You know that awkward feeling when you meet someone for the first time. That feeling when you suddenly need to step out of your shell and fill the air with some chitchat. Now here’s the thing, making small talk to cut through the stiff atmosphere is common. We all do it – right. Ok perhaps not all, unless you hide in a corner to avoid people entirely – but most of us do. So here is what really gets my goat; when someone start a conversation and immediately revert to my least favourite question.
And that question is “What do you do?”
Somehow that is the first default question that tends to pop out of people’s mouths. To me it is an immediate conversation killer and it is not a question I find welcoming.
When I am posed with this question; my answer is very vague. I never go into detail about my career. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t shy away from what I do for a living or my qualifications. To put it out there I have an administrative role in a university environment and I have a Masters qualification. And usually people tend to pry to get more information.
But what does my job and qualifications really say about me as a person. I can tell you now, absolutely nothing.
So why don’t I like talking about my career when I meet people for the first time. I want people to get to know me beyond my career and credentials. You see when I find myself in a social setting, I disengage from my career and my qualifications. Personally, I find that question very limiting. Answering that question can instantly slap you with a label, and will open up the door for assumptions.
Perhaps it will change your perception of me when you know my career and qualifications. Perhaps you will automatically rank and categorize me according to a socio-economic status. Revealing your occupation might only give an indication of your level of education, potential salary, status and whether your job is significant or not.
Some people see it as harmless and get a thrill out of it when they speak about their careers. They even go on and on about their titles – I call them the title snobs. And those who posed the question might find what they hear quit fascinating.
There is so much limitation to that particular question and it can be a hinder for meaningful conversation. The person you are posing that question to might not have a career or a qualification. They might find their current job boring and don’t want to talk about it.
What do you gain by asking about someone’s career? How will it benefit you and that person? Unless of course, you are talking to a CEO of a company and are seeking a career advancement.
Does asking that particular question allow you to get to know the real person behind the job title?
No, it doesn’t.
My job title and qualifications does not define me. I am more than my job and my qualifications. In fact, I think I am greater than my job. Yes my job brings me satisfaction and pays the bills. It creates security but it’s not the end all and be all of my life. You see, as human beings we are energetic, multi-talented, multifaceted, and sometimes live very complicated lives. Therefore don’t be blinded by someone’s job title as that is just one facet of their life.
Instead of asking me “what I do”, rather ask “what I am passionate about”. Then you will get a real conversation started. I am passionate about a lot of things in life. My husband, my kids, my dogs, blogging, writing, reading, baking, community outreach, the outdoors, chasing dreams – and the list is endless.
So next time when you attend a social event, ask non-work related questions and you will most likely identify with the person outside of their work profile.