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
- 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.
Once you have all the raw material in hand, keep these additional tips in mind:
- Remember your audience. Think about who’s likely to read the bio, and what you want them to come away with.
- 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.
- Include these facts. Be sure your bio contains key information:
- Credibility, publications, media mentions
- Work with notable companies, positions
- Years of experience
- 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.
- 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?