The “What Do You Do” Question

Over the years I’ve struggled with providing a consistent answer to the “what do you do” question that gets asked at social events. It’s not that I don’t know what I do (although some people question me on that), it’s more so how do I present it in a manner that’s both interesting and relevant.

For many years, I simply said that I was the co-founder of a software company. The most common response to that was the following question: do you work out of your house? Naturally, I’d answer that question and start thinking about how I answer the first question in a way that doesn’t lead to that second question. My new standard answer was the following: I’m the CEO of a software company with X number of employees in Buckhead. Providing more context in the response made for better conversations.

When “what do you do” question comes up I still provide the same response and also add that I’m helping a great group of people build the largest tech entrepreneurship center in the Southeast.

What else? What are your thoughts on the “what do you do” question?

10 thoughts on “The “What Do You Do” Question

  1. Often times when people ask “What do you do”, they are really saying who can I refer to you. Thinking of it in this context can make for a bit of a different response. e.g. X type of people (or businesses) commission me (or my company) to do Y.

  2. This is the original elevator speech, David. I finally distilled mine down to “I lead a group of 200 angel investors that provide capital and advice to early stage technology companies.” With the advent of shark tank most people have at least a vague understanding of the term “angel investor”, and the conversation moves on.

  3. Hi! First of all, I used to live in Midtown πŸ™‚ Hey neighbor.

    Second, this question is such a game-changer for me. I work for a college as a college rep speaking to high school students, but am much more passionate about the idea of insiring students and helping them than I am by the idea that I’m a marketing rep. I’ve recently also shifted to doing some work as a consultant & speaker. Before I started doing stuff on my own, I would say I was “in marketing for higher education.” So boring. The reply was usually the necessary “that’s cool.” and the conversation would die. I started saying “I’m a speaker. I inspire high school students to live their passion and pursue their dreams, and give them practical knowledge to support their mission.” As you can imagine, the latter is much more of a conversation starter!

    As Simon Synek would say, people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. Something like that. πŸ™‚

  4. When someone asks “What do you do?”, often they are really asking who can I refer to you. Looking at it more in this context can lead to a bit of a different response that accomplishes more with less. e.g. X type of people commission me (or my business) to provide them (or their businesses) with Y.

    Understandably, when you are involved in a number of business it can be tough to reduce what you do to something like this. Your read of the situation and setting you are in can help lead to the right path for a response.

  5. β€œWhat do you do” is difficult to answer for those also involved in multiple projects or startups. How do you spend your time, as John mentioned, sounds like a much better question that will yield richer conversations. I think I will start using that question.

  6. Awesome topic!

    One way to think about these conversations is; what value is being created for the participants and where do you want the conversation to go? Kind of like game theory.

    Even though I have been a business owner for more then 30 years I am constantly learning. Once of the most important things that I have been learning the past two years since launching Abeo is listening to and learning about the other person in a conversation, something that is a natural limitation for me.

    In order to learn what I need to know I found that I have to ask good questions in the right order, so that the questions that I ask will determine where the conversation will go.

    When someone asks me, “What do you do?”. I have a few choices, I can straight out tell them, “I am the founder of a software company” (boring!) or I can tell them what value I bring to my clients, such as, “I help organizations get the right people on the bus, avoiding bad hires.”

    Everyone knows someone that was a “bad hire” and can relate.

    The second response option usually means that the response will be, “Oh, how do you do that?”

    Now I have the opportunity to explain how I provide that value, but I don’t.

    Instead I say, “Let me put that in context for you,” and then ask, “what industry (not company!) are you in?”

    They tell me, “x and such industry”.

    Then I say, “Oh, and how do you go about choosing the best people….”

    Maybe they know, maybe they don’t but I am learning about the person and then can then phrase my responses to help them understand and put into perspective how I provide the value that I bring to my clients.

    Perhaps they are not a prospect (likely). That’s okay.
    “Who do you know that is the best in the world at xxxx?”

    Everyone knows someone that is great. I want to know them too.


  7. I get that question quite a bit as well. I just simply reply that I am in the business of adding value to someone’s life and helping them create their own success stories. And by doing what’s necessary to help them make that transition from working harder to working smarter.

    I discovered at least about 10 or so mistakes that a lot of entrepreneurs or business owners are making online or offline, that end up stunting the growth of their respective business. They tend to fall short in the areas of how to properly market themselves. The type of content they put out is subpar or they spend too much time with the technical stuff; rather than focusing on the income producing activities. And I strongly believe that I just may have the solution or fix to help their businesses prosper. Not just for the short term, but for the long haul.

    To find out more about these mistakes and the solution I have.. that will take you and your business to the next level..

    Head over to >>

    Thank me later! πŸ™‚
    ~ Crystal

  8. Lots of comments on this one. It’s such a simple question, yet always sparks debate. I’d also put this in the “What does your company do” category as the more you can simplify the mission the more you know your business.

    My go to is this: “I run a sales team for a software company”. That’s it. You know what field I’m in and you know what I do.


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