Asking “What Do You Do?” at Networking Events is Boring, Monotonous and Often Doesn’t Work


We have a fabulous guest post from Grub Clubber Ed Goodman on how to improve your networking skills. Ed is co-founder of Cambridge Business Lounge and author of New Business: Next Steps available to purchase from Amazon now.

Asking “What Do You Do?” at Networking Events is Boring, Monotonous and Often Doesn’t Work

Imagine going to a networking event where you’re confronted by a stream of people asking the same opening question “what do you do?”, “what do you do?”, “what do you do?”… It’s boring, monotonous and, I believe, serves little purpose than to keep us in our comfort zone. It happened to me not long ago and, by the time the third person kicked off a conversation with the same questions, I couldn’t help myself and responded with “Why was that the first question you wanted to ask?”

“I just wanted to know a bit about you” they replied. “Okay then, I have 2 sons, I play cricket and I hate spiders, does that help?”

Okay, I accept that my response didn’t endear me to her very much, but my point here is that asking “What do you do?” at the beginning of the conversation is irrelevant. Even if I sold the exact product or service that they were desperately in need of at that time, they were no more likely to buy from me if I told them what I did, then they were before we met. Also, do we really care about the answers? “I’m a Consultant of no one cares.” It may be easier to ask and state our name, rank and number, but far less interesting than what lies beneath our chosen careers and what really helps us to stand out from others.

Even if you’ve established a need, a want, a financial fit and a timescale, there’s still nothing to glue those factors together without trust. In one post, written by writer Ann Hawkins, she states that “You win people over by consistently sharing your values, your beliefs, and your stories.” Therefore, asking what someone does for a business tells you little about who they really are, which is what we should be trying to understand.

Dear reader, I can almost hear you asking “Okay, that’s all well and good, but how should I start a conversation then?”

My suggestion is to build a conversation with a simple foundation question, such as “What brings you to this event?” By all means, ask them at some point what they do, but only when you care and you can see some potential in the relationship.

And the next time someone asks you “What do you do?” tell them what you’re passionate about, what really drives you, and then ask them to do the same. The conversations that spawn from this tactic will be far less predictable and so much more fascinating.

As the late Maya Angelou once wrote “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

So instead of starting a conversation by finding out what people do, be more interested in who they are and why they do it.

Ed Goodman|Co-Founder