What to Say When They Ask You What You Do for a Living

You’re at a class reunion, meeting with people you haven’t seen in years. You’re having a great time when suddenly, without warning, it happens. The question you’ve been dreading…

“Where do you work now?”

What exactly should you say? Do you need to go into a long-winded explanation of how you started a freelancing business? You’re stumped.

New freelancers, especially, have been known to choke on these questions:

  • “What type of work do you do?”
  • Or (more commonly), “where do you work?”

But, even experienced freelancers don’t always have a ready answer for questions about employment.

The key to answering employment questions is knowing in advance what you’re going to say. In this post, I’ll give you five serious answers and five humorous answers to these questions so that you’ll never be at a loss for words. I’ll also invite you to share your own answers.


Five Serious Answers

Some people really are interested in what you do and it’s to your advantage to give them a reasonable, if brief, answer. After all, the more people who understand what you do the more potential future business you are likely to get. Ideally, you’d also pull out and share a business card at this point.

Here are five quick, but serious answers to questions about your employment that can be expanded on as needed:

  1. I own a small business. Technically, all freelancers are small business owners. You can easily expand on this to discuss various aspects of your business.
  2. I am an independent (insert your specialty here). This one has the advantage of letting them know the type of work that you do.
  3. I work as an independent contractor for (insert the name of your long-term client). If you are working long-term on a project for one, or several, long-term clients, this answer may suffice.
  4. I’m a consultant who helps businesses improve their professional image. This answer will fit with many (although not all) freelancing professions. When done right, freelancing does involve a lot of consulting.
  5. I’m a freelancer who provides (insert your specialty) services for a wide variety of local and international clients. In this one you’ve let them know about your specialty AND emphasized the fact that you are in demand.

What if a serious answer just isn’t working? It may be time to pull out a bit of sarcasm…

Five Not-so Serious Answers

Okay, admit it. Sometimes you don’t want to answer the question of what you do for a living seriously–mainly because you’ve already explained (over and over again) what you do to a particular individual and they just aren’t getting it.

Or, maybe you sense the question is actually a criticism–their way of nagging you to get “a real job.”

Here are five quick sarcastic comebacks. For the full effect, remember to deliver these comebacks with a sneer and while rolling your eyes.

  1. I do whatever I want to do. This one ought to cause their eyes to bug out and their jaws to drop open. Technically, since you choose your own projects, it’s somewhat true too.
  2. I work on my computer all day. Duh! Of course, you do. You’re being really sarcastic here. You haven’t really told them anything here, but you’ve hopefully conveyed that you’re busy.
  3. I make my money through the Internet. This one will leave them scratching their heads… Maybe they’ll even wonder why they aren’t making money through the Internet.
  4. I’m independently wealthy. They probably won’t believe you, but then they don’t believe the truth about your home freelancing business either. Best case scenario–this shuts them up.
  5. Work, what’s that? Let’s face it. In some cases, the person is hassling you because they don’t think you really work. No answer you give is really going to be satisfactory because they’ve already made up their minds about you. Why not be sarcastic and tell them what they want to hear?

My Story

When I first started out as a freelancer, freelancing was relatively rare. I got a lot of questions about what I did. Most people didn’t get it and sometimes people thought that my freelancing business was just something I made up. Others thought my “business” was a cute little hobby and that I used to earn a few extra bucks every now and then.

Fast forward nine years. Telecommuting has caught on for many large corporations. Also, more and more professionals are choosing to go solo. All of this usually makes it easier to explain my own freelancing profession, but there are still those folks who haven’t a clue.

When I’m asked this question, I almost always answer it seriously at first. After all, you never know when your own social circle might yield a client or prospect. However, there are times when, for whatever reason, I’ve been really tempted to turn to the second set of answers and respond with sarcasm instead.

What About You?

What do you say when friends and relatives don’t accept what you do for a living? Share your answers in the comments.

Image by Tim Patterson