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How to Answer the “What Do You Do?” Question

How to Answer the “What Do You Do?” Question

Jessica Holbrook Hernandez

December 08, 2010

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, just over 4 million Americans lost their jobs in 2009 alone. For those millions of people, a new reality has emerged that may include stress, financial difficulties, and uncertainty about the future. Many sociologists have written about the long-term psychological effects of prolonged unemployment. One problem often mentioned is the loss of identity experienced by people who are out of work.

Think about it: When you meet someone socially, one of the first five things you will probably ask them is, “So, what do you do?” or, “Where do you work?” For someone who has lost his job, this question suddenly becomes difficult to answer. It’s a lot easier to say, “I’m an analyst at XYZ Bank,” than to say, “I used to work as a financial analyst, but I got laid off last year.”

Because it can be difficult to retain your identity through a period of unemployment, it’s particularly important to surround yourself with people who know you as more than just an employee.  Whether it be your immediate family, spouse, former coworkers, or closest friends, spending time with people who fundamentally understand, like, and respect you—regardless of where you work at the moment—is critical.

Not only does time spent with family and friends help you to retain a positive sense of yourself, but it can also provide you with ideas for promoting yourself during your job search. Talents that may seem common to you often stand out to your friends.  or instance, a friend may say to you, “You’re so good at organizing events and connecting people, you should be running a nonprofit somewhere!” Or, “You’re fantastic at explaining things—have you ever considered becoming a teacher?” The strengths friends identify in you can be helpful as you market yourself through cover letters and resumes.

As quickly as possible in your job search, it’s important to develop an answer to the question, “What do you do?” For the person mentioned above, an appropriate answer might be, “I’m looking for a financial analysis opportunity with a large bank.” Objective statements are no longer fashionable to use on resumes, but it’s great to have one ready whenever someone asks about your career! Succinctly summarizing the goal of your job search not only helps new acquaintances understand your situation but also allows your family and friends to think clearly about who might be able to help you from their network.

People who know and love you provide invaluable support during a time of unemployment. Heed what they have to say about your strengths, and focus their efforts to help by having a clear goal for your job search.

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