Explaining what you do can be tough. For starters, the other person might not have any background knowledge. Even if they do know something about your area of work, they might care only long enough to give you one sentence or two to explain. Concision is key.
Here are four ways to explain what you do briefly and artfully.
Use a positioning statement
Positioning statements summarize what something does, for whom, why it is better than the competition. They are usually written for products, like this potential positioning statement for Blackberry in the 2000's:
For businesspeople, the Blackberry phone is a secure and reliable mobile communications device that also provides fantastic usability because of its qwerty keyboard and engineering updated over multiple generations.
Less commonly, positioning statements can also be used to explain job roles and experience:
- Baker - For everyday meals and special occasions, I make nutritious breads and pastries but also do it with record time and skill due to my 10 years in the business.
- Nuclear Engineer - For certain large power plants that make power so we can light and heat our homes, I ensure smooth and reliable power generation but also the coaching and leadership of teams because of my 15 years of direct management expertise and leadership-specific training.
- Mayor - For residents of our city, I am accountable for all city services but also bring an awesome knowledge of what we do and everyone who does it because I previously worked in all city departments and served on the city council.
The "app versus feature" metaphor
Google Maps is a navigation app, and restaurant reviews are a feature.
Yelp is a restaurant reviews app, and maps are a feature.
Any app on your phone - at least in the United States - tends to exist to help users accomplish one general purpose, but also includes features that make the app easier to use or add additional value.
Thinking about your job role, what is the "app," and what are the features? Here are some examples:
- Baker - App = baking bread, features = fine pastry expertise & fast delivery
- Nuclear Engineer - App = safe and continuous power, features = excellent team leadership
- Mayor - App = administrative skills, features = servant leadership mindset
When explaining what you do, consider starting with the "app" (your main function) and add in the "features" to differentiate yourself (ways that you add value that others cannot).
The features are very important to mention because there are really only two ways to differentiate yourself among your peers: low cost or scarce skills. So, whatever your role is, consider sharing those features that you bring that make your work special or different.
Start with why
Explaining brain surgery in terms of the anatomical terms for different parts of the brain, the tools used in surgery, and how a surgery is done will usually not make for a good conversation. It is overly complicated, and it lacks feeling.
On the other hand, everyone understands, "I am a brain surgeon. People come to me when they feel sick, and when it is medically appropriate, I help them feel better." This explanation includes a quick mention of the job and, importantly, why the job exists.
As author Simon Sinek says, "start with the why" can be an effective way to inspire others with your story, something we all want.
The Story of the Three Bricklayers also illustrates the power of starting with why.
When starting with the why, the baker might say, "I feed the hungry;" the nuclear engineer, "I keep the lights on;" and the mayor, "I work for the citizens' best interests." Everything else is explanatory details, but you already want to hear more.
Star Wars is young adult Harry Potter in space with different magic.
Speed is Die Hard on a bus.
The absolute fastest way to explain a movie plot to someone is to combine two other stories or ideas that that they are familiar with, and it works with careers, too.
What combination of ideas would best explain what you do?
Positioning statements, the app versus feature metaphor, starting with why, and idea combinations can help you explain what you do, and sometimes they can even help you deepen your understanding of yourself because they entice you to explain what you do in new and different ways.