Let’s face it, “What do you do?” is an overused question when meeting someone.
As well as being pretty uninspiring, it suggests that the focus of our life is whatever we choose to do for a living.
For many, this is not the case.
I am lucky to love what I do for a living but I don’t necessarily want to be defined by it.
I don’t love that “What do you do?” is often the second (or sometimes first!) question I am asked when people first me.
Want to get your introductions off to a more inspiring start and make better first impressions?
It’s time to upgrade your small talk.
With this in mind, today we cover five questions to ask that are more interesting than “What do you do?”.
Don’t worry; I am not going to suggest asking massively cheesy questions to people you have just met.
I have personally been using all of these for the past few years, and they have;
- turned me into a better conversationalist
- allowed me to make better, lasting first impressions
- helped me develop genuine long-term relationships
They can do the same for you.
Let’s dive in.
1) “What do you like to do?”
This is probably my favorite alternative to “What do you do?” and it’s the one that I use most.
Someone I met a few years ago said it to me when we were introduced, and I’ve been using it since.
It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that it’s been a game-changer for me when meeting new people.
Just one word changes the question entirely. “like” turns a dull and uninspiring opener into one that sparks positivity.
It is so close to “What do you do?” that people will often ask why you changed it. This makes for a great conversation starter and allows you each to share some values.
The best thing about this question is that people who are more comfortable with traditional responses can still talk about their careers if that’s what they like doing.
Others will talk about their hobbies, and some will talk about their families.
However a person chooses to reply, it’s a great way to find out what people are passionate about.
And lends itself well to follow-up questions on topics that people actually want to discuss.
Want something less obvious? Check out the next one.
2) “How’s your week/weekend going?”
This question is quite similar in its aim to “What do you like to do?” but it isn’t as obvious.
The point here is to give people a choice. It’s more open-ended than asking, “What do you do?”.
I tend to use this with older people or when I’m at more formal occasions where I don’t want to risk sounding too unconventional.
And it works.
People don’t bat an eye when you ask this. And why would they?
It’s a pretty standard question.
But the answers vary a lot.
Some people will talk about their work. Others will talk about how they feel or something exciting they did.
Like the previous question, “How’s your week/weekend going?” leads the conversation in a direction the person you are meeting is interested in.
It creates a casual back-and-forth, not an interview-like interaction like “What do you do?” often does.
3) “Where does your name come from?”
Most often, the first thing we share with a person we meet for the first time is our name.
A great follow-up question can be, “Where does your name come from?”
I’ll admit you can’t use this in all situations.
If someone says “I’m John Smith” or something very generic, you probably wouldn’t use this one.
However, if someone has a name that is in any way unique, it’s a great one to ask.
Generally, people are happy to answer and will tell you where they are from in the process.
Sometimes, people don’t know what their name means and will say, “I don’t know, actually…” but are still happy that you were interested in them.
If someone has a unique name, this is a risk-free follow-up that can really get a genuine conversation flowing.
If you never meet people with interesting names, however, the next one is a good one to try.
4) “What’s your idea of fun?”
This one is a little more playful but still a great alternative to the dull “What do you do?”.
It’s less open-ended than the previous ones on this list, but it has the benefit of encouraging people to think of something positive.
I tend to ask this one when the mood in the room is already positive.
I say something like, “So tell me (name), what’s your idea of fun?”
Sometimes, people are taken aback a little, and they say, “That’s an interesting question,” or “Oh, I’m not sure about that.”
Then, they’ll usually give a positive, often revealing, response.
Once they do, you’re off to the races. You’ve broken the ice and are talking about something that interests the person you just met.
Then, all you have to do is listen and ask some thoughtful follow-up questions.
The next and final one is a little more risky but it can have great results.
5) The genuine compliment-question-combo
Okay, so this isn’t technically just one question, and you have to be careful with it.
But when done well, it is one of the most powerful ways to get an interesting conversation going.
So here’s how it goes.
When you meet someone, find something about them that is genuinely impressive.
And I mean genuinely impressive.
For example, to a man, you might say, “Wow, great shoes! Where did you pick those up?”. You must actually like his shoes.
Or you could say, “You’ve got a great voice; have you ever thought of starting a podcast?”. Again, you must believe what you are saying.
You need to read the room here. Do it if the atmosphere is light-hearted, and do it in a light-hearted fashion.
I did say you need to be careful with this one.
What did I mean by that?
For men, in particular, you need to remember that you are not flirting when using this with women. This is not a chat-up line.
It should not be sexual in any way.
Stay well clear of “wow, great legs!”…obviously.
You are not in an episode of Mad Men. And even if you were, it would be inappropriate.
However, even what you feel to be harmless comments can have negative repercussions.
You may be genuine when you say, “That’s a great dress. Where did you get it?”
Or “You look like you work out. I am thinking about joining a gym..any tips?”.
But someone will take it the wrong way, so I’d recommend steering clear of anything that someone could interpret as flirtatious or sexist.
Your goal is to start an interesting conversation, not to shock or offend.
Honestly, I mostly use this one with men I meet for this reason.
However, on occasion, at a house party or something, I might compliment a woman on something I know she cooked, or I might say something like, “Wow, that’s a fantastic-looking cocktail. What’s in it?”.
The bottom line
“What do you do?” is overused, dull, and does not inspire interesting conversation or help you to make a good first impression.
It’s time to add the above questions to your small talk arsenal.
These have been game-changers for me, helping me to have more interesting questions, make better first impressions and develop lasting relationships.
Give them a shot next time you meet someone new, and see the results for yourself!