Job Titles

By Gabrielle. Incredible meeting under the sea by Marco Queral.

What do you tell people that you do for a living? I guess I mean to ask, how do you describe yourself in one official job title upon meeting someone new? Whether you’re a mom or a banker or an anthropologist (one who either digs up artifacts in exotic locales or one who sells all the pretty things at  Anthropologie!), what do you mention first? The most meaningful-to-you duty, or the one you think might sound more impressive or audience appropriate in the moment?

I got lucky with my job title – Design Mom – because it’s a fairly basic descriptor for what I do; I’m a designer and a mom. But depending on the situation, I sometimes only mention Olive Us. Or Alt Summit. Or Ben Blair. And I’m not really sure why! I wonder if we all sometimes get the urge to define ourselves in one simple term? If so, what’s yours?

P.S. – This article is cute. I would love to be a Pintern at Pinterest, wouldn’t you?

68 thoughts on “Job Titles”

    1. I’ve said it more and more often over the past year, but have noticed if I say it, that means the asker usually wants a follow up conversation to understand better what I do.

      So if I’m in a hurry or just chit chatting, I usually say designer instead. Though sometimes I lead with Mother of Six if that seems to be the most relevant piece of info.

      I guess I really jump around.

  1. I tell people I’m a freelance journalist — nice and simple, and I can then explain that I write magazine and newspaper articles, write travel articles, manage a travel website, am a copyeditor, and all the other million little things I do. You’re right, though — depending on the occasion, I might only mention one or two of my jobs.

  2. “Occupational therapist” – followed by a “no I don’t find people jobs, I help them get back to the job of living – you know re-learning how to get dressed, shower, make a meal. I work with people and families after someone has had surgery, a stroke, or illness. I’m also a full-time mom teaching my kids how to get dressed, shower, make a meal . . .

  3. When all of my kids were young, I would often open with “I’m a zookeeper,” then motion to my five kids, “in charge of the monkeys.” It usually took people a beat or two to get it. :)

  4. I’m a wife and mom. I always say that’s what I am. Depending on which part of the country we have lived in has changed the reactions I get. From looks of understanding to people asking me what my real job is. :)

  5. I always start with my (boring to me) day job, because I feel like I have to say my real job that makes me money. But sometimes I’ll hesitantly follow up with “well, I’m also trying to start a photography company…” I’m not confident in that part of myself quite yet so it’s hard to say… but I’m working on presenting that confidently!

  6. Years ago a friend used to go to parties and say she was a “parentologist” – meaning, a woman who, together with her spouse, studies the art of parenting. On-site, 24/7, year in and year out!

  7. I am a nanny. That is usually pretty straight forward to explain, but it is often met with odd looks. I have to explain that I’m a professional nanny and not marking time until I’m done college, or find my “real job.”
    After that I have people ask whether I live in, since I have a husband and will soon have a baby.
    I don’t mind explaining because I absolutely adore my job, but sometimes it gets tiring having to explain why nannying is a profession to me and not a stop gap.

    1. I feel like this could have been written by me, word for word. I just got married and people are wondering when I will get a ‘real’ job or go back to school, but I love what I do and I am determined to keep doing it even when we decide to have kids in a few years.

    2. I’m also a nanny and proudly so. I used to always get questions about what this kids’ mother did (never their father though!). I’d say she was a writer who worked from home for brevity’s sake, but a lot of people would interpret that very negatively as a woman who “dabbled”, was supported by her husband, and hired out the care of her children. I always got defensive on her behalf and would haughtily follow up with, “She’s the chief financial editor for a publication that reports on the bio pharmaceutical industry”. It was nice to see them shut up but I also felt like I was selling out a lot of women who work extremely hard but can’t defend themselves so quickly with an impressive title.

  8. Re: Camille’s comment – I agree 100% – why isn’t being a wife and mother “enough”? My goodness…to invest one’s gifts, skills and intelligence (not to mention love) into one’s family is the greatest gift to society we can give. I am still trying to shed the outdated expectation that prevailed in the ’80’s that convinced women that being home with your children was for the uneducated with no better prospects. Thank heaven that attitude’s changing.

  9. I am a photographer. But I work in an interesting niche in the photography field. I work at a university as a staff photographer. That means I get to shoot portraits, event photography, lab work (it’s a medical university), stylized shoots for our communications department. It’s nice to not have as “risky” of a job as a freelancer does, and it’s fun to not be stuck doing one kind of photography. Most people don’t even realize that it is a job option for photographers.

