A person in a suit talking.

Stop Using Big Words To Describe What You Do

No one knows what you’re saying.

“What do you do?” I ask. “That’s a great question,” he replies, “I do web development for a Fortune 1000 company in the SAS space.” I roll my eyes.

“What do you do?” I ask a second person. “Thank you for asking,” she says, “I help individuals connect their oneness to their beingness. I help them transcend reality and achieve enlightenment.” I roll my eyes even harder. I’m now temporarily cross-eyed from our exchange.

“What do you do?” I ask a third person, eyes still askew. “I thought you’d never ask!” she says, “I run a cross-stack marketing agency that helps SMB’s generate top of funnel leads.” I roll my eyes so hard that I pass out.


What they’re actually saying

The knowledge worker, the spiritual leader, and the marketing pro. What is it about these careers that causes them to overcomplicate what they do? Is it an assumption that everyone knows their industry slang? Is it laziness in communication? Could it be a lack of self-esteem making them bolster their work? Or are they simply just trying to end the conversation as quickly as possible?

Take our web developer, for instance. What does he actually do? Builds websites.

Look at our spiritual friend. What does she actually do? Shows you breathing exercises.

And what does the marketing expert actually do? Sends emails on behalf of her client.

When you cut through the noise, you get to the heart of the actual work. You remove the mysticism and begin to understand how they spend their time each day. And for someone who thrives on curiosity, like me, this is where the real fun begins. Because once you know what someone actually does, you can start to ask questions that are actually relevant.


Why do we overcomplicate?

I don’t mean to bash those three professions. In fact, my gripe has nothing to do with those industries at all. Every industry is guilty of this.

It comes down to one thing: respect.

People want to be respected. They want to be admired. If you can paint a valiant story around what you do, you will be revered. If you can throw some fog around your career path, it will add mystery. You will be sought out for your expertise. Expertise in what? No one knows.

Not even you.

I’m guilty of this. Years ago I had a job where I had nothing to do. Literally, nothing. I had five minutes of work to do each day. I asked for responsibility but never received any. The job was office-based. There were no mid-day Netflix binges for me. So I spent my time wandering the halls of the office, waiting for something to do. Something that never came.

After I left the company, guess what I put on my resume? “Compiled datasets into actionable reports and analytics that were used to collaboratively enhance company-wide decision-making and campaigns.”

I can’t even read that sentence without taking Advil and a nap.

Oh and here’s another one from a different job I had: “Secured dozens of new accounts and extensive growth for the company while enhancing brand image, reputation, and awareness.” What did I actually do? Cold calls.


Build better relationships

I know convoluted sentences are the game you must play when looking for a job. I know you need to jam your resume full of keywords so that the software pulls you out of the pack. But you don’t need to play those games in the real world.

In fact, when you do, you only prevent meaningful relationships from forming.

Unless the other person is persistent in their questioning, they will simply nod their head, pretend they understood what you were saying, and then walk away to talk to someone else. Especially when you start using silly words that you think make you look smart.

If you want people to be interested in what you do, be honest with them. If you find what you do fascinating – in simple terms – then they will too. And if they don’t, then they’re not your type of person anyway. Plus, look how much time you saved by being open upfront.

Further, if you feel the need to hide behind nonsense, maybe that’s a signal that you don’t find what you do very interesting. Then you can start asking yourself more important questions. Like, why am I doing something I don’t find interesting, or fulfilling, or meaningful?


Give better answers

When you get asked what you do, use simple language. Rid yourself of jargon. If you must use industry slang, pretend you’re on a podcast. If you say something that most people have no idea what it is, do an aside and explain it in simple terms.

By using easy language, the other person will understand what you are saying. This will open the door for them to ask follow-up questions. And those questions can lead to something more meaningful than boring small talk. This rule doesn’t just apply to work. It applies to everything.

It’s not about being brief with someone. Rather, it’s about being concise and direct.

  • Them: What do you do for work?
  • You: I build websites from scratch.
  • Them: Oh wow, how did you learn to do that? 

Here’s another example:

  • Them: What do you do for fun?
  • You: I love listening to audiobooks. Are you into books at all?
  • Them: I love to read! What kind of books do you like?


Keep asking questions

When you ask someone else a question, keep following up with them until they get down to simple language. Patiently work through their jargon until you have a clear picture of what they are saying. Ask questions like:

  • I have no idea what you just said. Could you explain it like I’m five?
  • What’s your day-to-day like?
  • It sounds like you’re saying X. Is that correct?

Once you understand what they’re saying, let your curiosity take over. Ask them everything you’ve ever wanted to know about what they do. Have fun with it. And please, stop making things so complicated.

*Note: I’m not perfect. I strive for a balance between simplicity and intrigue. I don’t always hit the mark. Sometimes I forget to use simple language. Let’s work on it together. Cool?

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