You’ve finally landed a job you know will lead to more career opportunities.
The pay isn’t bad and the company name has a nice ring to it. The only thing is, you’d prefer not to mention your job title to anyone worth trying to impress.
Now, whenever you’re talking to someone new or catching up with a friend, you do all you can to avoid the dreaded question: “What do you do?” And when you can’t, you ramble and don’t really give a satisfying answer.
It’s not that your anxiety here is totally unfounded. When you’re networking, dropping a line like, “I’m a production assistant” isn’t exactly going to unleash a flood of questions from someone who’s just fascinated to hear all about what you do. If anything, you run the opposite risk: that they’ll make unfair assumptions about your job or (worse still) your capabilities—and cut your chat short so they can go and find someone more “interesting” to talk to.
But there’s a way out of this—a few ways actually. Especially when you’re starting out in your career or making a career change, it’s easy to get tacked with a title you don’t necessarily love. When I started my career, for a little over a year, I was a “fellow,” a fancy name for an intern who works like a full-time employee. So I figured out how to present myself in a way that let me avoid sharing my job title. Here are a few battle-tested tricks you can keep up your sleeve:
1. START OFF WITH WHERE YOU WORK
If you work at a well-known company or organization, just lead with that. Maybe you’re a lowly intern at GQ, but when you’re asked what you do, you could easily say, “I work at GQ, it’s a men’s lifestyle magazine. We cover fashion, entertainment, and other trendy topics.”
This works just as well if you work at a company the average person knows nothing about—you can still answer with details about what the company does, not what you personally do. For example: “I work at [company name], and we focus on (or “we help”) [cool thing the organization does].”
Focusing on where you work as opposed to your actual job title still gives others insight into your job. It may even help them connect with you better, especially if they learn something new about your company or if they can relate to its mission or values.
2. SAY WHAT YOU LOVE MOST ABOUT YOUR JOB
Maybe your company isn’t worth mentioning and your job title is boring, but you love the things you actually do at work. Instead of talking about your company, mention one or two things you do in your position that excite you. For example, if you’re a recruiting assistant at a local staffing agency, you could say, “I help finance and IT companies find the best candidates for their open positions.”
There’s upside to this approach: When you lead the conversation with how you help others, you shift the focus from yourself and immediately prod the person to think about how you can help them or possibly even someone they know. And that just so happens to be one of the most fundamental rules of good networking.
You effortlessly dodge your job title and you pique the person’s interest to learn more about your experience. This works no matter position you have: “I help [people or organization] by [doing useful thing].”
3. SHARE WHAT YOU WANT TO DO NEXT
But what if you don’t love your job and you don’t even like where you work? Then don’t mention either. Respond with what you’re looking to transition into next. This is a great way to let people know about your career interests without sounding pessimistic about your current situation. It also subtly lets others know you might be open to them reaching out in case they hear of any opportunities that might interest you.
To do this naturally—that is, without sounding evasive—you can say: “I work in the [whatever your sector is] industry and I’m hoping to transition into [whatever you’ve got your eye on].” Or, “I work at a [company name], but I’m really passionate about [career you’re pursuing] and I’m hoping to transition into that soon.”
Now, that you know how to dodge having to mention your job title—or discuss your current job altogether—you have to practice your response. The last thing you want to do is sound awkward because you haven’t decided which way you want to reply. So pitch a few of these formulas, rehearse a little, and then test out a few of them to see how others react. Then stick to whatever seems to makes people want to learn more about you.
No matter what, be confident about what you do and know that it’s just a stepping stone to many other accomplishments ahead. The next time someone asks you, “What do you do?” smile because you now know exactly how to answer a question you once dreaded.
Originally published on Fast Company.