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A creative approach to “What do you do?”

01 Jun, 2020 Careers, Interpersonal communication

This article was originally published in 2015 and has been completely updated in 2020.

These thoughts on developing a brilliant ‘elevator pitch’ have been adapted from advice offered by Liz DiAlto, who provides a lot of useful career feedback to clients.

Here are some top tips for a more effective elevator pitch – the important words you say to people who ask the key question: “What do you do?”

DON’T just give your job title

This is a cop out. There are no 2-3 word descriptions that do justice to what you do. In many ways, job titles are a barrier. Some of them are even gobbledygook that confuse the listener, or they are inflated. A while ago I analyzed the job titles of 2,000 members of the Public Relations Institute of Australia and found that the most common job title was ‘Director’, followed by ‘Managing Director, then ‘Communications Manager’, ‘Principal’ and ‘Public Relations Manager’. I would need a lot of convincing to believe (1) that the most common jobs in the national professional body are ‘Director’ and ‘Managing Director’, and that (2) the titles really reflect the actual importance of their role.

DO: be prepared with an answer you actually feel good about saying

Whether you love what you do, hate it or don’t care, be sure to include a quick nugget about something you love and are interested in – after identifying your organization and your role. Practice a quick, tight summary about your organization as well, because most organizations are not household names.

DO: prepare a list of your interests, your dreams, and what you do to earn money

This is how you’re going to come up with something you feel good about saying. Make a list of words and phrases to include in your elevator speech. This is like searching for the right keywords about yourself. Liz DiAlto spent a lot of time on this exercise and came up with the following keywords:

Words: health and fitness, writer, coach, consultant, trainer, fithealthyandbeautiful.com, writing a book, want to open a studio, work with really busy women, teach them how to take better care of themselves. People’s interests are what make them interesting.

End Product: “What do you do, Liz?”
“Well, you can find me at fithealthyandbeautiful.com and I write for several women’s online magazines as well. I’ll be opening a boutique health and fitness studio in NYC late in [year] and I’m building a platform for my first book.”

Liz: “To think I’ve been telling people I’m a personal trainer, or a health and fitness coach, depending on whatever came flying out of my mouth at that moment. See how much better that was?”

Try it for yourself. For example, here’s my first go: “A lifetime in PR and communication – corporate, government and consulting – which I fell into by good luck. I really enjoy writing and so I write ebooks and a newsletter on PR for people around the world. I contribute back to the community through being active in my professional association.  And I’m looking to see what I can write about next as author of a major PR textbook.”

DON’T: think that people care about the minor details of what you do

(…unless of course, they ask). There is nothing worse, than having to feign interest in someone’s long-winded, energy-sucking description of their job. People care about the end result of your work more than process. So leave those details out.

DO: use your own words

When you’re coming up with your great new answer to “What do you do?” say it how you would say it to your closest friends or your family. There’s no need to use buzzwords or make out you are more important than you really are. Others see through the froth and puffery. Real people who don’t apologize for what they are make the most connections in life. This is very refreshing because so many people are trying to shove themselves into molds that aren’t made for them.

DO: think about others before yourself

Most networkers jump in to talk about themselves, which is unproductive for everyone. The best formula is to take an interest in others; ask them about themselves, even if they don’t appear to be an exciting companion.

Australian author and psychologist Hugh Mackay in his book, What makes us tick?, says there is no such thing as a boring person, only a bored listener, so your task is to take an interest in the other person. Involve them by asking them questions that reveal interesting things about them. It’s almost like being a good newspaper reporter: keep asking questions, especially ‘Why?’ until you find out unique things about them and chat about those things. When you do, you find they are more interesting and that the connection is much more productive for both of you.

About the author Kim Harrison

Kim Harrison loves sharing actionable ideas and information about professional communication and business management. He has wide experience as a corporate affairs manager, consultant, author, lecturer, and CEO of a non-profit organization. Kim is a Fellow and former national board member of the Public Relations Institute of Australia, and he ran his State’s professional development program for 7 years, helping many practitioners to strengthen their communication skills. People from 115 countries benefit from the practical knowledge shared in his monthly newsletter and in the eBooks available from cuttingedgepr.com.

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