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How to talk about your job title in social situations

Hi there and a warm welcome to everyone. This is episode 86 of The Art of Business English. In today’s episode we are going to look at some aspects of socialising in English, more specifically, how to talk about your job.

If you have ever found yourself in a social situation, you will probably know that it is very common for someone to ask you about your job or what you “do”. If you’re a non-native English speaker, sometimes this question can be a little overwhelming. Sometimes, you may not really know how to answer it, or in fact you may mis-interpret the question all together. So, if you want to know how to talk confidently about your job, then keep reading.

So, let’s take a look at what we are going to be covering in today’s episode.

Firstly, we will look at what are  some ways in which people commonly ask people about their job. Secondly, we will cover why your job title is so important and some typical job titles. Finally, we will look at how you can introduce and describe your work and position.

Let’s get started.

What are some ways to ask about people’s jobs?

The first thing that you need to understand, is what type of expressions people use to ask people about their job.

The most typical or common way to ask someone about their job is by saying, “So, what do you do?”. Sounds pretty simple, doesn’t it? Well, this simple question can in fact cause a lot of problems for people who are non-native English speakers.

Let me explain why. Firstly, as the question contains the auxiliary verb “do” to form a question and then the verb “do”, people often don’t understand the question, especially if it is said quickly, or there is a lot of background noise in a loud room or bar. This can lead to confusion and embarrassment, especially if you have just met someone.

I’ll share with you the most common misunderstanding. Firstly, many Spanish speakers are not used to this question form, especially for asking about someone’s job. If you translate the expression, it would be “¿Que haces?”. In English, this would translate back to “What are you doing?”. So, often a non-native English speaker will get confused, and think, well I am here talking to you, that is what I am doing.

Therefore, if you are in a social setting you need to be sensitive to this very common question in English. “What do you do?”, means, as a job. It does not mean “What are you doing?” now.

Let’s take a look now at some other ways you can ask people or be asked about your job.

  • What do you do for a living?
  • So, where do you work?
  • What’s your job?
  • What do you work as?
  • Who do you work for?

OK, now that we have these common expressions clear, let’s take a look at how we can respond to them.

Why your job title is so important

Over the years I have often found that non-native speakers often have trouble describing their job title. Even worse, they don’t really attach enough importance to their job title. However, your job title is very important and should clearly and directly provide an immediate impression of the job’s role and responsibilities. A job title can really make an impression, set a certain status and instantly make people interested in you and what you do.

The difficulty with job titles is that they can sometimes be lost in translation. It is therefore recommendable to sit down and take the time find the closest translation for your specific job. Remember, in the English speaking world, job title is important and should clearly give someone an idea of your position.

Let’s consider the position “administrativo” in Spanish. If you didn’t take the time to find the correct translation, in a social situation you might say, “I am an administrative.” In English this makes not much sense and is not really reflective or descriptive of any of your roles. In English we have clerks or administrative assistants. Here you can see I am using administrative as an adjective and not a noun. You could also be an administrative officer. This sounds much more natural to a native English speaker.

The other common problems I see is with the word “responsable”. Non-native English speakers will say something like, “I am a responsible for the accounts department.” Again, this doesn’t make much sense. In English we are “in charge” or “responsible for” something. So, you should say something like, “I am in charge of the accounts department.” You could also so “I head up the accounts department.” To “head up” a department means you are the leader or manager of that department. Therefore, in summary, if you are in a management role you can say you are in charge of, responsible for, head up or manage a specific department.

Before we move on to the final part of this episode, let’s take a look at some common job titles that you could use on your CV.

  • Business analyst
  • Marketing manager/coordinator
  • Web designer
  • Project Manager
  • Customer Service Officer
  • Key Accounts Manager
  • Purchasing Manager
  • Accountant
  • Graphic designer
  • Social Media Assistant/Community Manager
  • SEO Manager
  • Account Executive
  • Quality Control Coordinator
  • Human Resources Office/Manager
  • Sales Assistant
  • Executive Assistant

And the list goes on and on. I do think we should also cover the C-suite, which are top leadership positions. If you hold one of these positions, you should always use your job title as any one of these positions carries a lot of prestige with it.

  • CEO—Chief Executive Officer
  • COO—Chief Operating Officer
  • CFO—Chief Financial Officer
  • CIO—Chief Information Officer
  • CTO—Chief Technology Officer
  • CMO—Chief Marketing Officer
  • CHRO—Chief Human Resources Officer

Obviously, there are hundreds if not thousands of job titles. Remember, you should always do your research on your position first and make sure that your title is reflective of your position and that it sounds correct in English. The added advantage of job titles is that they can make for great conversation starters.

Let’s take a look at how we can put them into action.

How you can introduce your job title and talk about your position

Firstly, there are a few ways we can respond, so let me start with some typical responses to the question “What do you do?”

“I am a key accounts manager at ComBank.”

“I am the director of a small manufacturing firm.”

“I am the CFO for a multinational based out of Leeds, in the UK.”

Let’s dissect these three examples.

First, we are using the present simple, “I am”, so, we talk directly using the verb “to be”.

Secondly, we always use the article “a or an” before any job title. This is a little different from Spanish. With Spanish we can say “Soy medico”, but in English we must say “I am a doctor.” We can’t say “I am doctor.”

Thirdly, because in a company there is only one Chief Executive Officer, or Chief Financial Officer, we don’t use the article “a” but instead we use the article “the”. So, to summarise, if your job can have more than one person with the same title we use “a” to talk about that job in general. If there is only one position for your job in the company, then we us the article “the”.

Let’s dive deeper.

In the first example, I provide the job title and then I also say where I work. This is great if you work for a well-known or prestigious company as it will add to your credibility.

In the second example, we also give our title and then also add information about the size and type of company we work for. This is great if you work for a smaller or less-known company. It helps put your role into context for the other person.

In the final example, I give the title and then use non-descript word “multinational” to define the size of the company as well as mention it’s location.

So, why do I do all of these things. Well, firstly, it helps define what you do and attaches status and importance to your title. Secondly, it gives the listener enough information to start forming an opinion of you and a desire to dive in and ask more questions. This is great for conversation starting and keeping a conversation going.

In the last part, I will quickly show you how you could follow up these job title statements with a quick question to keep the conversation going and express interest.

“I am a key accounts manager at ComBank.”

“Really, how long have you been with ComBank?”

“I am the director of a small manufacturing firm.”

“Oh, what does your company produce?”

“I am the CFO for a multinational based out of Leeds, in the UK.”

“I’ve never been to Leeds, but I hear it is an interesting place to live. Sorry, which company is that?”

Final Thoughts

So, make a habit of discovering your job title in English as well as learning some of the more common job titles in the marketplace.

Remember, your job title should be descriptive and clearly reflect your position, and status.

It is also important to think about the types of questions your job title might generate so you are ready to explain in simple terms what it is that you do. Additionally, it is important to know how to politely ask people about their jobs so that you can start or keep a conversation going in a social situation.

If you are interested in improving your socialising skills in English, then take a look at my course on “How to engage people in conversation”. This course is packed full of useful techniques, language and skills to have you confidently engaging in conversation in social settings.

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Andrew is the CEO and founder of the Art of Business English. Besides teaching and coaching native Spanish speakers in Business English, he is also passionate about mountain biking, sailing and healthy living. When He is not working, Andrew loves to spend time with his family and friends.

Andrew Ambrosius

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