“So, what do you do for a living?” – This is one of the most cliche, unoriginal questions that people, especially women, like to ask the guy they just met. This question it’s also my personal pet peeve. I am not sure if it’s as common outside the United States as it is here, but I believe it’s worth being aware of regardless of where you live.
There is nothing wrong per se with asking this question, except when it’s asked way too early. This is because it says all the wrong things about you: first, it suggests that you are unoriginal – you ask the same things that everyone else asks which makes you come across as cliche; secondly, even if it’s not true, it suggests that you are either materialistic or that you are screening people based on their occupation.
I am very surprised that men are just as guilty of asking women this question way too often and way too early. You might think that your intentions in asking this questions are quite different and very innocent – all you want to know is get an insight into the other peron’s life and get to know them better because you believe that what they do for a living says a lot or at least something about who they are, and you might be right, but that’s not what the other person often hears. What they hear is that you are trying to pre-qualify them and determine openly and without any shame whether the person you just started talking to or went out on a date with is good enough for you. Even if that’s not the case, asking “what do you do?” is likely to take your conversation in a more dry, formal and non-romantic direction. It might make you and your company talk about things that are very impersonal, such as discussing your job duties, your company structure and organization, any office drama that’s going on, etc. This is hardly conducive to getting to know each other at the very early stages of your interaction with the other person.
You might say that you don’t really put a lot of thought into asking what someone does for a living, and for you it’s just a conversation starter – kind of like ”where are you from?” or “where did you go to school?” If so, I suggest that you think of any other way to break the ice, and surely there are many other ways to start or continue a conversation, or break an awkward silence. Just look around you – look around the room and comment on something you see or hear, bring up a movie that you just watched that you liked or disliked and thought it was overrated. Ask her/him if she heard of or read this book that you recently read and liked. Anything is probably better than asking “what do you do?” Even when the time comes to ask this question and you really want to know what he or she does for a living, why not rephrase it and ask it a little differently – “What field are you in?” or “How are you spending your business hours?” are just two random examples of asking essentially the same thing without sounding as cliche as just about everyone else.
The next time you meet a new person in any setting or the next time you go out on a date with someone, take this personal challenge – try not to ask what he/she does for a living for at 30 minutes, and your conversation will invariably be different and will likely more interesting during that first half hour just because of that.