Have you ever met someone and in polite conversation ask them, “so, what do you do?” and their answer leaves you completely dumbfounded? Either they are really cute about describing themselves using very creative metaphors or use so much technical jargon that you stifle a yawn and begin to wonder if there is a bar nearby, where it is and what is the quickest way to get there. So you end up eyes glazed over, smiling nicely, nodding and saying, “wow that sounds interesting. If you’ll excuse me I just saw someone call me over”. No need to tell them that someone is Jim Beam…. Have you received that look? Then, please, read on.
Let me step back and paint a picture (no bars in this one.). My computer broke and I am an IT idiot. I know “reboot” and that’s about it. Seriously. So when I had to take it to the computer hospital I told them I do not want to know all about my operating system and the complexities of it, really I don’t. My position was: Make it work awesome IT guy, tell me what buttons not to hit again, explain to me as you would a six year old how to get it up and running – that’s all I ask. Make it simple for me, please.
It is similar to when someone asks you what you do – please do not tell them what certifications you hold or the amazing letters after your name, to us lay-people that means nothing. No, wait, I correct myself, to me that means my brain shuts off (not on purpose) but because you lost me. I might pick up on a word or two, but I doubt I am going to ask for clarification because I am completely lost, period. As bad as this will sound for me, you must tell me in simplistic terms what you do or you will lose me.
Let me clarify one point – I am not talking about during an interview when you are asked your qualifications or what you have done. Then jargon away – they will understand you! I am talking about casual conversation. Grocery store, party, at the ball game – those types of scenarios. Networking happens any time, any where, any day – there are no vacations from networking. You must be prepared to tell anyone what you DO.
So, to the main point of this – when someone asks you what you do, answer them as though you are talking to someone completely unknown to your field. Explain in a short, simple response your current job responsibilities or what qualifications you are bringing to the table. Be sure you give an explanation that will invite your conversation partner ask you to tell them more.
And for the record, I admire anyone in the IT field, I really do. My cousin is an IT person and he is amazing, intelligent and awesome. And I will not pick on IT any more, not that I was really picking on you, but it was an easy target for me – remember I’m an IT idiot. So I will use myself as an example from now on.
In a former life I was a Senior Branch Operations Manager in the financial industry responsible for all Compliance oversight for our area’s Banking, Brokerage and Trust Departments. Does that tell you at all what I did? No, it tells you that I had a long title that you could make it into the acronym “BOM”. (My son had fun with that one.) When someone would ask me what I did I would tell them something similar to: “I am a Manager in the financial industry partnering with Brokers and Bankers for your accounts”. This told people what field I worked in and with whom. Nine times out of ten people would ask me how I partnered with Brokers and Bankers or what that meant – because I added “for your account”. It kept the conversation going and gave me a chance to explain a bit more. I would then ask them if they had an investment account and proceed to explain my responsibilities in correlation to their personal experience. It was less intimidating, more interactive conversation and people actually understood what I did because I could break it down to something they related to personally or through someone else.
In this difficult time we get so anxious to impress others with our qualifications and hope that translates into a good networking contact that we overstate ourselves. Just remember, someone cannot be impressed with you if they have no idea what it is you do. Relax, guide us gently through what you do, even better if you can relate it to something we might know, and we will remember you – not for all the jargon, but for your outstanding qualities!