Think way back to your childhood.
If you can recall anything beyond your favorite toy or first best friend, it’s probably what you wanted to be when you grew up. And you probably remember this for a good reason—since everyone from your third grade teacher to your Aunt Nelly’s postman asked.
Talk about pressure.
Unfortunately, this go-to conversation starter didn’t get left in grade school. In fact, “So… What do you do?” remains a staple getting-to-know-you question—yet the answer rarely does justice to your talents.
As an Office Ninja, you may have a title that’s more of an umbrella term than an exact match to your duties. So when you’re describing your work to someone new, you probably choose a simple two-word rundown that roughly gets the message across.
The downside? Glossing over your true purpose at work prevents others from understanding core aspects of who you are, such as what you value and what gets you out of bed each day.
Luckily, there’s a fix. Instead of whipping through this question just to get to the other side of the conversation, make it the focal point.
Here are three templates to accurately—and impressively—tell strangers you’re a badass Office Ninja in a few of the most common social situations.
Parties are for fun drinks and good music, not shop talk. But as we’ve mentioned, that pesky childhood question has gotten itself an invite to the party too. When it’s your turn to answer, refrain from sharing your title in favor of a quick blurb that explains how you interact with your company’s customers.
For example, if you’re a receptionist, you could say:
I connect with people who are curious about what my company, [Company Name], does. I also schedule them for an inside look at [what the company does] or [how the company could help them].
Style expert Antonio Centeno ups the ante by suggesting you yourself lead with a question to help reel listeners in. “When people ask what I do, I usually flip the question and say, “You know how most guys don’t dress very well?” This usually gets the person nodding along. Then I talk about how I solve that problem.”
When you phrase your answer in these ways, it gives the other person a chance to visualize themselves interacting with you at your job. And that’s way more telling than a one-word title. Plus, this approach allows you to keep things casual while still leaving a lasting impression.
Whether you intend them to or not, most professional meetings outside your office include a thin layer of networking potential. Of course, this is a scenario when you truly do want to give an impressive answer. Again, lead with a concise summary about how you bring your team value—this time focusing on the business side, rather than the general public.
If you’re the Head of People Operations, you would explain:
I oversee recruiting, while also developing internal programs that allow employees to grow so they’ll contribute to our team longer.
That sounds pretty valuable, right? The person you’re talking to will probably agree, and they’ll remember you for how you contribute to your company. If they have follow-up questions (and who wouldn’t with an answer like that?) slip in your title in conjunction with an anecdote, recalling an exact situation where you did something Ninja-like in your position.
Don’t worry, if you’re networking, making a killer first impression is worth the extra three minutes it will take you to run through these details. Plus, human brains love stories, so your new acquaintances are bound to appreciate a brief Ninja narrative.
Ninja Bonus: If you leave behind business cards or have the opportunity to sign your name, use your middle initial as well as your first and last name. According to science, tossing that letter into the mix will make you seem smarter.
Similarly to networking events, you want to emphasize how you contribute to your team. In this situation, the inquiring party may already be familiar with your company, so you can just focus on how your role enables it to achieve overall goals. However, you’ll want to be quick, since business travel tends to be more fast-paced.
Say you’re attending a meeting as an executive assistant. In this situation, your title is an expected part of your introduction, rather than the answer to a direct question. Because your colleagues are pressed for time and focused on the meeting’s agenda, work your value statement in with the title scribbled on your nametag.
I’m [Your Name, First and Last], [Your Company]’s Executive Assistant in charge of liaising between our CEO and [other party].
Your title is necessary in this situation, in case you’re a point of contact or involved in documentation referring to different members by title. However, you can still include a snappy explanation to elevate the impression you give, which also shows that you’re much more than your boss’s travel agent.
As you can see, there are more ways to tell people what you do than with just a brief title. This detail matters too, but when you’re in a field as broad as office administration or management, shedding some light on the intricacies of your 9-to-5 can make all the difference.
Lay it on us: how do you answer this age-old question? Do you have any strategies to be more memorable?