    Oh, Jessy: my husband has a similar sort of situation: he works as a youth pastor, which means he works with the teenagers of our congregation. He loves it, and he’s very good at it. The thing that gets tiring/frustrating for him is when he’s asked by adults in the congregation when he’s going to go into ACTUAL ministry (meaning, become a senior pastor). Everybody sees Youth ministry as just a ladder rung to the “big job” but that’s just not how my husband sees it. Hang in there: you do wonderful, important work! :)

  10. I am a Mom who stays at home full time with my kids. I believe that my job is important, but when I introduce myself as such, usually it registers no interest whatsoever. It makes me sad that people are defined by what they do to make money.

  11. I’m a sahm and an artist. I often tell people I’m “just” a sahm….and then I kick myself bc it’s a damn important job! And one I’m privileged to have.

  12. It’s taken me a long time to fully embrace the title “homemaker” but that’s the word I use when asked what I do. It sounds dated, I guess, but it feels right. I don’t feel like a “stay-at-home-mom/parent” because I feel like that doesn’t really encompass all that I do/aspire to do. It really is about making a home on many levels (which is a BIG thing!) and I really am passionate about it. I don’t have the desire to balance it with other passions either (at least at this point) — I want a slow, simple life. It is also something that I don’t think will end once all the kiddos are in school. I imagine I will always be a homemaker.

    Perhaps in the future I’ll do something that pays in dollars. Perhaps not.

  13. Back in the old days (yep, I’m that old} when you would write a check at a store…one of the questions they would always ask was…occupation…(then they would write it on the check} not sure why=? but…after a few times of the clerk responding in a “oh, you poor thing way” when I would say I was a stay at home Mom…I came up with a new title for me.
    my new way of telling them what I do.
    Research associate in the field of Children development working with children from birth to 19.
    No more “poor thing” faces from clerks….. I still think of myself as a research associate….always learning.
    Happy day

  14. I returned to school in my late 30’s for a career change so my current “job” is complicated! “Former marketer turned graduate student and stay at home mom soon to be a policy analyst” ! I usually just say Grad Student!

  15. Parentologist! Zoo Keeper! Excellent! Mind if I use those too?
    Want to hear a funny anecdote? When I was a young mom I was at a party. I was chatting with a seemingly nice woman, someone of whom I’d just met. It came to the part of the conversation where she asked me what I did. I told her I was a homemaker and mom. Her face fell and she said, “Oh…well, I don’t have kids.” And then she walked away! Yes. Walked. Away.
    I stood for a beat blinking, and then cracked up laughing so hard I almost fell off my shoes. I was laughing not at her, but at what was going through my own mind when she did what she did. I had what could be called a flash of insight so deep I was startled. I had been deciding if I should be hurt by this woman or not. I chose, NOT. Obviously.
    It was in that moment that I chose who I was, and what I wanted to do. Mom. Homemaker. Yes. That’s me! I’m also an artist and photographer and blogger and, and, and….
    But the job of Mom is the most important to me.

    I never found out what she did…

    1. Wait! Maybe I’m being naive, but couldn’t her reaction have been a result of her own regret? Whenever people say hurtful things, I try to remind myself that it might have more to do with their own experiences, and not me.
      Either way, it’s lovely that you were able to make such a clear decision.

  16. My job title is “Production Manager” which is both bad and good. It’s pretty vague and can be used for a variety of positions so often people just make their own assumptions about what I do.

    1. I know what you mean about the good and bad. Sometimes vague is nice if I’m not in the mood to share too much information. I might say “designer” and let them think fashion, interior, industrial, etc., instead of saying “graphic designer”.

  17. I love this conversation. I usually say that I stay at home with my girls and also am a writer for Disney and a blogger (I won’t pretend I don’t like being able to throw around Disney to my husband’s MBA acquaintances).

  18. I usually tell people my day job: Nurse Practitioner at a Women’s Health Clinic. Out and about in the community I have no problems defining myself by my schooling and occupation (I worked darn hard to earn it!) I am also a mom to a beautiful 2 year old girl. I feel motherhood and nursing are each very big facets of myself – just like wife and daughter and sister.

  19. I love being able to have the priveldge of calling my self a stay at home mom. Then i follow up with…I create people! I’m a short order cook, I do community relations, and ensure the happiness of 2very special little people!!!

  20. I sell cookbooks for a living. I love telling people what I do. Everyone always says, Oh, how interesting! And it is. And I love my job. I’m also a mom–and normally the people asking me what I do are people I encounter b/c of my son, so they figure out the mom part on their own, b/c certainly that’s as much a part of my daily work as selling cookbooks.

  21. Architect. It’s my profession and what I do and I worked hard to be able to call myself that. I’m also a mom. But if someone asks what I do, I’ll always say Architect.

  22. I used to have a difficult time describing what I did because I wanted to say everything I did. Now I just go with the main two- watercolor artist and own a stationery line. Then I just let them ask questions if they are curious!

