Lee Polevoi

Let’s Talk About Me: Writing a Professional Bio

By: Lee Polevoi | July 31, 2013 | 

writing a professional bio

By Lee Polevoi

Even the most accomplished writers sometimes get stymied writing a professional bio, for themselves or for their clients.

What’s the right amount of information to convey?

What’s too much? Too little?

Should I include being named vice president of PRSA in 2010?

What about the “Honorary Firefighter” plaque I received for rescuing a cat from a tree? (Ed’s Note: I’d include that!)

Brief bios are an essential component in a wide array of marketing and PR materials—from company websites to news releases and social media profiles.

The trick is creating something impressive without being boastful, and informative without being egomaniacal.

The Please Don’ts

Let’s start with what you shouldn’t do when it comes to writing a professional bio. Andrew Hindes writing in PR News offers some helpful tips:

  • Don’t start at the beginning. If you’re tempted to begin the bio with “Joe Smith comes from humble sharecropping origins,” think again. No one has the time or inclination to read a bio spanning a person’s entire lifetime.
  • Leave out the padding. Another pitfall is adding elaborate language or irrelevant information in order to make the bio appear more impressive.
  • Don’t make stuff up. This should be a no-brainer, but recent history is full of very smart people who fabricated degrees and achievements on their CVs, only to see their careers go down in flames. Even well-meaning exaggeration (“the most esteemed business leader in the tri-county area”) should be avoided.
  • Not the place to be humble. On the other hand, genuine achievements and career milestones should always be included in the bio. This is no place to be modest.
  • No testimonials and no humor. Leave out the glowing testimonial from your high-school English teacher. And don’t try to be clever or “ironic”—humor tends to be too subjective for a professional bio.

The Definite Dos

As a standard rule of thumb, professional bios come in three versions: “Micro” (a sentence that can double as your elevator pitch); “short” (one paragraph in length, covering all the essentials in about 100 words); and “long” (more in-depth, up to a page in length).

Marketing specialist Kelly Parkinson suggests pondering the following questions in order to create what she charmingly calls a “douche-free bio”:

  • What path brought you to run your own business?
  • What are you known for professionally?
  • What one problem are you best at solving for your clients?
  • Who have you worked with and what did you do for them?
  • How long have you been doing what you’re doing?
  • What are you most passionate about—both professionally and personally?
  • Anything else we should absolutely know about you?

Parkinson further suggests jotting down your answers in a “rambling, conversational style”—maybe in the body of an email you never actually send to anyone.

Don’t worry about perfect sentences. This exercise is not designed to help you craft your bio. It’s simply to help you dig up all the good, fresh stuff buried in your brain, which you can then use to craft your bio.

Valuable Tips

Once you have all the raw material in hand, keep these additional tips in mind:

  1. Remember your audience. Think about who’s likely to read the bio, and what you want them to come away with.
  2. Lead with your chief accomplishments. A well-crafted bio immediately communicates what’s special about you (or your client). Start with a summary statement describing your current position and your most noteworthy professional achievement.
  3. Include these facts. Be sure your bio contains key information:
    • Title/position
    • Credibility, publications, media mentions
    • Work with notable companies, positions
    • Awards
    • Education
    • Years of experience
  4. For the personal stuff, less is more. There’s no law requiring a stiff, overly formal bio. Let a little bit of personality shine through—something along the lines of “active in the greyhound rescue movement” or “was once an enthusiastic Civil War re-enactor.” Just don’t go overboard with it.
  5. One last tip. After composing your great new bio, give it to a friend or colleague for review. They can give you objective feedback for the revision process.

It’s not easy encapsulating your entire career (or your client’s) in just a few sentences. But it’s a critical part of one’s presentation both online and in real life, so it deserves some special time and attention.

P.S. For a great example of an effective bio, check out Gini Dietrich’s blurb—concise, informative, and personable.

What’s your approach to writing a professional bio?

About Lee Polevoi

When he isn't writing for Arment Dietrich, Lee Polevoi is an award-winning freelance copywriter and editor. He is the former senior writer for Vistage International, a global membership organization of chief executive officers. He writes frequently on issues and challenges faced by U.S. small businesses.

