There is a school of thought that asking a person what they do for a living is a bad icebreaker. I discovered this recently, while I was at a conference speaking with a friend. He explained that he was tired of the question, because there is so much more about a person than what they do for a living. I pondered the thought and I agreed at the time. However, I read a book recently (hat tip to Chris Brogan) that changed my thinking on whether or not this is a good question to ask somebody you meet. In "Thou Shall Prosper: Ten Commandments for Making Money" by Rabbi Daniel Lapin, he justifies why asking what you do for a living is an important icebreaker.
Lapin writes, “What do you do for a living? is a legitimate question because the inquirer really wants to know what the person does for other people. He or she is wondering how others find you useful. How you help your fellow humans is a proud part of your identity. The only person to be embarrassed by the question is one who has no answer.”
We should be proud of what we do. If we are ashamed or embarrassed, than we should probably be seeking other means of work. The question is valid and should be answered with pride.
Lapin continues, “… no matter how you serve your fellow humans, think of yourself as doing something fascinating; see yourself in business, rather than merely being something.”
What do you do for a living?
When I get asked what I do, I reply that I help people understand how to truly use social media and content marketing to grow their business. If they ask me for more details, I explain how I audit what they are doing online, make recommendations and provide them with a way to measure the results to be sure they succeed.
What is it that you do? Take a moment right now to grab a piece of paper and a pen and write out a short paragraph. Repeat it out loud to yourself. How does it sound? If it feels good, read it to a colleague or your spouse for their opinion. My wife, Heather, provides me with feedback that always helps with everything from client work to writing my book, "New Business Networking." Test your own answer to ensure it accurately paints a picture that someone asking will understand.
I was picking up a few things at my local, big-box hardware store last weekend, when I was blatantly reminded that the holidays are just around the corner. I’m not talking about Halloween or Thanksgiving, I’m talking about the one with the big jolly fella in red. Every professional knows that with holidays come holiday parties, which makes the season perfect for honing our networking skills.
The next time you find yourself at a networking event, mixer or conference, don’t hesitate to ask someone what they do. Ask her a few follow-up questions to learn more about her business. When the time comes, she will likely ask you what you do. Be proud to explain how you help people with your work. She may even become your next customer.
This article originally appeared in The Tennessean Newspaper.