Q: So, What do you do? A: …

Marc Cowling does a great job of explaining some simple steps to avoid the pratfalls of gobsmacking the poor sods who inquire about your vocation or how I learned to stop sounding like a jerk when people ask me what I do.

A mash-up/meme

5 Tips for Explaining Your Job Description to Your In-laws | How to Not Fail (like me)

-Marc Cowling,  August 21, 2014

We’re supposed to admit when we fail, right? And we’re supposed to learn something when we fail, right? This past weekend, when my Father In-law (FIL) asked about what I do for a living, I opened my mouth, started talking, and realized I might need some time to think. I felt as though I needed a few props, perhaps a script and more coffee before I got too far into my description. In the end, I failed at explaining my job. I’m hoping my failure will help you to prep for a similar conversation.

I hope you never feel the job description failure pain I felt.

Oh, so painful.

The job description conversation went something like this:

  • FIL: Congratulations on your new job!
  • Me: Thanks, it’s great, I’m really excited.
  • FIL: What, exactly, is it that you do?
  • Me: I’m Senior Director of Content Marketing (spoken with confidence)
  • FIL: Right, I know your title. What does that mean?
  • Me: It means I manage top-of-funnel marketing for a SaaS company, all aimed at driving traffic and creating touch-points for potential and current customers. Through digital content like social media, blogs, whitepapers, e-books and videos I work to move a prospect deeper into the sales funnel so that my counterpart in digital marketing can convert them into leads. In the end we work together to create a positive marketing ROI and ultimately increase revenue.
  • FIL: …….(blank stare)…..
  • Me: It’s a really cool job.
  • FIL ……do they pay you?
  • Me: Yes, they do, and this is a really great job! A lot of people would kill for my job.
  • FIL: Of course they would. Is there any coffee left in the pot?
  • Me: Um, no, but I will make some (I run out of room and disappear into kitchen).

Why should you care about this story?

I think you can learn from my failure.

The setting for the conversation could not have been better. The In-laws were in town to celebrate their 50th anniversary. So far, I have not done anything, including breathing, for 50 years, so I have a lot of respect for this accomplishment. We rented an amazing house in the town of Guerneville, and as a family enjoyed a weekend of good food, sun, swimming, wine tasting and awkward failures to explain our jobs.

Of all the things I could write about, why am I focusing on this failure? I could write about what it’s like to hang out in the redwoods with your in-laws. I could write about the stellar bottle of Lambert Bridge Zinfandel on Friday night, or the amazing meal we had in Healdsburg at HBG.

Nah, there’s no fun in that.

I’ll focus on the embarrassing story. I’ll focus on it because I have 5 Tips for explaining your job description to your In-laws that you might need one day.

5 Tips for explaining your job description to your in-laws

Tip #1: Consider your audience and adjust your explanation

Where I failed: I forgot to remember my audience when I started talking to my FIL. We are from different generations. He is in his 70s, and I’m in my 40s. Our professional experience with the online world lies at two different ends of the spectrum. And, while this is not true for every septuagenarian, my FIL is not largely knowledgeable in the field of online marketing. FIL is a Doctor, hugely intelligent, but digital marketing simply isn’t his world.

How I could have done better: I once heard that the best way to explain your job to someone in a different generation is to explain it, as it would have been done his or her era. If I had taken the time to think this strategy through I would have explained my job in an entirely different way. I would have talked about how in the 70s it was common to drive new business to a company by placing print ads, doing PR, direct mail, etc. Then go to say, “I do the same thing; I just use the modern equivalent tools, the Internet, to make it happen.”

Tip #2: Avoid jargon and acronyms

Where I failed: How could anyone be confused by “SaaS,” “top-of-funnel,” “ROI,” “touch-points” or “digital content?” The better question is how could anyone who’s in a different line business NOT be confused by these terms. I have to admit, I heard these words coming out of my mouth and I knew they were wrong. But a part of me wanted to show I knew my business, so well in fact that I know the fancy acronyms and jargon. This was a mistake on my part. I forgot that no one cares about jargon; it only exists to make communicating within the industry more convenient.

How I could have done better: Rather than “create a positive marketing ROI” I could have said, “market in a way that makes sense financially for the company.” Same message, much simpler, and everyone gets it.

Tip #3: Think about the motivation for the question

Where I failed: Sometimes the question being asked is not the question that the questioner wants answered. Sometimes there’s subtext. I think on one level, my FIL did want to know what I do, on a high level. But on another level I think he probably wanted to have a better understanding of my security. After all, all parents want to know that their kids, and their kids’ spouses, are doing OK.

How I could have done better:Yes, I should have led with the high level, no jargon version of the job description, but I should have thrown a statement about security. Something like, “the company is doing great, check out this list of brands that work with us!”

Tip #4: Be prepared

Where I failed: I wasn’t a Boy Scout, but I did learn one lesson from my Boy Scout friends: be prepared. I should have been prepared. This would be the first face-to-face with my FIL since I joined Thismoment, I should have anticipated this question and had a plan.

How I could have done better: If I had anticipated the question and spent five minutes thinking it through I would have done fine.

Tip #5: Drink more coffee before explaining

Where I failed: Picture the scene: The question came up in the morning, before I’d finished my first cup of coffee and before I had eaten. I sat at the kitchen table, my hair was a fantastic mess of bed head, I was still groggy, and if I owned a bathrobe, I might have been wearing it. I was not physically or mentally ready.

How I could have done better: When the question came up I should have delayed. “Yes, let’s talk about this! I’m going to grab more coffee and some food and we’ll chat about my job. Be right back.”

I think another reason I failed was that I just didn’t think my job was that complicated. I talk about my job all the time, it’s just that 99% of the time its with people from within my own tech/digital marketing bubble. Those people get it. So when it came down to explaining it to someone from a completely different world, it was harder than I’d imagined.

I failed, but I learned something and fortunately I think my FIL still likes me!

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