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How to Address the “What Do You Do for a Living” Question


It’s common to hear the question, "What do you do for a living?"  It’s also tempting to launch into the usual bits, bytes and blinking lights of your job, which would be ill-advised.  It’s important to present what you do in a humanistic way that invites conversation. 

How to Address the “What Do You Do for a Living” Question

Here’s an example. You might say something like, "People think I'm in the air-conditioning business, but I think of myself as improving indoor air quality for you and ‘x’ million other people who take an average of 16 breaths a minute." 

"That’s interesting.  What do you mean by that?" your prospect asks.

You say, "Well, let me ask you a question. If I were to ask you which is more polluted—outside air or inside air—what would you say?" 

They might say, "I don't know, I think outside air, right?" You say, "Actually not.  Indoor air is 15 times more polluted than outside air. Particulates accumulate indoors and most filtration systems aren’t that great." 


Now you're in a conversation.  The other person might ask, "We're indoors right now. How bad is the air in here?" 

You say, "I can’t say for sure. I haven't done any air testing in here, but I’m sure that if they installed my filtration system we'd be in a better place.  For all we know, we're inhaling all sorts of particulates like asbestos, lead, exhaust contaminants and combustion byproducts that have drifted in through the windows and the air-conditioning system.” 

You could also tell them why these things are important to you.  "What I love about my job is I get to save people energy, but at the same time I improve the quality of their air, which makes them healthier individuals.  And there are studies that prove better indoor air quality improves cognitive functioning.  People literally think better if they can breathe better." 

If your pitch segues into something constructive, everything else falls into place.  Imagine what would have happened if you had said something with no message or human interest at all!  It would sound robotic: "Oh yeah, I'm in the HVAC business.  Do you know anybody who needs any HVAC equipment?  Because it’s been challenging to make my quota this year."  That doesn’t work.  After all, your listener may not even know what “HVAC” means! 

Here’s my final piece of advice.  In order to have this effect, you should begin your pitch with a single question in mind: “Is there anything I could do to make my prospect’s life better?”  The answer to that question will guide your communication and likely facilitate something that benefits both parties.  It will prompt your prospect to think and begin a dialogue on how you might move forward together.

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Posted by Mark Jewell