Networking HQ BLOG with Larry James

Sunday, March 25, 2012

5 Deadly Mistakes to Avoid When Answering the Question, “What Do You Do?”

Filed under: Networking — Larry James @ 7:00 am

Sue Clement, Guest Author

Is your networking… NOT working? Are you attending plenty of events, both social and the typical business events, but just don’t seem to get much of a response or make solid contacts – you know, those connections that lead to referrals and prospects showing interest in what you do?

Chances are the trouble lies in how you’re answering the typical “What do you do?” question. It seems that you can’t go anywhere without being asked that question. Perhaps you’ve come to dread even answering it or you just mumble some quick response.

whatdoyoudoYou’re probably committing one or more of the five deadly sins that can transform your answer to the question “What do you do?” into a missed opportunity!

Don’t feel too bad. You’re far from alone. But if you’d like to get better results from networking, keep reading to see if you’re guilty of any of these five deadly networking introduction mistakes. Here they are…

1. Being too literal – using your label

The most common mistake in answering that “What do you do?” question is to just say your label – job or position title. So you might say, for example, that you’re a mortgage broker, a house painter, a consultant, an accountant and so on.

So what’s the problem with that? Isn’t that what you are? Well, sure, you and a few thousand others in your city. Which makes it all too easy to clump you in with the featureless competition, and that’s not good. You want to make sure people perceive your uniqueness, yet unless you differentiate yourself, that’s not going to happen.

And that’s not all. Most people will likely think to themselves, “Do I need that service?” And if they don’t, they’ll dismiss you as not being important.

There’s also room for misunderstandings, especially if they’re not familiar with the label you use, such as spinal care practitioner or color consultant. As well, they can make assumptions based on past experiences which may not reflect positively on your services.

2. Describe what you do… in detail!

The next deadly mistake is to describe what you DO – in detail. Again, being a bit too literal as you outline your process and all the nitty-gritty. It might be interesting to you that you have a 27-step process to help your clients, but now is not the time to share that information. Because guess what? They don’t really care!

So instead of listening, they’ll start backing away from you while looking for someone more interesting to talk to. Remember, people don’t buy what you DO – they buy what they NEED – the solution to their problem.


To order, click book cover!

3. Being too sales-y

The third deadly mistake is to be too sales-y! This happens all too often. When someone displays even a polite interest, you could easily misinterpret that interest as a sales opportunity and try to sell your new contact on your services. You might do that, for example, by giving out brochures or invitations to your showroom, pushing to get an appointment or making special offers. I’ve even had someone go so far as to say “What would it take to get you to sign on the dotted line right now?” Yikes!!

This is not going to work! Instead, they feel like you’re putting a bulls-eye on them and use them for target practice! People will back away and avoid you like the plague. And you’ll have missed a chance to engage them in a meaningful conversation – one that may have lead to a sale or referral.

4. Being too vague about whom you work with

Some people believe that if they make their ideal target clients broad enough, they’ll have more prospects & more sales. That’s just not the case!

If you’re not clear or too vague about WHO your services are for, i.e., anyone who breathes and will pay you, you’re not going to attract anyone because no one will feel spoken to. Trying to attract everyone – will usually get you no one.

Unless people know exactly who your product or services are for, they’ll be confused and you won’t get referrals or attract prospects to you.

5. You don’t communicate the key problems you solve

If you don’t focus on your potential clients’ needs and can’t communicate clearly the key problems you solve as well as the benefits of your services specifically, you won’t attract anyone.

People are looking for solutions and so it’s important you’re able to talk about your services in a solution-focused manner. They’re also looking for social proof – so make sure to have a few interesting client success stories you can share. This will help you be remembered and appear more credible.

Recognize yourself in any of these? Maybe you’re guilty of a few of these deadly networking introduction mistakes.

Since networking happens everywhere, it’s critical to be able to introduce yourself and talk about what you do in a compelling way in any situation – yes even standing in line at Starbucks!

So don’t think you can escape these mistakes by avoiding the typical business networking events. I’ve gotten clients and referrals in all sorts of situations: from walking Darby, my wire fox terrier, to waiting in line at Safeway to attending sporting events, social outings, and, of course, the typical business events. You see, networking is all about making connections, and having a powerful and compelling answer to “What do you do?” is the key to attracting prospects and referrals.

Copyright © 2012 – Sue Clement. A dynamic speaker, author, referral expert, and business coach Sue Clement is known for expediting business success. With over 30 years experience in management and sales, Sue brings a depth of real world experience to her clients and audiences. After building a local employment agency from concept into a multi-million dollar enterprise, she is no stranger to the challenges of owning a business and is an expert in marketing, sales and customer service. Sue is an advocate of building powerful networks to leverage one’s success. Visit her Website at:

netHQLarry James is a Professional Speaker, Author and Coach. Larry James presents networking seminars nationally and offers Networking coaching; one-on-one or for your Networking Group! Invite Larry James to speak to your group! His latest book is, Ten Commitments of Networking: Creative Ways to Maximize Your Personal Connections! Something NEW about Networking is posted on this Networking BLOG every 4th day! Visit Larry’s Networking Website at: “Networking HQ!”

Subscribe to Larry’s FREE monthly “LoveNotes for Lovers” eZINE. Contact: Larry James, P.O. Box 12695, Scottsdale, AZ 85267-2695. –

NOTE: All articles and networking tips listed in this BLOG – written by Larry James – are available for reprint in magazines, periodicals, newsletters, newspapers, eZINEs, on the Internet or on your own Website. Click here for details.


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  1. […] BONUS Articles: NEVER Start a Networking Conversation With, “What do you do?” “What Do You Do For a Living?” 5 Deadly Mistakes to Avoid When Answering the Question, “What Do You Do?” […]

    Pingback by Reach Out – Connect – Engage | Networking HQ BLOG with Larry James — Wednesday, September 4, 2013 @ 7:35 am | Reply

  2. Sue, great advice! I once responded to this question by stating I was an Executive Recruiter (blank stare from gentleman). I then said a Head-Hunter. He lit up and got all excited and said, “Cool, Like Dog the Bounty-Hunter”! The subject changed rapidly when I explained that we don’t actually get to kick down doors and “Taze” people.

    Comment by John Smith — Friday, March 9, 2012 @ 10:05 am | Reply

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