Beyond the Title: How to Talk about the Job You Do


“I hate when people ask me what I do for work. I like my job just fine, but most people think it’s boring and it usually grinds the conversation  to a halt. What should I say?” – Travis from West Orange, NJ


We usually respond to the “What do you do?” question in one of two ways:

  1. We provide our job title or general position, i.e. “I’m in sales” or “I’m the assistant store manager at the Walmart in Fairhaven.”
  2. We talk about the tasks that we do, i.e. “I make sandwiches at Subway” or “I respond to customer service complaints.”

These responses, unless you have a particularly interesting job or one that the other person knows something about, probably elicit a head nod, a few comments and  not much else. The next time you hear someone ask, “What do you do?” imagine they’re actually asking you one of the following questions:

What problems do you help solve?

Talking about yourself as a solution to a problem helps the other person better understand what you do and why it matters. For example, if your main responsibility is training managers, you might explain, “Our company found that when it promoted talented employees, they often struggled because they lacked the skills to manage people. I work with these individuals to teach them how to communicate with and motivate the people who work for them so that everyone can work together effectively.”

What part of your job are you most passionate about?

Listening to people talk about what they’re passionate about is inherently interesting – as long as you don’t go on for too long! As a personal example, while I could say that “I write and edit Goodwill’s blogs and newsletters,” I always try to add, “One of my favorite things that I get to do is be a megaphone for those people who’ve improved their lives with Goodwill’s support – people with disabilities and other challenges to employment. These people’s voices often get overlooked in the media, and I love that I get to play a part in celebrating their achievements.”

If you’re not currently passionate about the job you’re doing now, talk about your future plans and how your present position will serve as a stepping stone for you to reach your goals. For example, while you may not love working as a desk attendant at the library, talk about how you’ve always wanted to be a youth librarian and how this is just the first step on your journey.

What path did you take to get to your current job?

While you don’t want to recite your résumé, think about whether you have an interesting story about how you arrived at your current position. I love talking to people who have educational and professional experience in one field, but through fate or other circumstances, ended up discovering a new interest and ended up doing something totally different.

The people you’re talking to will be totally surprised to know that the guy who does woodworking actually used to be a tax accountant who discovered he had a new talent when he decided to try and make a bookshelf for his office one day.

Good luck!