How to answer “What do you do?” if you’re unemployed

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I was grateful to be reminded recently that when you’re asked “What do you do?” often the best answer isn’t to talk about your job. Here’s sage advice from Penelope Trunk on “How to answer the question, ‘What do you do?'”:

1. Understand the question.
Assume there is no hidden, evil agenda. Assume the person asking simply wants to know more about you. Of course, only people who have a good answer to the question themselves end up asking the question of others, but still, it’s a reasonable question.

2. Focus on a differentiator.
The problem with getting to know someone is that if you ask people, “What’s important to you?” you won’t learn anything. Because 90% of people will say things like family, friends, learning, being kind, or other routine things — the things, actually, that are on my refrigerator, in the first photo.

You get to know more about a person by asking how they spend their time. Because, while we all have similar goals (really, I bet the same few New Years Resolutions are made by 80% of all people) we all try to reach them in different ways….

3. Don’t focus on your job.
This is not a job interview—it’s an attempt to get to know you so the person can connect with you. So you don’t need to go straight to your job for an answer. Some people have a job that does define them. Some people do not. Once you realize you can go either way on this, you can come up with the best answer for you.

4. Focus on where you spend your time and energy.
If you work at Starbuck’s to support your marathon training, you can say you’re training for a marathon. That is interesting and will immediately spark a fine conversation. Plus, you show that you are someone worth getting to know—you set challenging goals for yourself and you work hard to meet them.

5. Focus on what you are learning.
A career is not an earning path, it’s a learning path. So if you tell someone what you are learning about now, they will not actually care what your job is. What you choose to learn, and what interests you, actually says way more about you than the type of job you have. Some people learn a lot on their jobs, some people learn more away from their jobs. Where you learn is not as important as what you learn.

If you’re unemployed, it’s especially important to consider your response to the question thoughtfully. Have something prepared so you can make the most of the opportunity when the networking occasion arises.

Automatically responding, “I’m between jobs right now,” isn’t the best way to bond with someone who might be inclined to help a new friend with tips, advice, or by sharing contacts. Instead, you might try focusing on a positive thing you’re learning or working towards while tacking on, “while I’m looking for a new position as a ___.”

Make your social networking F.A.B.U.L.O.U.S.

peacock-new-zealand_10933_990x742You’ll never run out of conversation openers if you remember this one word. Writing on the Personal Branding Blog, Maria Elena Duron gives a great tip that will help you to avoid awkward gaps of silence in important networking situations:

You need to be better in real life than you are in social media – not the other way around. [tweet this]

Hopefully, these tips and this little formula will help:

First, remember whoever is the one asking the question is the person controlling the conversation.

Then, spend more time listening to people than talking at them. From their responses, this will help shape the context of the conversation.

Be F.A.B.U.L.O.U.S.

Ask about their:

F = Friends and Family

A = Aspirations and Accomplishments (what are they hoping to do; what have they done lately)

B = Business

U = Understandings (what have they learned lately)

L = Loves (interests, hobbies, passions)

O = Organizations (non-profits or industry associations they’re involved with)

U = Undertakings (latest activities)

S = Sports

If you can do this when you’re in a conversation that’s seeking a topic, then you’ll see that people will find you to be – a great person to speak with.

Make it all about them. Put structure in your conversation without sounding like you’re interrogating them and you are one step above everyone else in making friends and influencing people.

Read the whole article.

And if you’re really bold, substitute Spirituality for Sports. One way to do this is to mention the latest spiritual book you’ve read — or your favorite — and ask if they’ve heard of the author. Not everyone is comfortable going there with a stranger, so use your best judgment.

Re-thinking your Facebook strategy for career branding

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Ben Cathers, writing on the Personal Branding Blog, highlights some changes afoot at Facebook worthy of your attention. He notes that in a recent re-design the social networking site has renamed and repositioned the personal biographical information section. The new setup gives entrepreneurs and careerists new opportunities for using Facebook to connect:

For entrepreneurs who use Facebook for personal branding, you should mention your business, your primary content objectives (what you will be posting), and all of your websites (blog, company, Twitter profile). In addition, you should mention the type of people you are specifically looking to connect with (end users for your company’s products, potential business partners, etc., etc.).

While many professionals are already familiar with LinkedIn’s value for career marketing, Facebook’s enormous popularity is going to make its use for professional networking increasingly unavoidable. If you’ve previously kept Facebook as “strictly personal” in the past, it’s worthwhile to investigate the site’s new privacy features and consider whether it may be time to face forward.

The goal of online networking: exceptional digital visibility

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In a new article for the March 2010 issue of Spotlight, the newsletter for the Professional Association of Resume Writers and Career Coaches, Don Orlando of Montgomery, Alabama, says that job seekers don’t need to post their resume online to get noticed online. He writes:

Employers aren’t searching for résumés; they’re already swamped with them. They want to know the person. More specifically, they want to see our clients using networking in ways that help the company that’s looking for people like them.

And so the definition of networking is changing rapidly. The conventional wisdom describes networking as a mutually mortifying process whereby jobseekers impose on every friend, relative, and total stranger (evidently this is most frequent in elevators!), to ask for something none of those people can give him: a job!

I work hard to redefine that concept for my clients. I tell them networking is a natural predisposition to extend value to everybody they meet, without expecting an immediate reward. That’s the proposition behind exceptional digital visibility.

As Orlando says, there is no more important key to successful digital visibility than to make yourself attractive and well-known as an expert in your industry and target market by showcasing what you know, who you know, and what you can do in places that employers are looking. Then you can make it possible for employers to seek you rather than vice versa.

The three types of LinkedIn networkers

linkedinSital Ruparelia at Career Hub explains that there are three types of professionals on LinkedIn, the social networking site with more than 50 million users.

There are 3 types of people on LinkedIn:

a) ‘Open Networkers’

People who are open to connect with anyone who approaches them

b) People who will only connect with people they have a relationship with

I know some people who will absolutely never connect with people they don’t have a face to face relationship with. That’s their choice and their prerogative.

c) People who are somewhere in between.

Most LinkedIn users only connect with others who they have met and have an established relationship with (past or present co-worker, client, friend, etc.). By limiting their universe of connections to individuals to those they know personally, they have more pull when offering to introduce one member of their network to another.

As an author, blogger, and speaker, I fall into the third category. I don’t accept invitations to connect on LinkedIn from strangers, however I do accept invitations from others with whom I have only an online relationship or those who feel they trust me because they have heard me speak or followed by blog for a long while.

How to use a networking newsletter or networking journal

networking-holiday-partyMatthew Levy, an HR professional, advises job seekers to create a “networking newsletter”:

A networking journal is pretty much what it sounds like: an email communication that tells your connections what you are interested in, what you have been up to and very importantly, how you can help them. Helping others may in fact be the best thing you can do for yourself! Why? Human nature. If you help someone, they will want to help you in return. Rather simple, I know, but you would be surprised how many job seekers think only of themselves.

A networking newsletter does not have to be sophisticated. It can take the form of a plain text email. You can kick it up a notch by creating a Word document style newsletter with pictures and links. Or you can go even further by creating an email campaign using HTML. Whatever you decide, just do one!

Whether or not you write a newsletter, it’s vital to keep in touch with your network throughout your job search process. And remember that effective networking isn’t a one-way street. What advice, information, or benefits can you offer to your colleagues, friends, and acquaintances?