“What do you do?”

November 21, 2014

I’m fascinated by the various answers I get when I ask someone “What do you do?”

It should be a simple question but their answer says so much about who they are. Most of the answers can be put into two buckets.

I am a…

With this answer, their job descriptions defines them. I am a consultant. I build automobiles. My favorite example is from Winston Wolf. “I solve problems.”

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I work for…

Here, they put more pride in who they work for than what they do. I work for the city. I’m with JPMorganChase. It doesn’t matter what they do, they do it for this company.

You are your answer

What do you do? Most people don’t think about their answer until asked the question. It is important to think about how you think about your job description and the company you work for. The answer to this question is your personal brand. It is important to me to have a personal brand — it should be important to you.

Throughout my career, I’ve answered the question in different ways. Early in my career, I said I hack into computers. Not only did I feel like that defined me, it was a simple answer everyone could understand. (It also sounded cooler than security consultant.)

I switched when I worked for JPMorganChase. I took great pride in working for JPMC. Given the bank’s philanthropy along with Jamie Dimon’s stump speech on technology defining the bank, I was proud of who I worked for.

Today, I generally answer with I help companies fix their security issues. It’s probably no less defining than I hack into computers but shows a more mature view of the industry. I also want to emphasize that I want to help fix the problem, not just find them.

We used to call it an elevator pitch. Today it’s your twitter headline. You only have about 15 seconds to lock someone’s attention. As a consultant, I use my pitch all the time — and vary it for my audience. Even if you work internally for a company, new co-workers often ask the question. Are you in the Widgets Department or are you in charge of widgets.

What’s your answer?

Of course, you’d say both. I’m a teller at JPMorganChase.