  23. Haha – better watch out using the term “banker”. No one who would be considered a banker would EVER agree to being called that. They get *very* specific about what they do. My husband, for example, is Director of North American Real Estate Investments. My mom calls him a banker and I can see him shudder … haha :)

  24. Scientist. If asked to elaborate, biochemist or molecular biologist (neither of which is exactly correct!). I am a mom and wife too, but would always answer scientist.

    1. I agree. It is terrifying to say writer. I still don’t dare. And really, I still think of myself as a graphic designer first, although I haven’t taken on a design client in ages. Hah!

  25. I am a freelance photographer and a full-time mama. I feel like both are jobs I am passionate about and both are jobs I give myself to with equal gusto. It’s hard for me to fill out a form and write only “photographer” because I feel like it diminishes the importance “mom” has in my household!

  26. I love this post.
    In my eyes, my primary job is raising my daughter. But, I also have a variety of part-time projects I’m involved with and I help my husband a great deal with our family business…. The reality is that I “work” 30+ hours a week although I consider myself a stay at home mom.
    This question always leaves me stuttering and stumbling for words!

  27. Gaby .. a cultural question for you: During your time in France did you notice that people are much less likely to as “What do you do?” I find with my family the typical ice breaker seems to be where are you from?

  28. If someone asks me “what do you do?” I seldom respond with my profession (research and data collection for a special populations assessment) – I usually start talking about my hobbies and volunteer work. Yoga, reading, support for domestic violence and sexual assault victims, food insecurity – my passions! I love my husband and kids too but I only elaborate on them if someone asks me to do so.

    I’m always amazed by how hard some people will work to steer the conversation back to my job. At least now people are polite about it – when I taught middle school people would openly say, “Ugh, how horrible!” Uh…thanks?

    1. I’m the same way! Even when I worked full-time, I hardly ever talked about work off-hours. I’d even feel kind of bad because I never remembered what people did for a living–but I could tell you about their hobbies and what restaurants and movies they liked!

  29. I’m a clinical psychologist/psychotherapist. When I say that, people usually respond: “Oh, now I have to be careful what I say in front of you”. I then respond: “I’m still in training”. Some people then continue to ask whether it is true or not, that people who study psychology just do it to cure their own issues. I loathe that whole conversation! But when I stayed home with the kids I couldn’t just say that I’m a full-time mom either or even a homemaker (the German word for that is “Hausfrau” which would be “house woman”).

  30. Fiona Westmoreland

    I’m a Carpet Designer. I am often torn because I am also a mother with 2 small children. As a working mother, I constantly feel pulled in both directions…what do I need to be doing at work and what do I need to be doing at home….or who needs to be where and what time do I need to leave work in order to get them there? It is so hard, but I sometimes feel like the jack of all trades, but the master of none! I am very thankful though because my work allows me to be at the kids activities at school when possible.

  31. Great topic!!! I totally get what Laura’s saying about the terror of calling one’s self a writer. I quit my day job as an editor to stay home with my kids, and it took years for me to get the courage to call myself a “writer” without mumbling. Being an editor was so tied up in my identity, it was hard to let it go. I mean, to be an editor you have to know about gerunds and where commas go, but anyone can be a writer. :)

    Now that the kids are in school I’ve started editing again, so I get to call myself a “freelance writer and editor.” Yea!

    P.S. I actually decided to stop thinking of my kids as my job a few kids back, because I found I was a lot nicer to them when I didn’t think of them as “jobs.” I know it’s really a case of semantics, but still!

  32. Even after 6 years, I still don’t say I’m a “blogger.” Not sure why! Goodness knows I love it! But, I typically just tell people my day job (the one that puts food on the table)… “teacher” (which I also love, btw). : ) I think it also depends on who you’re saying it to. A little old lady who doesn’t even have a cell? “I’m a teacher!” To the hip, cool, graphic artist : “I’m a design blogger!” It works out. : )

  33. I love this conversation. I’m going to echo Laura and Shannon and say that I find it hard to say “I’m a writer” but I guess at this point in my life, that best describes me. My husband and I don’t have kids yet and we just moved to China – we were hoping we’d land in a position where he could make enough for us to live off of while I gave full-time writing a shot. It actually worked out (and rather well, since living in China is actually a perfect excuse not to try to find a ‘real job’) and I’m trying to get the courage to say “I’m a writer” regularly. I’m hoping to get an agent for my just-finished novel soon – maybe then I’ll feel more confident saying it? Till then, I guess I just pretend to be confident. So, I’m a writer. :)

  34. well I’m a teacher. I find it harder and harder to tell people, as teachers have such a bad rep in my country; I don’t know whether it is because everybody has been to school and have had teachers and thus have opinions about that particular job, I don’t know. But when I meet strangers away from home, I just say I have kids. I read all the comments, I didn’t find one teacher.
    I think teaching has become really uncool, I’m just wondering when that happened! Anyone?

