Starting the Conversation – What do you do?

We have all been asked a million times, “What do you do?”  How do you answer the question?  Do you launch into a long winded explanation, or do you say something boring like, “I’m in sales at ABC Company.”  Your answer can make or break the conversation. It can help you engage or repel the person you are talking to,  and yet, so many people spend little or no time determining what to say and actually practicing it.

My initial response used to be: “I’m a sales consultant and what I do is work with  senior management to do a gap analysis and figure out what they need to do to get them from where they are  to where they want to be. ”  I have watched eyes glaze over and hear the word, “Oh” come out of their mouth.  I was stuck there.  When they said “Oh” I would immediately ask, “What do you do?” and switch the attention to them.

It took time, but I worked on a (short) interesting answer that prompted, “How do you do that?”  I finally ended up with, “I help companies increase sales.”  When they ask how I do that, I have a few short stories prepared that I can tell, or if it’s the appropriate situation I’ll offer examples for their own company. If the situation allows, feel empowered to tailor to the person you are speaking to.

  • Your goal: to engage the people you are conversing with and prompt more interest. Once you reach that point, you can give your “elevator pitch.”

The idea of an “elevator pitch” is that if you had a one minute elevator ride and someone asked you, “What do you do?” you could tell them in that time a way that catches their interest. I suggest having a couple different lengths, as sometimes 30 seconds is all you have. Here are some examples:


  • Instead of, “I’m a Realtor and I am looking for anyone who wants to buy a home.”   This doesn’t help you stand out and it’s not engaging,  you are one of thousands. But if you said, “I help first time home buyers find their dream home.  I specialize in homes under $200,000 in the Reno area, and I would love to meet people you know that are looking for their first home.” Not only would people be more engaged, they would know exactly what kind of lead to send your way and might even know someone who fits your description.
  • Instead of , “I’m a tax accountant.”  Say something like, “I like to help business owners keep their money in their pockets.  I specialize in preparing taxes for companies with revenues under $10 million and I am looking for business owners who believe they should be paying less to the IRS.”

Those sentences convey clearly what you do and who you do it for.  It tells the listener an idea of who to refer to you, all in 15 seconds.  If needed you could probably add 2 or 3 more sentences.  I recommend brainstorming some things you can say, write them down, rework them and then practice saying them until it becomes second nature. Then practice, practice, practice.

Need help crafting your answer to “What do you do”?  Call me for a special session for only $97,  if you mention this blog post.

For more on networking, read my most recent article in Connect and my related articles or go to my website and request my free e-book Connecting Your Way To New Business.

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About the Author Alice Heiman

Alice Heiman has been helping companies increase sales for more than 20 years. Her innovative sales leadership programs, coupled with her top-down approach to creating long-term change, set up sales leaders and sales-managing business owners to get consistent and sustainable growth.

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  • Tom Costello says:


    Great insight into the elevator pitch. When I was in the meetings and events space I shared a brief pitch that went like this….”I put heads in beds”. Could you imagine the look on their face?

    It seems today that networking is a lost art that is often dominated by “card collectors”.

    It’s important to remember that business networking is a social activity where groups of likeminded individuals come together to share information about themselves, their area of expertise, provide and receive business referrals to/from other members, and serve as a resource for others.

    • Alice Heiman says:


      I love it! “Heads in beds.” People get that, it’s engaging and they want to know more. I agree that networking has become a card collecting game or if not that it’s groups of people who already know each other standing around in a tight-knit circle chatting. Neither of those qualify as networking! I got so tired of those I started my own networking events and I call them BizTalk Blenders(R). This way I invite the people I want to meet and structure the event so they get to meet each other and have business conversation instead of people trying to sell them something.

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