  • My best advise? Have someone else write it for me. 😀

  • Lee – can I hire you to write mine?! 
    Great post (per usual) and great tips. And I have to agree with the editors note – I think you should totally include the “Honorary Firefighter” plaque you got for rescuing a cat from a tree.
    I like the more personal things in a person’s bio – your work shows me how good you are at what you do. But it’s the other stuff that gives me a glimpse into what kind of person you are – are you super stiff and formal? Or do you like to have a little fun? Just my two cents.

    • yvettepistorio I agree on the fun. Or, at minimum, the tone and language of your bio should reflect your personal, dare I say it, “brand.”

      • RobBiesenbach yvettepistorio I agree, too. My brand is all about fun. If I had a boring, formal bio it would be a disconnect. So, on my website and guest blogs, it’s fun… at conferences I sometimes go with a more formal approach.

  • Yvette, you’re right–nothing wrong with injecting a little fun into the bio. It’s the “ironic” or “sarcastic” stuff that can get you in trouble. Doesn’t always translate from one reader to the next.

  • Suze Carragher

    I almost think it’s better if someone writes yours. We tend to be too modest when writing for ourselves.

    • @Suze Carragher Sometimes it’s helpful to think of your own bio as belonging to someone else & then writing it. What are the key points people should know about you?

    • @Suze Carragher I had to hire someone to write mine. I just couldn’t find the story in it, although I gave him the story.

  • susancellura

    Why is it so hard to write about one’s self, but not to talk about one’s self?

  • People have a really warped perspective on what (and how much) information from their background will interest others. Lawyers are especially guilty of this — three- and four-page bios, listing every honor, every case, every award. They don’t just cover the landscape, they do it with a wide-angle lens.
    I encourage people to find the “story” of their career. It may be a little harder for those starting out, but over time we all have patterns and themes in our life and work. Framing it all in a story arc (as opposed to a chronological recap of every job and accomplishment) gives meaning to what you do. And it’s going to be a lot more interesting for readers.

    • RobBiesenbach  Great point! Everyone’s life/career is a “story” – look for the highlights, the ‘dramatic moments’ and achievements. That’s what will draw people to your bio.

    • RobBiesenbach “It may be a little harder for those starting out…” yes, yes, and yes. I hope I’m not the only one slipping into a mild panic mode. 
      While reading the blog posting, I flipped a couple times to my own bio <sweat beads forming on the forehead>. Then reading your words of wisdom, especially, “Framing it all in a story arc…” <profuse sweat beads>.
      Oh, do I have some work to do…

      • SJSnelling I hear you! No need to panic. A few weeks ago I came across this article on the HBR blog. It requires registration:
        But the gist is you ask yourself a series of questions and look for patterns in your life and work history. Of course, we’re not all good at analyzing ourselves objectively, so I imagine working with someone close to you can get a similar result.

        • RobBiesenbachSJSnellingThank you for the article suggestion. While culling some ideas and leads to other resources, I was struck by, ‘What’s our narrative?’ Because even if you don’t have a conscious one, you’ve been living one.”That’s a statement intended to ground oneself…falls inline with your comment of looking for patterns.

  • Arment Dietrich, Inc.

    And like Lee says in the post – this is not the time to be humble!! ^yp

  • Ron Smith

    I will! I will!

  • Suze Carragher

    Nothing worse than when your mentors read your bio and say, “You’ve done more than this. You’re being far to humble.”

  • I want to hear more about the cat!!!!

    • belllindsay I’d totally include the cat in my bio. Alas, I have no such heart-warming heroic exploits to include.

  • These are great tips, and reading this reminds me that I need to re-do my bio. But I think that it might help to think of the bio as a “Why you should care about what I’m saying” rather than a “career summary”. It’s a little easier to edit out the irrelevant historical info if I think about it that way. And, definitely, give it to someone else to read so you’ve got another perspective (or two).

  • Arment Dietrich, Inc.

    OK!! ^yp

  • Fantastic information. 
    I always get stuck when I have to write a bio of myself. I have no idea why. Just one of those things. 
    The douche free bio questions are effective. It helps you root out what one may want to say about oneself.
    Thanks for the bad ass post.

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