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Stop asking boring questions when you meet new people

One of the most amazing things about humanity/networking would be this: almost everyone leads with “So, what do you do?” Despite the fact that you will be asked that question probably 8,000+ times in your life, many people (myself included) do not have a good answer for said question. I was on this “Recruiting Animal” podcast a month or so ago (don’t ask) and he asked me to define what I did. I stammered around some bullshit for a while and concluded with some genius nugget like “… so I write for other people, I guess.”

I’ve been doing what I do — which is admittedly pretty simple to describe — for a little over two years. Probably gotten the question 300 times. I never answer it that well.

Plus: it’s fucking boring. It initially makes the assumption that what you do — i.e. your vocation — is the most important, top of mind, pressing thing that I, as a new person, could possibly know about you. But we also know 15% of people are engaged with their work — which, quick math, means 85% of people are not. So about 9 in 10 people you could meet, when you ask them this question, it’s not even something they probably even want to discuss.

Also: most jobs these days are largely digital paper-pushing. (Sorry to break that to you.) So when you queue up “What do you do,” the real answer is probably “I manage projects for someone else, usually with some type of digital software suite that’s actually doing the work.”

Hardly an interesting convo.

And we wonder why networking is often such a mess.

So, now what?

Some better questions you could ask

I’ve emailed with this dude David Burkus a few times personally. He’s never been that nice to me, but his stuff (his “content”) is pretty good, so here we go. New article by him on this exact topic: other questions to ask aside from “What do you do?” Some of his suggestions:

  • What excites you right now?
  • What are you looking forward to?
  • What’s the best thing that happened to you this year?
  • Who’s your favorite superhero?
  • What’s the most important thing I should know about you?
  • What do you do for fun?
  • Is there a charitable cause you support?

My take, in same order:

  • Creepy, especially guy to girl — but if you’re already discussing bitcoin or something, this seems OK
  • Broad but could lead to a good convo
  • Interesting
  • A little weird but might go somewhere
  • Odd and if a sales-y guy said this to me, I’d break his jaw
  • Boring
  • Kind of interesting

A couple of more things about networking

Just a few I’ve observed and would toss out there:

Have a good answer ready for “What do you do?” Because you will get that Q more than anything else.

Two open-ended questions on your side: This seems like good advice.

Don’t overthink the idea of networking: Be yourself; that’s going to be more effective.

Understand ideas like “mindshare” and Dunbar’s Number: There’s a science to all this.

Much more about “give” than “take:” Hopefully you knew this already.

First impressions don’t matter as much as we think: Yep.

Internal networking is often much, much more important than external networking: You need to chase those internal rabbis.

The bottom line: be interesting, listen, give to the other person, don’t force them immediately into “Are you a lead” type context, and be yourself. You got this.

So… what do you do?

Ted Bauer

One Comment

  1. Recommendation: Study Nonviolent Communication skills by the late Marshall Rosenberg.
    Reason: Use of these skills makes the person you are conversing with feel valued, listened to, understood, & puts them at ease. It prevents boredom, defensiveness & anger.

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