least 10 different jobs before hitting 40 years of age.  Forester Research predicts that younger workers will hold at least 12 to 15 jobs. Average job tenures are hovering at about 4 years, but  Gen Y employees are now averaging 1.5 – 3 years at a job, and some IT professionals switch jobs every 6 months.

Of course, both employers and employees are responsible for the rapid decline of time people spend at their jobs. Employers because it’s easy to lay-off workers when times get tough and workers because they don’t feel pressure to stick around when something better comes up.

For that reason, it is almost guaranteed (especially if you’re younger) that you’ll be switching jobs within the next years.

That’s why you should never, ever make your job into your brand at networking events. The job probably won’t last, and you don’t want contacts to only associate you with your current position at your current company.

So resist the easy answer to “What do you do?” and concentrate instead on telling people more about your capabilities and the value you bring. Your current job can be a part of that description, but don’t let it become the entire thing.


Katie Konrath writes about creativity, innovation and “ideas so fresh… they should be slapped!” at