We all heard this question many times during social gatherings. However, a long time ago, I decided I did not want to answer it because I found it very segmenting and a poor indicator of who the person really is.
Ironically, I never took the time to prepare a convincing answer. Therefore, I found myself trying one of the following:
- Does it matter?
- I am in IT
- I love music and sport! (Dodging 1)
- What about you? (Dodging 2)
Most of the time, these answers were very ineffective in switching the topic and created more mystery than anything. It either trapped me into talking about my job for half an hour or into creating a cringy and suspicious gap in my story.
Coincidentally I had to answer this question a lot lately (and will have for the next few months, thank you "petite 🌻"). So that's why I decided to take some time contemplating and writing about this.
What is my Job?
Whether or not I will answer the question, I realized I had trouble explaining my job in simple, understandable terms. So Let's give it a try.
I was a freelance developer and engineering manager for the last eight years, working mainly for a startup called Malt. I recently co-founded a sales-enablement company called "Shake."
Our company is creating tools to help other companies identify the customers with the most potential (i.e., LTV) and discard others. As a CTO and co-founder, my job is to do everything required (development, recruitment, fund-raising, operation, etc.) to survive and thrive.
So... What's the issue with describing your job?
Even though I thought it was never a good idea, while writing this article, I realized I needed to distinguish two contexts: The long-time context (friends & family) and the one-time encounter (party, generic social gathering).
In the long-time context, I must take the energy to explain my job in understandable terms. Not doing so is simply refusing to share a significant part of my life with my close ones.
However, in the one-time encounter context, I am still not sure it's such a good idea.
My first issue with discussing our jobs is that it establishes a hierarchy between people. Unconsciously or not, people will rank strangers by very few factors in a few minutes—for instance, clothing, self-confidence, and of course, professional "success." Since you "wear" the first twos on yourself, you cannot do so much here. However, you can choose not to disclose the latter. By doing so, you give everyone a chance to let deeper traits take over the superficial ones.
My second issue is that most people make two false assumptions:
- You love your job
- You are, in life, what you are in your job
Whether these assumptions are justified or not does not matter. What matters is that many people use the "job" question as an indirect way to know about you. So why not ask directly, sensible questions that actually say something about what you are and what you love?
- What do you like to do in your free time?
- Do you play music? Do you dance? Do you paint?
- What show/book did you like recently? Tell me about it?
And surprisingly, these questions are not asked that often, even if there are way more interesting! What a shame.
How to escape the inevitable question
I tried to dodge the question so many times and in so many ways that I am pretty sure dodging is not a viable option.
So why not try the naïve, full-honesty way?
This is yet to be tested, but I will try the following next time:
Not that it's bad or anything, but I took the habit of not revealing my job to avoid centering the conversation around it. If you want to know me better, I would love to tell you about [insert genuine interest of yours].
In my case, I could talk about that night I did the SaintéLyon, or how I read every book of Stefan Zweig.
What would you think if somebody told you that?
Fun things happened during the writing of this piece. Even though I did not change my mind about how telling about your job can significantly influence people in insidious ways, I felt more confident about explaining what I do for a living whenever I want to!
It also made me realize how this year of constant evolution confused me about my job. And to be honest, given the last weeks I had, I am not sure it's going to get better!