Why the “What Do You Do for a Living?” is Such a Bad Question to Ask

what do you do for a living is a bad question“So, what do you do for a living?”¬† – This is one of the most common yet also the most cliche, unoriginal questions¬†that people, especially women, like to ask as soon as they meet someone new or as soon as they show up on that first date. ¬†This question, when being asked too soon, is also my personal pet¬†peeve. This is because it says all the wrong things¬†about you: first, it suggests that you are unoriginal – you ask the same thing that everyone else asks which makes you come across as cliche; secondly, even if it’s not¬†true, it implies that you are either materialistic or that you are¬†screening people based on their occupation and income. And lastly, asking about your date’s occupation is taking your conversation in the most unromantic direction. Talking about what’s going on in the office is not exactly an aphrodisiac.

I am very surprised that men are just as guilty of asking women this question way too often and way too early on a date. You might think that your intentions in asking this questions are ¬†very innocent and you are simply trying to get to know them. However, what they hear is that you are trying to pre-qualify them and determine openly and somewhat shamelessly 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. Surely, there are many other ways to start or continue a conversation, or break that 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 your date if she heard of or read this book that you recently read and liked. Any comment or question is probably better than asking “what do you do?”

So, the next time you meet a new person in any setting or the next time you go out on a date with someone, try not to ask what they do for a living for at least 30 minutes. This will very likely force you to be more creative with what you talk about and inevitable have a more refreshing and interesting conversation. And if you are being asked this dreaded question by your date, give a brief and general answer and move on to another topic, unless you have something truly interesting to share without turning it into a long story.



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About practicalh

Practical, effective dating tips and relationship advice.
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  1. Thank you. yes, and thanks for pointing out. This is a typo and I will correct it right away.

  2. This is a lovely article… in the last sentence you meant ‘date’ correct?

  3. practicalhappiness.com

    @ student and teacher
    Thanks for your feedback!
    I see no problem with the question about what you would do if you retired. It’s a little cliche, but …. nowhere nearly as bad as “What do you do?” Also, it’s fun to think of it and also a fun challenge to respond to a question like that. It also much say more about who the person is than their current occupation.

  4. student and teacher


    not only is this question cliche, but it’s closed ended. even if she tells you, you really dont have enough information or chemistry for a conversation about her job to be anything meaningful.

    this question “what do you do” shouldn’t be a conversation starter; it should only be asked when relevant, like let’s say she’s telling you a story about a crazy day at her job, then you can ask her what she does.

    what do you think of questions like “if you could retire now and never work a day in your life again, what would you pursue with the rest of your life?” (of course, not the very first thing you ask her, but in general)

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