You try finding common ground when meeting someone for the first time. Familiar questions are thrown about:
"Where do you live?"
"Are you from here?"
"How do you know so and so?"
The answers you share are most likely boilerplate: your neighborhood, your hometown, you are coworkers with so and so.
Then, this query pops up: "What do you do?"
What does that even mean, really? It's broad. It could be answered with "I brush my teeth twice, daily" to "I collect the works of rogue taxidermists."
But no. For some reason we've all decided it means: "What is your job?" Lame.
Defining someone by their job is a weak way to try and truly connect with someone else.
You are the embodiment of your social network, and need to establish rapport through something stronger than the label of a job title.
"What do you do" is standard small talk that can be a trivial time suck. It may prevent you from reaching the next level with the person, whether business, romantic or other...is there an other? Friendship, I guess.
Make a simple tweak to your meet and greet to get responses the next time you're at a party or event.
Ask, "How do you spend most of your time?"
This question lets the person avoid talking shop, and usually gives you an insight into their outside-of-work life.
Sure, their answer may still be, "I work." That's fine. They are busy at work a lot. But when people open up about their family, friends, hobbies and other extra-curricular activities, they appreciate you allowing them to talk about something other than what goes on within their cubicle.
Another problem with asking "What do you do?" is that you may be failing to take into account that the other person:
a) does not have a job
b) hates their job
c) can't talk about their job because they are in the CIA
Avoid it all together. Let's get rid of "What do you do?"
Lead the conversation into specifics.
Learn truths and recall introductions more easily. You're much more likely to remember someone who is a fellow mountain biker than you are the person to whom you responded, "Oh hey, I'm in marketing too!"
Try it out here. Use the comment section to tell us how you spend most of your time.