How do you respond when someone asks: “What do you do?”
Most people reply:
“I’m a lawyer.”
“I’m in sales.”
“I’m a software engineer.”
But there’s a problem with that.
Naming your professional category is the fastest way to stop a potentially interesting conversation dead in its tracks.
It happens all the time: two strangers meet, swap titles, engage in small talk, then part ways.
They miss the chance to genuinely connect and learn how they can support each other.
I’ve found through personal experience that there’s a better way.
My script below can help you to turn an awkward elevator ride into a lasting relationship.
It’s part of a series I’m doing on personal branding to help people win more meaningful work. I hope you find it helpful.
Here’s What You’re Probably Doing Wrong
If you answer “What do you do?” with something like: “I’m a [job title] at [company]?”
Then you box yourself into someone else’s idea of what your title means.
Despite their best intentions, that idea is probably wrong.
People have preconceived notions about nearly every profession:
After being penny-pinched by her first lawyer, Kate suspects that all lawyers are just in it for the money.
Jacob hates unsolicited sales calls, so his guard goes up when he meets salespeople.
Amy could never understand computer programming, so she subconsciously distances herself from coders because she feels so unable to relate.
People carry all kinds of baggage around job titles.
So don’t lead with yours.
After all, you’re far more interesting than your title.
So allow me to suggest a more compelling alternative.
Here’s A BETTER Way to Introduce Yourself
You want to answer “What do you do?” in a way that sparks meaningful conversation.
The most powerful way I’ve found to do that is telling a story.
Storytelling is arguably the most powerful way we can understand each other.
And the script below will make it easy for you.
Even if you clam up when meeting new people.
Even if you cringe at the very phrase “elevator pitch”.
First I’ll walk you through the script as a fictional conversation.
Then I’ll give you the “fill-in-the-blanks” version to make your own.
The 6-Step Script For a Winning Elevator Pitch
STEP 1: Describe the niche you serve and the biggest problem they face.
Try framing this as a question to initiate a two-way conversation.
Stranger: Hi, what do you do?
Me: Well, have you heard that employers now look up candidates on Google before hiring them?
Stranger: Yes, my niece Googled herself while applying to IBM. Turns out there’s a porn star with her name — she was so embarrassed!
Notice how we’re engaging her and finding common ground. Leading with the problem you solve invites her to relate to you without boxing yourself in from the get-go. If you’re lucky, you may already be relevant to her or someone she knows.
STEP 2: Describe how you solve that big problem for people.
Me: I help people like your niece win more meaningful opportunities by giving them the tools to understand and improve how they look online.
Stranger: Hm, how do you do that?
Me: You know how TurboTax makes it easy to do your taxes without hiring an expensive accountant? Our software does the same thing, but for your online reputation: it helps you build an impressive online presence without having to pay a company to do it for you. Even if you know nothing about it beforehand.
Side note: The moment I started using analogies to explain what my company does, people immediately “got it”. Analogies can help people understand you better within the context of what they already know.
STEP 3: Bring up a WOW! story where you solved a big problem for someone.
Telling a story about a real person helps people relate in a concrete way. This is critical because it makes your conversation easier to remember and share later on.
Me: Kim Lee is a great example.
Kim was applying to Harvard med school. Despite being top of her class with many successful projects, when she Googled her name, nothing showed up. But her underperforming classmates looked more impressive in search engines, simply because they knew how to promote themselves better.
Using our software, Kim created an online presence that actually reflected her many accomplishments. By the time she was screened by admissions, her first two pages of Google results showed her successful projects and history of public service.
She made it past the online screening and was just recently accepted. She’s now doing what she loves and training to be a heart surgeon.
Stranger: Wow, that’s great.
STEP 4: Explicitly state the endgame benefit you provide (beyond the specific person in your story).
Me: It’s exciting. As Head of Product, I design software that helps people clean up, protect and improve their online presence — so they can win the opportunities they deserve.
STEP 5: Offer a call to action.
Me: Here’s my business card. If your niece is still looking for a job, she can go to BrandYourself.com and get a free scan to see if she’d pass an online screening. And we have a popular career advice blog she might find useful too.
Offering a useful and free takeaway like a blog post or other resource invites people to interact with your personal brand after you’re gone.
Stranger: Great, she’s still job hunting. I’ll tell her to check it out.
STEP 6: Invite them (or the lead they mentioned) to connect on social media.
Me: Also feel free to have her follow me on LinkedIn. I post tips for job seekers to clean up and improve their online reputation.
Driving people back to your social profiles helps build your professional network. Better to build your network before you need it; and you never know where the next customer, client, job or referral will come from.
Stranger: Will do. Ah, the elevator is on my floor! Have a great day.
Why This Script Works
Sure, it would’ve been simpler to say, “I’m the co-founder and Head of Product at BrandYourself.”
But the people you serve, the problem you solve and the endgame benefit you provide — wrapped in memorable a story — are much more interesting.
And you may not ever get there if people have pre-conceived notions about your job title.
This elevator pitch script helps engage people instead of relying on their idea of what a Head of Product does.
And it gives you talking points to fall back on, so you can avoid small talk or standing in silence as you wait for your floor.
Alright, time to try your elevator pitch.
Fill in the blanks below to create your Elevator Pitch
Describe who you serve and the biggest problem they face:
2. Describe how you solve their problem for them:
3. Bring up a WOW! story where you solved someone’s problem:
4. Drive home the endgame benefit of what you do:
5. Close with a call to action that invites further interaction:
6. Invite them to connect on social media:
Now it’s time to practice, practice, practice your script.
The next time someone asks you what you do, don’t give your normal response.
Instead, ask them if they know about your target market and the problems they face.
Use this as a launch pad to engage them in understanding how you can help them — or someone they know.
Based on my own experience, I strongly believe this script can help you open up new connections before you know it.
Write out your script filling in the blanks above.
Say it out loud a few times. Listen for flow. Make it natural.
Practice it the next time you meet someone new. See how they respond.
Let me know how it goes! Shoot me a message on LinkedIn if you want feedback on your script, or tell me how it went — I may write update this article with your story.
Forward this article to someone you know who could benefit from this free script. My hope is that we can all become a little bit closer by understanding how to communicate better. If we do, everyone wins.