As you advance in your career, a well-written professional bio can be an important part of your personal brand. Although generally not used when looking for a job (unless in conjunction with a resume and other materials), a bio is often essential when pursuing board roles, speaking engagements, media opportunities and even new clients.
Bios are also commonly used by companies, nonprofits and professional associations to showcase their executive leadership, boards of directors/advisors, committees and event speakers.
Writing about yourself is a challenge, especially in a way that’s compelling to broad audiences for a variety of uses. Here are some strategies and tips to ensure that your professional bio is at its best, presenting you in an informative and compelling manner.
1. One Page
While you should prepare a longer, detailed bio as well as shortened alternatives (e.g. for a social media profile or at the end of an article you’ve guest written), no version should exceed one page in length. It’s a professional profile, so think of it as an overview, not an exhaustive document.
2. Who’s Talking?
The most common voice for a professional bio is third person, e.g., John Smith is Chief Financial Officer of XYZ Company. This is also the most formal style. However, depending on the use and target audience/s, organizations increasingly allow for (and even encourage) writing in the first person, e.g., I’m John Smith, Chief Financial Officer of XYZ Company. This less formal style often highlights a more personal side of the individual.
3. Prose, not bullets
A bio isn’t a laundry list of past jobs. While bullet points are a highly effective way to organize and present information on a resume, they’re not optimal on a bio (unless used within a section). Instead, opt for prose that flows seamlessly between topics as you tell your career story. Begin each paragraph with distinct transition phrasing, which facilitates topic changes and keeps readers more interested than starting each with a repetitive Jane Adams…, Ms. Adams… or Jane…
For tips on how to write a better resume, check out our Top 10 Resume Writing Do’s And Don’ts
4. Paint a big picture
An effective bio gives a good, overall sense of who you are professionally, talks about your expertise and industry specialties, and explains how you got to where you are today. Other distinguishing elements may include key accomplishments, board roles (including committee leadership experience), major volunteer positions, additional roles (e.g., adjunct professor), notable professional memberships, awards and certifications, as well as educational background.
5. Demonstrate overall impact
As with any career-related materials, be sure to articulate your value. Don’t just say what you do, show how it’s important through impact and key results achieved. Have you led organizational transformation that had a major impact on revenue? Oversaw M&A that drove global expansion? If so, include that! (Note: The level of detail may depend on bio’s intended audience and use.)
6. Location, location, location
When writing your professional bio, consider its purpose, which can impact the order in which you present information. Include highly relevant copy towards the beginning of the document. For instance, if pursuing a board role, don’t bury your board experience at the very bottom of the page.
7. Review linked sources carefully
If your bio includes links to other relevant information about you, like your LinkedIn profile, social media accounts, personal website etc., be sure to review the outside content to ensure that it aligns with what’s contained in your bio and is up-to-date with facts. Linking to something that hasn’t been updated in quite a while is not an optimal way to present yourself.
8. Image is optional
While a headshot should never be included on a resume (unless you live abroad and aren’t applying to a US-based company), a bio – much like a LinkedIn profile – has wide-ranging use, so an image can be used. If you include a headshot, make sure it’s recent, professional-looking and high-resolution.
For image advice and other LinkedIn tips, check out 10 LinkedIn Profile Mistakes You Must Fix Now
9. Keep it current
Think of your professional bio as a document that evolves with you. As you advance in your career and add to your accomplishments, revisit your bio occasionally to ensure that it’s current and speaks to who you are as a professional today (not several years ago). Remember to update things like titles, board roles, professional designations, certifications, media etc.
10. Keep it consistent
Different purposes may warrant different versions of your bio that adjust for emphasis, audience and depth. In every version, however, the core information should be consistent (just as it should be with any other career-related materials).
For more tips on communicating your brand, check out 9 Secrets To Creating A Strong Personal Brand
Writing your professional bio is not easy; no one likes to write about themselves, especially when you consider the potential reach — and impact — of the piece. Focus on telling a story about the highly valuable professional you are today and draw from compelling information in your background to reinforce that narrative.
Remember too, that when asked to talk about yourself during meetings, networking events, speaking engagements, interviews etc., what you say should align with the message in your bio. Above all, consistency is key to a strong personal brand!