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Life Health > Running Your Business

‘What Do You Do for a Living?’

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Do you find yourself constantly resorting to generic answers when people ask you questions about yourself? It may be time to rethink your approach. So often we drift through our day, not even seeing the opportunities we have in conversation with others. From the simplest “Hey, how are you?” to the more complex questions you are asked throughout your work day, how often do you take time to answer these questions fully?

One of the most critical questions—one that we often shy away from answering in a powerful way—is also the one that can open doors for us. That question is “What do you do?” In answer to this critical question, I have heard even the most seasoned professional use standard, black-and-white descriptions of his or her business. Sometimes they answer “I am a financial advisor.”

And while you are technically answering the question when you say this, you are also opening the door to all of the stereotypes and preconceived notions people have about that title or profession. In many a person’s mind, you are summarily tossed into the vague category of salesperson and immediately forgotten. The real benefits you provide go unstated. In order for prospects to take action, they must want what you have to offer. And it’s your job to make them want it.

The danger with being too detailed in describing what you do is that you risk coming across as sales-y, boastful or confusing. For example, if a financial advisor says “I hold the CFA designation,” will the person being addressed understand what that means? Instead, try using an approach I have overheard some top advisors use. Follow the black-and-white descriptive statement with an absolute home-run connector statement that paves the way for you to talk about your expertise or the benefits of your services: “I hold the CFA designation. And let me tell you why I think that’s important.”

The last statement gives you the opportunity to share information that may be important to the person with whom you’re talking. It will still be a factual description of what you do with the added benefit of being relevant and tailored to your audience. And it may just be your opportunity to put preconceived notions aside and establish the value you represent to your prospect—without being “sales-y.”

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Maribeth Kuzmeski is the founder of Red Zone Marketing, LLC, which consults to Fortune 500 firms on strategic marketing planning and business growth. For more information, go to


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