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Does your Grandma know what you do?

What do you do again?

How many times has a parent, relative, loved one, friend, neighbor, etc. asked you this? My entire life, until perhaps the past few years, not one person close to me truly understood what I did for a living. Yes, they might know I write, but what kind of writing? Where does that writing live? Wait, you don't design websites? No, I'm not a designer. But do you write books? Sigh.

Jump off the jargon train

The reason we struggle to tell normal humans what we do is because we've become so accustomed and acclimated to the jargon used in our industry, to the shorthand and the acronyms, that we don't know how to explain in basic language what our actual job is. This is also the very reason that most resumes look the same. Because a job description isn't what we actually do at our job. It's the tasks we do at our job. Or the ones some random HR person or manager thinks come with the job. After all, they don't do it, so what do they really know?

Give Betty some butterscotch

Close up photo of an older woman with a red straw hat and glasses
Photo by @alexharvey

So why Grandma? I realize that for most people reading this, our grandparents are sadly not with us anymore. Myself included. But when I explain Personality Brand, I tell my clients to write their bio as if they're writing to their Grandma or a 5-year old. The point of this exercise isn't to make you nostalgic for Werther's Originals or Animal Crackers, it's to get you to simplify, streamline and write about what you do for someone who very obviously doesn't work with the same vocabulary. Strategic thinking, linear methodology, TPS Reports, analytics, human capital solutions. Those things mean nothing to anyone outside of your work bubble. And here's why that matters...

Clarity begets confidence

If you can explain what you do — what you actually do — to any audience, that means you have a clear picture of what you do well and moreover, who you help. Saying you're an Investment Banker doesn't mean much to most people who put all finance jobs in the same category. But saying you help companies invest their money in order to grow, acquire and create more opportunity for their employees is something almost anyone can understand. Yes, there's much more nuance to it, but people want to know what you do at the core, not all the day to day minutiae. There's also a level of confidence that comes from being able to clearly articulate what you do. It's empowering to be able to explain what we spend 40+ hours a week doing to someone who doesn't work with us. And that confidence will be evident to the person you're talking to.

Not just being polite

When people ask what you do, they truly want to know. It's not just to make conversation. So if you can clearly explain it, it will engage them more to ask follow up questions, rather than a polite nod where secretly they still have no clue and are now too embarrassed to ask anything else (we've all been there!). That clarity also begets conversation. Whether at a networking group or family gathering. And the more people who understand what you do, the more they can refer you business and opportunities. Now that most people in my circle finally understand what I do, I've never been more inundated with referrals and leads. Because they want to help! It makes them feel good and involved in my life. But without a clear picture, free of jargon, acronyms and words that mean nothing, they wouldn't be able to. When I used to just say I was a copywriter, that meant absolutely nothing to the average person. But now that I say I can help you write more authentically and put more of yourself into your message by marrying your passions out of the office with how you work in the office — they get it! Or at least they get it enough to be involved and interested.

Test it out

So here's a challenge for you. At your next social gathering (now that we can have them!!!!) or phone call or text thread with friends or family, try explaining what you do not with industry terms and titles, but with clear, concise and audience-focused language that showcases more of who you help and how, rather than what you think people want to hear. Don't tell people you're a VP or a Director of Blah. They don't care. Tell them what you do in a way that will get them intrigued and excited to learn more. I double dog dare you! And of course, if you're not sure where to start...


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