A beginner’s guide to pitching and answering the question: “What do you do for work?”

Recently I’ve started noticing an odd phenomenon. Somehow six little words – “What do you do for work?” – have the power to make my confident and smart friends mumble, squirm and swiftly try to move the conversation on.

I caught a friend in the act at a party a few weeks ago:

“What do you do?”
“Oh, err you know, I just work in cyber security.. err..”

Just” cyber security!!!

Since being pulled up on it myself at work a few months ago I’ve been noticing it quite a lot. Why are we passing off our jobs like this? Perhaps it’s because many of our jobs don’t fit into traditional boxes that everyone understands. Maybe it’s because we don’t think our jobs are ‘cool’ like some of the jobs we see on social media. Or maybe it’s because we’re not where our teenage self thought we would be by now. But how are we ever going to nail a job interview or pitch or get the most out of networking without being able to bring what we do to life?

I recently went to a session led by Emma Sexton, Harriet Minter and Natalie Campbell from Badass Women’s Hour at Stylist Live all about pitching and selling yourself and your ideas. It was absolutely packed out, which just goes to show how important this topic is! They had four principles which I think are such a great guide for when you’re pitching yourself or an idea:

  1. You will feel awkward, so get over it! Put any awkwardness aside. A lot people feel awkward when talking about themselves, pitching or networking. Don’t let it stop you – it gets easier!
  2. Nail the idea. Time to ask yourself some questions and get to the bottom of what your idea or your job actually is. What exactly do you do? What have you achieved?
  3. Sum it up in two sentences. Now let’s articulate it in a way that is short, snappy and memorable. They suggest breaking it down into two sentences: the first focusing on who you are, what you do and why you do it and the second on how you do it and who you do it for.
  4. Practice makes perfect! No explaining needed on this one!

So come on, take five minutes to have a think about what you do and how to articulate it. Even if you’re in a role which you think has a clear cut job title, like a marketing manager or an auditor or a clinical psychologist or a recruitment manager, think about whether you can translate that into normal words that people actually understand. Cut the jargon.

Now say it with gusto and see whether your conversations take a different direction. Mine are starting to.

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