4 Mistakes Consultants Make When Answering the “What Do You Do?” Question

“What do you do?”

It’s a deceptively complex question. Why? Because you do so much.

And if a client asked you for something you’ve never done before, but it still fits within your skill set, well you can do that, too.

So if you’ve ever stumbled when someone has asked you, “So, what do you do?,” you’re certainly not alone. To help ensure you don’t strike out next time you’re asked this important question, here are four common mistakes to avoid.

Mistake #1: Not Thinking Beyond the Label    

You’re a consultant, yes. But if that’s your answer when someone asks what you do (i.e. “I am a consultant”), then you’re missing out on an opportunity to sell your unique value.

Most people hear “consultant” and know the word, but don’t really understand what it means. As a result, you could be talking to people in need of your expertise, but they won’t know it because you haven’t defined what you do in terms they understand.

Mistake #2: Taking the “All of the Above” Approach  

As a consultant, you wear a lot of hats. But trying to cover every single service you offer to a new connection is a fast way to bore them.

Instead, focus on the results you can achieve for a client. In other words, what is the ultimate advantage or benefit that you’re able to deliver to your clients? For instance, can you help a company increase revenue, decrease expenses, improve efficiencies, or avoid non-compliance fees?

That is what you really do.

Mistake #3: Talking in Code    

You’re talking a lot and using some big fancy words à la “capitalizing on unique organizational capabilities”…but you’re not really saying anything.

Keep it simple – e.g. “I’m a consultant. Companies hire me when they need to save money.” Leave the vocabulary you learned in business school or the last management book you read at home.

Mistake #4: Having a Canned Elevator Speech    

Having a short sound byte in mind (think 15 to 30 seconds) when asked what you do isn’t a bad idea. However, it becomes a problem when you’ve written yours out, rehearsed it over and over, and repeat it verbatim as a canned monologue, regardless of whom you’re talking to.

People respond to authentic…not boilerplate. So know what unique benefits you want to convey; but don’t rigidly stick to a pre-written script. Otherwise, you’ll sound awkward and unappealing.

It’s not a bad idea to have some talking points in mind (“Companies hire me when they want to save money”) and roll them into a more natural answer that is off the cuff.

Today, you really can’t go anywhere without being asked, “What do you do?” But when you avoid the mistakes above, you’ll be well on your way toward knocking it out of the park the next time you’re asked to deliver the goods on what you do.