I have a rule of thumb. The longer it takes you to describe exactly what you do for a living, the less I’m likely to be interested when you’re done describing it.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m sure what you do is awesome. It’s just that I got bored waiting for you to get it out.
Jack Welch, former King of GE, asked one of his managers to describe something. The guy went on for several minutes, tossing in jargon and techno-babble, leaving Jack more confused than when he started. Finally the manager gave up and said “How can I explain to you in five minutes what took me 25 years to learn?!” He was fired shortly after.
It’s exactly that you’ve studied it for 25 years that you should be able to explain it in five minutes.
I wrote something about mastery a few entries back. Folks who have mastered their trade make it look easy. When Tiger hits a ball off the tee, it looks easy. When Hamilton drives Monza, it looks natural. When Manny knocks a guy out, it looks effortless. When a mediocre manager tries to describe exactly what he does, it’s a nightmare. Are you making your job unnecessarily complex to hide something? Just go and buy a Hummer to make yourself feel better.
Great managers find ways to simplify so her crew can do the job more efficiently. Weak managers find ways to make things more complex so her crew can’t do it without her. I’ve worked for crappy, insecure managers. I’ve had to work with crappy, insecure managers. And I’ve been the crappy, insecure manager myself. Some people are naturals. Some people need to be burned a few times to learn how to manage. I’m in the latter group. But at least I’ve learned.
There’s a great saying in Chinese to describe insecurity; “Only a bucket that is half full makes a lot of noise.”
If you have no accomplishments, you don’t have much to say. If you have a lot of accomplishments, you don’t have to say much. It’s sort of those who have a little bit of ‘stuff’ that have the most to say.
The greatest manager I ever worked for did everything he could to make his team better. He did everything to simplify systems so there were less impediments for his guys to succeed. He wasn’t worried that his guys would outshine him because he knew everybody wins if the boat rode higher on the waves. So he simplified and simplified. His guys loved him. The directives were simple and we never had to deal with ego trips. Where insecure managers introduced half-assed initiative after initiative, he stayed true to one course – make his guys better. If his guys got better, they would sell more.
So the next time you’re asked what you do, get it out in one short sentence. If it takes you a minute to describe what you do, you’re likely the kind guy who would get canned if you had to present your value to the company to keep your job.
I describe what I do in one word – sales.