If you’ve ever been introduced to someone, the next question that follows the introduction is “What do you do for a living?” or “So what do you do?”

I’ve been asked it and I’ve asked it of others.

It’s so common a question that we barely have to think about it before it comes tumbling out of our mouths.

But I’ll tell you a secret — I hate the question

It’s easy conversation starter and for those who are on the introverted side (like me), it’s a way to know something about this person. It may seem like an innocent question and as a society, we’ve come to accept it as the norm. In a world where our careers are synonymous with our identity, this simple question is meant to give the person a snapshot of who you are and how you spend your days.

But what about the person being asked?

What if they hate their jobs?
What if they’re unemployed?

For those people, they dread the question! They give short and concise answers hoping that the conversation will be steered in another direction. Sure, it helps pay the bills but that’s not who they are.

I’ve come to realize that this question is full of judgment. It’s not our intention to be judgmental but how many times have we:

  • Done a mental calculation of the kind of salary they’re making
  • Wondered where they are on the corporate ladder
  • Associated them as being kind-hearted, pushy, boring based on their job or the industry they work in

We don’t mean to do it but we’re so programmed to think about these things that our brains just automatically go there and, for me anyway, it doesn’t feel good.

“It’s not what you do, it’s how you do it. It’s not what you see, it’s how you look at it. It’s not how your life is, it’s how you live it.” — Unknown

This question is why it’s so scary to change our careers

Nobody likes being judged and we fear this question because we believe our response to it is going to result in ridicule or embarrassment.

Here are some ridiculous assumptions society has taught us:

  • an artist must be broke
  • ALL lawyers are pushy and assertive
  • accountants must be boring and a numbers geek (and a tax genius)
  • if you’re looking to change your career, you’re lost

We have been conditioned to respect the job titles and salaries so much more than the actual person.


Our titles are just 2–3 words a company combined for a job posting. Telling me you’re an accountant or a marketing manager doesn’t tell me what you like doing outside of work, what your values are, your hopes and dreams, how you treat people, or even why you do what you do.

That’s the stuff that matters.

So today, I have a challenge for you (and me):

The challenge is to cut this habit loose. Stop asking this “obligatory” question. It doesn’t tell us anything meaningful about the person you’re getting to know.

Instead, try asking these 2 (3) questions instead:


Their hobbies is what makes someone unique.

Maybe they’re:
— Accounting by day and ninja-ing by night;
— A lawyer who volunteers at an animal shelter and have fostered hundreds of animals during their lifetime
— An IT Specialist who’s travelled to all 195 countries

The point is we can’t and shouldn’t judge someone from their job title and what they do during the day.

If you want to find a connection with someone, you won’t find it talking about work.


If the forbidden question slips out, no worries (it takes time to curb a habit), follow it up by asking them why they chose to go into that field and what they like about it (and even what they don’t like). This can offer deep insight into what their interests are and what their past was like. Maybe this is the 3rd career change for them.

The takeaway shouldn’t be what they do, it’s why they do it that matters.



Questions are powerful.

We ask this question in order to get to know someone, not to judge them and if we’re always asking the same questions, we will always get the same answers.

Questions give us insight into the minds of others and to ourselves. If we learn to ask the right questions, we will find a plethora of answers that will teach us so much more about the person behind the title.

By changing our questioning, we can change how we see others and how we see the world.

Originally published at possiblepursuits.com on March 3, 2018.



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