How To Answer “What Do You Do For A Living?” (With Examples)

By Maddie Lloyd
Jun. 7, 2022
Articles In Guide

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“So, what do you do?” It’s an age-old question that we’ve all heard before. Everyone can relate to how awkward it can be to answer.

How do you talk about your job without sounding pretentious or boring your listener to death?

Here’s the deal:

There’s no right way to answer this question, but we’ll provide a couple of different options for responding. We’ll also include example answers for each strategy.

how to answer what you do

Why It’s Important to Know How to Answer “What Do You Do For a Living?”

When you’re networking or in a job interview, how you answer this question can help you sell your candidacy to an employer, or it can show them that you’re extremely boring and you don’t even really know what you do.

How you describe what you do for a living is a great way to show off your value, your communication skills, and your ability to relate to others.

You’ll want to show that you’re excited and passionate about what you do and that you’re not just punching the clock to get a paycheck.

When is “What Do You Do For a Living?” Most Commonly Asked?

  • Networking events. At these events, most people will be familiar with your job description, or industry you work in. This can be a great opportunity to give more detail and show how passionate you are about your job.

  • Business function This could be at a job fair or a conference. This will usually include people you work with, at all different levels. When talking about your job, this is a great time to talk about your position with passion, especially if you are looking for any different position within the company. Any recruiting manager or high-level employee could be listening.

  • Social events. It can be very common to talk about careers and job titles when starting up a conversation. When discussing your job in this setting, its a good idea to talk about it on a more personal level and discuss what you really love about it. This can also be a good way to get anyone else interested in your job if they are looking for a career change.

How to Answer “What Do You Do For a Living?”

  1. Tell a story about your job. While telling a story, you get to determine exactly what impression you’re going to make about your work and how you spend your time. Whether what you do is good or bad all depends on how you talk about it.

    Use your job title as a means to transition into a story about something inspiring or fun about your work.

  2. Talk about what you do to help people. Another great way to humanize your work and come off as a decent human being is to illustrate what you do at your job to make other’s lives better or easier.

  3. Make it relatable. People will be much more interested in whatever it is that you do if you describe it in a way that’s relevant to them. Think about how your work experiences will resonate with your listener, or how your work could help them (or their business) in some way. This is another great moment to use your storytelling skills.

  4. Skip the mind-numbing details. Even if you think you have the most fun and interesting job in the world, there’s no need to describe the nitty-gritty details of your job. If you’re in a job interview, you’ll most likely be telling the interviewer something they already know.

    If you’re talking to someone outside of your industry, you’ll bore them to death and lose their attention. If someone really wants to know about all the in’s and out’s or your daily tasks and responsibilities, they’ll ask. Until then, keep it short and sweet, and include only the most important details.

  5. Focus on why you’re passionate about the job. When you talk about the parts of your job that excite you, your listener will be excited too. Talk about your favorite parts of your job and the tasks that you look forward to the most.

  6. Promote yourself. This one is more for hiring managers and recruiters and less for the folks you meet at social functions. One of the most common interview questions is “tell me about yourself,” and you can think of “what do you do” as a variation of that question.

    When an interviewer questions you about what you do, they know your job title and the job you’re applying for, so your approach is a little different. Sell yourself by focusing on your strengths and accomplishments. You can even be prepared to delve into your career goals. Just remember not to go too crazy — there are plenty of interview questions to follow this one.

  7. Discuss your journey. Your current job title doesn’t define who you are. But if it’s a line of work you genuinely care about, then the story of how you got there is just as interesting (if not more so) for most listeners. Again, don’t go too wild here and start narrating your auto-biography. Quickly summing up a life’s work isn’t easy, but those who can do it well will stand out in people’s minds.

Examples Answers to “What Do You Do For a Living?”

  • Tell a Story Example

    For example, instead of just saying “I’m a lawyer,” you could say something along the lines of:

    “I’m currently working as a lawyer for an immigration law firm. In fact, just last week my firm settled a case in which we were able to reunite a father with his family and prevented him from being deported.”

