How to Talk About Your Job in DC Without Being the Worst

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“So what do you do?” That’s a common refrain in Washington, DC. And it’s a question that you’ve probably heard more than once. It could also be a key indication that the person asking doesn’t care a thing about you.

In this town, you sort of have to put up with the tedious, self-important job talk, but it doesn’t always have to be that way. To better navigate the network-crazed world that is DC, here are ways you can talk and act like a normal human being while still doing your super-important, top-secret job.

Whatever you do, don’t name-drop

No one’s impressed that you used to report directly to former Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, or inherited a cubicle from Biden’s second cousin, twice removed.

If you MUST name-drop, don’t do it right away

Fine, so you have this AMAZING Hillary story that’s just too good to keep bottled up inside. At least don’t be too eager to march right out with it among strangers. Wait for your moment.

Evan Lorne /

Don’t try to connect with people on LinkedIn mid-conversation

You also endorsed me for public-speaking skills. We are two minutes into a conversation at a pre-conference mixer. How? Why?

Keep interesting topics in your back pocket instead of business cards

Resist the urge to reach into your back pocket and impress everyone with that business card American Psycho style. Instead, maybe have something interesting to share about yourself? Your GS level is not one of those things.

Don’t brag

And yes, talking about how “stressed” you are with the implication being “my job is super important” counts as bragging.

Yes, humblebragging counts as bragging

Oh, you were late to the bar because that presidential news conference came out of nowhere? What, work is sending you to Europe for the second time in two months and you just wish you had more time at home? Truly, that must be rough.

If you’ve been talking about yourself for more than two minutes straight, stop

Inhale. Exhale. Ask a question. Listen to the answer to that question. Do not interject until the answer to said question has been given in full.

Andrew Zimmer/Thrillist

Stop assuming a “power lunch” has to mean “steak”

Because nothing says “I’m in charge!” like a bleeding hunk of beef. Get over yourself. DC is filled with new and interesting places to dine, and you just reflexively go for steak? Broaden your horizons. Also, if you actually use the phrase “power lunch” without irony, there is a pretty solid chance you’re the worst.

Hide your government-issued badge after 5pm

Nobody in the bar cares that you work in the Hart Senate Office Building.

Don’t be weirdly elusive about your job as a “contractor for State.”

You probably have the barest minimum of security clearance. If you were doing some legit cool CIA stuff you’d be much better at covering it up. Also, you wouldn’t be at this bar with everyone.

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So... what does Tim Ebner do? He writes about food, travel, and lifestyle features in and around Washington, DC. Follow him on Twitter (or you’ll hurt his ego).