We don’t need to rehash why networking is so important for people hoping to get ahead in the job market. Talking to, listening to, and learning from others who have jumped similar career hurdles can help you, no matter where you currently stand in your career.
When you’re at the next Coffee & Networking, Beer & Networking, Bagels & Networking, or whatever the new, cool, low-key-yet-anxiety-producing event may be, take time to think about the following: How do you answer the question, “What do you do?”
Perhaps you say, “I’m a consultant,” “I work for XYZ corporation,” or “I’m the VP of A at B Company.” These aren’t bad answers. They’re true! They’re accurate! But they're not helping you stand out as a memorable, passionate, exciting worker who wants to make waves in your industry. Want to flip the script and help yourself get noticed? Try one of the responses below.
1. Lead with Your Passion
Instead of rattling off a list of your most recent job titles, think about what you would call the most enjoyable (and employable) part of your current position. For example, I worked for a number of years as a plain old manager at a small nonprofit. Due to the grassroots nature of the organization, my role included program planning, purchasing, distribution, marketing, storytelling, truck driving (really), and grant writing, among other things. When I was socializing in a networking capacity, I didn’t say, “I’m a manager.” If I was with other creatives, I might say, “I’m a storyteller,” or “I’m a grant writer.” Those things are true, perhaps even more so than the word “manager.”
Think about your absolute favorite part of your current position, and lead with that. I wasn’t looking to make a lateral move into a management role. I wanted more storytelling, more writing. Sometimes when you tell people who you are, you’re also telling them what you want.
2. Talk About All Your Gigs
These days, many people (especially millennials) don’t have just one, end-all-be-all, 40-hour-a-week job. You might have two jobs. Or three. Or more! Some people create their own mashup of part-time positions, while others have both a full-time 9-to-5 and a 5-to-9 side hustle. In a networking situation, you can be open about your side hustles, especially if you’d like to turn them into a career path. Side gigs like writing, web design, event planning, genealogy, and others can easily turn from PT to FT if and when you find the right position.
So, go for it. When I was working full-time at a farm but writing on the side, I introduced myself as a Writer. If you want to become a full-time web designer, don’t intro with your job in retail. Say, “I design websites, and I also work in retail to pay the bills.” Feel free to name your day job but put your side hustle front and center.
3. Mention Your Skills
Nothing says you're required to spit out your job title and company the moment someone asks what you do. Another tactic is to lead with specific skills: “I create content that sells products,” “I work with numbers and I love it,” or “I turn dreams and ideas into world-class events.” This opens up the conversation for the other person to ask you more questions about exactly where you work, what your current position might be, and how you got so good at doing that particular work.
You never know, the next person you bump into while awkwardly talking over hummus and carrots might just be looking for someone with your specific skill set to fill an opening in their company’s roster. If it helps, you can think of this in-person conversation a bit like the headline or bio at the top of your networking website profile. Filling that space with job titles might not be as enticing to hiring managers as a list of your skills, accomplishments, and passions.
4. Stay Positive
Even though you may be dipping your toes into the networking pool because you aren’t satisfied at your current job, it’s important to stay positive. Holding a posture of positivity, gratefulness, and kindness can take you a long way in the job market. Companies aren’t interested in hiring people who will bad mouth them, complain about the experience, or drip with negativity.
When asked, “What do you do?” I’m always quick to respond with my current passions and position, noting that whatever I am doing has been a great opportunity and experience. Clearly, I’m ready to move on from that wonderful experience, but it’s key to let recruiters and potential future bosses know that you view jobs as learning experiences and times of growth.
Ready to try out some of these new responses? Don’t stress too much—just go with your gut, and remember that the person you're speaking with wants to know more about you than they do about your current company. If your job title doesn’t describe what you really do, you’ll spend the next five minutes back-peddling into what your “real job” is. And if you’re not happy or proud of your company, that will show through. Stick to expressing your responsibilities, passions, hopes, hustles, and anything else that will give a potential boss or hiring manager the fullest, realest version of your story.
A version of this post previously appeared on Fairygodboss, the largest career community that helps women get the inside scoop on pay, corporate culture, benefits, and work flexibility. Founded in 2015, Fairygodboss offers company ratings, job listings, discussion boards, and career advice.
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