    Why it’s a good answer: Dang, that sounds much more wholesome and friendly than just saying “I’m a lawyer.”

    Now, people will think you want to help them, and not just argue with them. When you tell a story, you have control over just what kind of impression you’re making.

  • Help People Example

    For example, maybe you write articles for a website. When someone asks you what you do, you could say:

    “I help people understand how to do research before job interviews, and how to answer difficult interview questions. I also give advice on how to ask for raises and negotiate salary after getting a job offer.”

    Why it’s a good answer: That sounds much more interesting than merely saying “I’m a writer.”

    The next time someone asks you what you do for a living, start off your response by saying “I help people…” and see just what you can come up with.

  • Relatable Example

    “Let’s say that you’re trying to decrease your carbon footprint, and you decide that you want to start using an alternative, environmentally friendly energy source in your home. I’m the person you call to have solar panels installed at your house, and I oversee and manage the project of installing them.”

    Why it’s a good answer: You’ve just described what you do for work in a way that’s relevant to your listener. Now they have an understanding of what you do, how it relates to them, and what you do to help others — and the environment!

  • No Boring Details Example

    I make websites that look great and are easy to use. It’s fun seeing the different ways people interact with my creations and I love getting to make something that’s useful for people.

    Why it’s a good answer: This answer works just as well for a person you meet at a party as it does for an interviewer. You don’t need to be technically knowledgeable to understand what this person does and you can quickly understand why they enjoy the work.

  • Passion Example

    “I’m a freelance graphic design artist, and I typically do design work for companies trying to build a brand. I get to put my creative tendencies to use by creating a product that represents a company’s brand in a way that’s innovative and recognizable.”

    Why it’s a good answer: Being enthusiastic about your work is a great way to get others listening and to make your job sound really fun and stimulating, even if the majority of work is painfully dull and boring.

  • Self-Promotion Example

    “I’m a natural problem-solver with a curious mind. I help clients build awareness through modern SEO tactics. I just recently turned a business around through keyword optimization and designing a cleaner user experience. They saw website traffic go up by 80% in three months. It’s really satisfying work, and I hope to continue a career in Marketing.”

    Why it’s a good answer: Always lead with your strengths and successes, like this interviewee. Notice she also talks about her passion for the job and the results she’s seen in her past work. These are things that will help you immediately stand out to the recruiter or hiring manager.

  • Journey Example

    “Well, I started out working for a non-profit that works with Palestinian and Israeli youths. I really liked my boss there, and when she left to start a program in Central America I couldn’t resist. After living in Honduras for a couple of years, I came back to Texas and started working on immigration reform with a government-affiliated program.

    Why it’s a good answer: This person could’ve just said “I work in immigration reform,” but you learn a whole lot more about their priorities in life when you hear the full story. This way of answering is also ripe for follow-up questions that can lead to a more natural conversation.

Expert Opinion

How To Answer “What Do You Do?”

Erika Overhoff
CEO Master Resume Writer

This is one of the most commonly asked interview questions. While there is no standard rule on how to answer, a great way is to tell a motivational story about how and why you became interested in your area of work. You may include challenges or choices that influenced where you are now, relevant schooling, projects, etc. It is important to keep if brief and close with why your background makes you a great fit for the job.

Final Thoughts

Even though “What do you do?” seems like an easy, straightforward question, giving an insightful answer can be a bit trickier than you might think.

You want your listener to see the value in your work, and to understand your excitement and passion for your job.

If you can describe what you do in a way that’s compelling and relatable, you’re sure to win your listener over.

Use these tips the next time you’re faced with this question, and you’ll make a genuine connection with an answer that’s both informative and insightful.

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Maddie Lloyd

Maddie Lloyd was a writer for the Zippia Advice blog focused on researching tips for interview, resume, and cover letter preparation. She's currently a graduate student at North Carolina State University's department of English concentrating in Film and Media Studies.

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