Have you ever met someone new and within seconds of introduction, asked them the question, “What do you do for a living?” It’s a common query that is often seen as a way to gauge a person’s interests, skills, or even things you may have in common.

For instance, I was recently on a flight, and the stranger beside me asked me “What do you do?” within the first two minutes. This question can be complicated for me to answer. Sometimes, I long to say, “I’m a professional roller skater competing at the National level, hoping to make it an Olympic sport.” However, I usually opt for a more straightforward response, such as “I’m a bracelet maker,” “a Christian magician,” or “a melodica player.”
Discovering someone’s occupation is a natural starting point when getting to know someone new. However, the problem with this line of questioning is that it often reduces someone to just their job, creating a false and narrow perception of who they are. This can be misleading when someone is between jobs or doing something they don’t love. In addition, we may unconsciously limit our understanding of a person to just their job, neglecting to appreciate the richness of their individuality, which encompasses a wide range of skills, experiences, and passions that extend beyond their professional life.
It’s easy to overlook the fact that each person is much more than just their career. People are multi-faceted and possess a diverse range of talents, life experiences, and interests that cannot be solely defined by their occupation. What if the person you just met is an incredible artist or a talented musician? What if they’re working in a job they don’t enjoy just to pay the bills, but they’re actually working on a project they’re passionate about in their spare time? By asking someone what they do for a living, you may miss out on learning about all the incredible things they have to offer.
To break the mold and take a different approach to initial conversations, I have compiled a list of five alternative questions that I often use to gain a deeper understanding of the person I am speaking with and form a stronger connection with them. These questions delve into their unique perspectives, hobbies, and aspirations, allowing me to see beyond their job and gain a fuller picture of who they truly are.
1. If you could have dinner with anyone still alive that you haven’t met yet, who would that be?
2. What subject would you most excel at on Final Jeopardy?
3. What is your very favorite quote and why?
4. What would the title be if they made a movie about your life right now?
5. If you could do any hobby for 365 days this year that would make your soul come alive, what would it be?
There are countless other ways to connect with people from the start of a conversation. While it’s not wrong at all to inquire about someone’s job or career, as it can reflect their passions and purpose, it is not the only lens through which we should view them. So, the next time you find yourself in a social situation, consider breaking free from the traditional script and dive into a more meaningful and enriching conversation. That’s where the true magic happens!