  35. I’m with you cath. I was a preschool teacher for over 20 years & dreaded the ‘what do you do’ question, teachers get so little respect & I have no idea why. Early Childhood teachers seem especially looked down on, everybody thinks all we do is play all day. It’s so frustrating to feel judged for your job rather than yourself, & it sounds like the other commenters feel the same way. I would usually answer ‘teacher’ & if pressed say ‘for Head Start, which is a federally funded preschool for poverty level families’, that usually helped stop them from judging me but it is a little exhausting to feel the need to justify your existence to a total stranger.
    & then 2 years ago I was severely hurt at work & have been recovering from subsequent surgeries. This spring I was told that I will never fully heal & that teaching is too risky & not recommended. I haven’t been working, but am planning to open an online store for my art soon, & someday will go back to some sort of service work but for now it hurts my heart too much think about doing anything other than teach. How do I answer the ‘what do you do’ question at this point without going into details or spiraling into a pity party?
    & cath- sometimes I would answer that I am raising children, when they asked how many I would answer ’20’ & then walk away as their jaw dropped!

    1. @traci – the people who do not respect you do not understand what you do. I adore and respect all of my son’s teachers – especially his pre-school teacher and his current 1st grade teacher. Teachers have extraordinarily difficult jobs and I have observed them perform their jobs with humor and grace. Before I went to law school and became a judge I worked in a pre-school setting and realized early how difficult the job is and how truly skilled our teachers are.

      I’m so sorry to hear about your injuries. Perhaps when you situation has improved you can volunteer in a classroom as an art teacher or art assistant? Perhaps volunteer on an art beautification project at a school? Many classrooms and schools do not have enough art and your skills would be more than welcome!!

  36. I too am a designer, working as an architect. At work I say I am an artist, working as a designer. At home, I am a mother and wife…..that is the most rewarding : )

  37. I’m an administrative law judge – I really love my job and worked hard to get where I am. However, I don’t bring it up unless asked because it’s not everything I am (I’m also a PTA board member, a room-parent, wife to a great husband, and a mom to a very active 1st grader and nearly 11 month old). And, when people learn what I do, it sometimes makes them clam up or think I’m unapproachable – which I am definitely not!!

    This year I met a very lovely mom whose daughter transferred to our school and was assigned to our classroom. She and I have chatted often at drop-off about our sweet kids, our wonderful teacher, art projects, field trips, etc. Yesterday she asked me what I did and when I told her she said “that sounds so important. I’m just a party planner.” I responded that I would much rather hear about her party planning than talk about my job, because it usually involves child support, elder abuse, and medical assistance. We then had this really great conversation about all the fun stuff she does at work, and how she created this job for herself and has been working at it since she was 18 years old. It was clear that she really loves her job too, which is truly the most important thing. And, I had to admit that I was a bit jealous. :)

  38. I never give my job title. I just say that I work for Community Youth Services, a nonprofit that works with at-risk youth, many who are homeless.

    If they probe I let them know I’m an admin assistant, but I think someone knowing about the organization and the work being done here is a lot more important than them knowing my position.

  39. Ask me and I’ll tell you: Corporate Director of Sustainability. Yes I’m a mom too. But I am one of those that really likes to think I have other things to talk about than just my kid. Also? I am damn proud of what I do. It’s my job to make sure our operations, located mostly in National Parks, are as friendly to those glorious aces on Earth as they can be. It’s a hard, sometimes tricky, job balancing economics and sustainability and I feel privileges to hold the position.

  40. I’m an associate producer for public radio. I’m so happy to have a job title I’m proud to share. It’s been a long, winding road to get where I am.

    It’s funny how important it feels to have a job title to fill out in, say, immigration forms on the airplane. I’d done many things before starting a career in radio, but none were easily explainable. I know my job title shouldn’t define me but I can’t help but value in it. Maybe it’s because I really, really love what I’m doing. And before this job, I spent a chunk of adult years wondering “what I’m going to be when I grow up.” It’s so fun and such a relief to actually know the answer to that question, even just for now.

  41. I find this so challenging. I used to be an Investment Banker – that was easy. Then, Real Estate Asset Management, that was easy, too. Now that I am a Blogger/Designer/Photographer/Stay-At-Home-Mom, it is so much trickier. None of those things defines what I do in its entirety. Blogger seems so cliche – and sometimes comes across even flatter than “I stay at home with the kids.” Craft, DIY and Fiber Blogger isn’t much better – I write a blog about lovely handmade things? . . .it’s so hard. Maybe simply A Writer and Designer . . .I obviously need to work on my elevator pitch . . .

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