I recently wrote about the question “What do you do?” during my experience at the TEDxZurich 2013 conference.

In short, I was not able to properly answer this question so people outside of my industry would actually understand the full scope of what I do in one sentence. This made me think.

A lot of people get asked this question many times every week and most of them answer it in a way that is confusing or sounds like everybody else (including me until a few months ago).

In this blog post, I will show you how you can answer this question to make it crystal clear to people, even outside of your industry, what you do so they can remember and refer you to their friends.


So, What Do You Do For a Living?

This question always comes up at every single event you go to. No matter if it is an industry conference, social networking meetup, hiking trip, new years eve party or if you go to the cinema and your friend brings along somebody you have never met before. 

The question is usually coming up soon after you have introduced yourself with your name.


I’m a Partner at a Startup

Think about this situation for a moment. You are working at a startup as a partner and are responsible for the growth of the company. You are basically the business development guy.

Now, let’s say you go for Friday evening drinks in the city with some friends and they bring along some people you don’t know. You introduce each other and where you know your mutual friend from. 

Then, the question comes up “So, what do you do for a living?”.

You try to think of something sophisticated, something elegant, something impressive. What comes out is “I’m a partner at a startup and responsible for business development”. 

Not a very unique statement. Not even a statement that somebody can easily understand. What does partner at a startup mean exactly? What is business development anyway?


I’m a Banker

Let’s look at another example. Let’s say you meet somebody and after asking the person what he does for a living, he says “I’m a banker”.

Let’s imagine that you are not an immense fan of banking after what happened in the past years in the banking industry. Let’s imagine your only real experience with banking is your knowledge of the insanely low interest rates of your bank account and the recent news articles about the extraordinarily high bonuses the bankers take home even when they screw up.

What is your first impression about that banker? How do you judge this person based on what he told you he does?

I don’t think this chat is going very far.

Maybe he is a really nice person, maybe he is somebody you would get along with great, but because of his extremely generic statement and your experience and beliefs about banking, the conversation ends here.


I’m a Consultant

One more example. Let’s say you are consulting with startups. Maybe you are doing something pretty complex and specific.

You go to an expat meetup in Zurich and introduce yourself as your name and with “I’m a consultant”.

What does that say about you? How much does the person you are talking to know about what you actually do?

I think this is one of the most confusing answers you can give. 

This does not only go for consultants. It goes for coaches, project managers and any type of job title that is so generic that nobody has a clue about what you do.


How to Answer the Question “What Do You Do?” Like a Rockstar

Let’s talk about how you can answer the question so people have a crystal clear idea about what you do and are easily able to refer you to their friends.


Part 1: Who Do You Serve?

This is the first part of the sentence. Who do you help?

Do you help biotech startups? Do you help social entrepreneurs? Do you help technology startups?

In other words, who is your target market? 

If you want to have a highly effective answer for any occasion, this is crucial. It does not matter if you are self-employed or an employee, you are serving somebody (a person or an organization), otherwise you are not a service professional.


Part 2: What Do You Help Them Achieve?

This is the second part to the equation. What is the result they get from working with you?

Do you help them reduce costs? Do you help them get more clients? Do you help them communicate more effectively?

This part needs to be in place to make a lasting and memorable impression. 

No matter what your profession or your background is, you are helping a person or organization achieve something, otherwise there is no rational reason why somebody would ever hire you.

No matter if you are self-employed or an employee, you need to force yourself into thinking like a business owner. If you want to succeed in today’s world, this is a must.


5 Example Answers to the Question “What Do You Do?”

“I help technology startups in Switzerland establish a company culture based on their core values”

“I help clean-tech startups in Switzerland raise more money for funding”

“I help social entrepreneurs in Switzerland implement a highly profitable business model”

“I help biotech startups in Switzerland implement highly efficient software systems”

“I help technology startups in Switzerland multiply their profits”


In my case, I help English speaking business professionals in Switzerland create a career on their own terms.


You Decide How You Are Known in the World

What you basically do with this exercise is create one part of your personal brand identity in the way that you define. You tell the people you meet how you want to be known in the world. They will remember you the way you want.

Also, if you use this simple formula, you help the people you meet remember you when they get an opportunity to refer you.


How to Get Referred by New Contacts

Let’s say you help technology startups in Switzerland to multiply their profits. Imagine you just met somebody at an event and he meets a startup founder two weeks later at the Startup Weekend in Zurich

The founder tells your contact that he is very excited about his new venture but even though revenue grows, the bottom line stays red since quite some time.

Do you think the chance that your new contact remembers you is higher if you answered the question “What do you do?” with “I help technology startups in Switzerland multiply their profits” than with “I’m a business development director”?


Create Your Unique Statement Now

It’s time to get to work. It’s great to know all of what is mentioned above but if you don’t implement, there will be no results.

Take 15 minutes right now and write down your best answer in the comments below to the following two questions:

1. Who Do You Serve?

2. What Do You Help Them Achieve?


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