What Do You Do?

In college, if you had to make small talk (which I tend to believe was pretty rare), then you talked about your major. If your major was common or if you weren’t that into it, you talked about your extracurricular involvement or your part-time job or the internship you had last summer that inspired you toward a certain potential career path.

Hugh and I went to a gathering at his coworkers’ house last weekend and Hugh was the only person there I’d ever met. With every introduction to a new person, whether immediately or after answering “how do you know so-and-so?”, the question always showed up:

What do you do?

I really should work on a better definition of what I do.

Normally I start out with, I’m in publishing.

The natural response is, That’s so cool! or Oh really?! Books, magazines, or what?!

Actually, scientific publishing. A peer-review academic journal; a scholarly journal; like the kind of research you cite in term papers… is what I usually say.

Now, at this particular gathering I was talking to mostly financial types. Some CPAs, some folks who work with the Fed, some people who were into investments. This is all over my head. And as far as I know, as soon as they hear me say I’m in publishing, I’m instantly less cool than everyone else who works with millions of dollars in budgets and Excel spreadsheets and receipts every day.

I really should work on hyping what I do for a living.

At social gatherings recently, conversations turn into networking opportunities. The topic of conversation at happy hour on a Thursday is what you spent 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. doing that day. We talk about the tasks we do, the people we work with, the opportunities afforded to us or not. We used to talk about attending (or not attending) a 10:10 a.m. class and how we still planned to get whatever grade we needed. We talked about who ruined the curve and how crazy the pop quiz was. We liberal arts majors talked about the subject matter of our classes, often passionately, to business or engineering majors who baffled us with talk of numbers and use of vocabulary we’d never encountered.

If, at 24 or so, we’re using our jobs and degrees and future aspirations — essentially our resumes — to make small talk, what’s next?

How long have you been married?

Oh, you’re expecting your second?

Did you get a good rate on your mortgage?

I’m looking at an active living retirement community also.

Do you golf?

I’m not ready for any of those questions yet.

I majored in communication and I work in publishing. Let’s just talk about that.

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Posted on March 24, 2011, in 25 and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I’m finishing up a comm major, and would love to be able to say “I’m in publishing”.. But my passion lies in scriptwriting haha.. Interesting topic!

  2. I gotta say, those last few questions are pretty terrifying. Also, I always thought it was in bad taste to ask point blank, “what do you do?” Because it does have the potential to either belittle someone, or at least subconsciously place you on uneven social ground. Maybe I’m wrong, since I’ve never been particularly gifted at small talk anyways 😉

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