What Do You Do?
Written By: Ibby Smith Stofer
What is one of the simplest questions we are often asked? It is simple and is usually the question that follows, “What’s your name?” This happens in social and business situations. How you answer can make a huge difference in whether the other person sees you as boring and thoughtless or interesting. This one question and your response are often the basis of how you will be judged or whether the other person wants to learn more or move on to meet someone else. It can be an in-person discussion, on social media, email, and phone. In each situation, the way you answer the question will form a foundation, good or bad, for your relationship with others.
Did you guess that it was, “What do you do?”
Similar to the response we give when asked, “How are you?” where we auto-reply, “Fine.” When asked, “What do you do?” we often respond from habit and provide our job title as an almost automatic response. However, the individual inquiring may not want to know your job title or the company’s market segment. They want to know the answer to the following three questions. Even if they don’t directly ask them in these words, how you respond is important to both parties.
- What do you do?
- Who do you serve?
- What sets you apart?
In business, these three questions and their answers are known as your positioning statement – like the well-known elevator pitch but one that goes beyond what can be said during a 30 second elevator ride. A name introduction followed by job title and company does not engage the customer or contact to want to know more and evaluate if they see a reason to ask more questions.
Let’s look at how many of us might reply to the first question based on habit and the other person's possible reactions and self-talk.
What do you do? You reply: “I work in sales for a major finance company.” Or you may reply, “I am a consultant in the healthcare industry.”
The other party may be thinking, “Oh no, not another salesman!”. Or perhaps, “All those finance companies just want to make money off us.” Or the consultant's reply may lead them to think that you are a smooth talker, but “from my experience, healthcare consultants have not done much for me.” These self-talk assessments based on the answer given will rarely lead to a winning relationship.
Do you think they would want to delve deeper based on that reply? If that was the answer to the first question, most people would never ask the next two questions.
In a social situation, they will most likely be spending some time at an event, so being polite, they will often explore a little more to determine if you share anything in common. They may ask you what your company does or what is the company name, but their interest in knowing more may not go any deeper.
I want to focus on answering these questions from a business perspective. In business, the other party wants to discover who you are, how what you do can help them achieve or overcome problems, and why they should work with you specifically.
Let’s try a different response to the question, “What do you do?” and see where that may take the conversation.
“I help healthcare providers understand the pluses and minuses of making a technology decision. Recognizing that this type of decision is rarely made by one individual, I work with key healthcare personnel at all levels. Working for several years in this field, I understand the challenges and impact that older technology has on both staff and patients.”
From there, the discussion can go in many directions. (Note: This response can work for either the salesperson or consultant reply noted above.) It will often lead to the other party asking, “What kind of companies or individuals do you work with?”
Your answer may sound something like this:
“I work with both individual healthcare providers from clinics to the largest systems as well as with many well- known device and software companies that also specialize in healthcare.
Healthcare is complex, and the tools needed to impact patient care are continually being updated or introduced. Upgrading or replacing technology is expensive and often unbudgeted. That is where my company and my expertise in financial options enables providers to move forward regardless of capital constraints.”
How do you usually answer the question, “What do I do?” Does it invite others to want to know more? Does it raise their interest or desire to ask follow-up questions?
They might then wonder, “I am sure that there are many people and companies that claim to provide similar services. What makes you unique? Why should I choose to work with you?”
Your ability to also provide credibility or answer their spoken or unspoken question might sound like the following:
“Let me tell you why over 2000 hospitals, major IDN systems, and providers outside the traditional hospital setting choose to work with my company. Our founders believed that healthcare and technologies to improve care were important to everyone but too frequently are outside the constraints of traditional capital access. They founded Med One with this belief being their driving force. Over the past thirty-plus years, they have worked with most major movable medical equipment suppliers to provide options and accelerate provider access to technology. They have listened to the customers, the device and software companies, and taken risks that banks and other financing companies shy away from. They use simple business language documents and do the heavy credit approval lifting without burdening the customer.
As an employee of Med One, I am bound by those same beliefs and a culture that allows me to be your voice and represent you to manufacturers and our financing partners. We are truly committed to making you successful. We work with all levels within the organization to understand what can and will work for your situation. We don’t have cookie cutter solutions because we know each situation is different.”
To best understand why the answer to these questions makes a difference, I suggest you conduct a self-test of your auto-response. Think realistically and honestly. How do you usually answer the question, “What do I do?” Does it invite others to want to know more? Does it raise their interest or desire to ask follow-up questions? If not, try to rewire your automatic response to focus on how you help solve problems or offer solutions.
As you reflect on these changes or rethink your own replies to encourage others to ask more questions, don’t forget to think about your online profiles as well. If you look at your profile on social media sites, ask yourself if it answers these three questions. Does it demonstrate or tell a story of what you do or why you do it? Does it invite others to want to know more? Can they see value in exploring a relationship with you?
Approaching initial interactions in business or on social media with a focus on how you help others through what you do can make each opportunity a lot more fun. Use storytelling, and share your passions and successes to allow others to see you as more than your current job title! Give it a try and begin to think of what you do as a path to helping others succeed, and you may find that your own success multiplies. Good luck.