Let me cue this up for you with a section of this article:

I think we miss a huge opportunity in networking when the people who care about us and love us and want to see us succeed can’t verbalize in one to two sentences what we do so that they can be out there looking for opportunities for us.

This is a little bit more complex and nuanced of an issue than people are sometimes willing to admit, so let me break this down for you into simpler chunks if I can.

We’re also about to enter the arena where families get together, and uncles/aunts you barely know will ask you what you do anyway. Can you answer? Can anyone? And if you’re a recruiter, isn’t it your job to be educating peeps you meet on how to explain what they do, so that your brethren in other industries aren’t run in circles by candidates?

BTW, funny story on aunts/uncles not knowing what you do: last Thanksgiving I had dinner with one uncle, and he said, “How long you been in Texas now? About six months?”

“Four years.”

Anyway, onward.

Chunk 1: A lot of job role is unclear

This has been proven time and time again by research. I was married once, and I think if you asked me to fully describe a day in the life of my ex, I couldn’t — and it’s probably the same on the other side too. I just did a cabin retreat weekend with dudes I’ve known for 19-20 years. I couldn’t tell you conclusively what all of them do all day beyond simply what their top-line profession is, i.e. “Lawyer” or “Recruiter.” We want to think we have all these friends and intimate relationships, but the reality is, you take 10 people you consider close, I bet you don’t really know what seven of them do. That’s just how life unfolds in your 20s, 30s, and 40s. Heck, they might not even know what they do.

Chunk 2: How recruiters operate

Recruiters often have very fraught relationships with hiring managers. The hiring manager is probably a massive “Temple of Busy” guy, meaning he wants the best person — the “A-Player,” if you will — immediately. He doesn’t want to wait. There is a huge focus on speed, even though that’s folly. But once you post that job on Indeed or wherever, you’re looking at probably 250 applicants, if not more. How do you whittle from 250 to 3-5 people you can present to the hiring manager? Well, you need to find flaws. Recruiters have to find flawsbecause that gets their funnel down to a manageable number for the overly-busy hiring manager. That’s the whole game. If you have gaps in your resume or job-hop too much, even if job-hopping makes perfect sense, you’ll get screened out. Same with keywords, same with negative posts/pictures on social media, etc. Recruiters want to get to a lower number of supposed “quality” candidates. That’s the thesis of their job.

Chunk 3: Recruiters like referrals (even if they whiff on it)

Referrals are a faster way to get that number down. Recruiters like that. And if the referral comes from someone considered a good employee, well, maybe the new hire will be a good employee. That’s a win, right?!?! RIGHT!

Now start adding it all together

Here’s the reality of white-collar work:

  • There are less and less promotions these days, and most of those go to people close to the existing power core.
  • If you get a base-level promotion, it’s probably 1-5% at most.
  • You can often make 5-10% job-hopping.
  • You can get into job-hopping contexts if you get referred by friends and former co-workers.
  • But for them to refer you properly…
  • … they need to know what you do…
  • … which means you need to condense that to 1-2 sentences and be able to tell people.

I wrote about this in February 2014 (damn!) and called it “the context of the hand-off.”

You can think of this as “an elevator pitch” or “story on a page” or whatever else you want to think of it as. Every networking seminar or professional development conference in a hotel ballroom talks about this, but it’s crucial.

Be able to clearly articulate what you do, and quickly. No one really caresand attention spans are dropping, but if you can implant some kernel of what value you provide into their brain, it could come back to help you down the road.

My example: “I ghost-write for people and help them tell their story in a more effective way, making ’em less busy and spend less money on some big marketing deal in the process.”

I’ve messed around with that, but that’s the basic one.

1-2 sentences, and then maybe nothing happens for six months. But a good amount of people do come back if you explain it quickly and succinctly.

Same goes with applying to jobs, or telling your friends what to say on a referral.

Quick, easy, dirty, etc. Learn to hit the target and get out.

Ted Bauer

Originally from New York City, Ted Bauer currently lives in Fort Worth, Texas. He's a writer and editor for RecruitingDaily who focuses on leadership, management, HR, recruiting, marketing, and the future of work. His popular blog, The Context of Things, has a simple premise -- how to improve work. Ted has a Bachelors in Psychology from Georgetown and a Masters in Organizational Development from the University of Minnesota. In addition to various blogging and ghost-writing gigs, he's also worked for brands such as McKesson, PBS, ESPN, and more. You can follow Ted on Twitter @tedbauer2003, connect with him on LinkedIn, or reach him on email at [email protected]