Your bio isn’t your resumé. Its purpose is to help people decide whether they want to connect with you.
Let it sing with your own voice, while showing that you’re credible.
Think of it like a story, a little bit of memoir, a rendition of your professional life, a place for more creativity rather than a report. You need to be clear about your purpose and audience, but you can be selective about what you put in (I’ll assume you’re ethical), and the tone you use.
Your clients, or the folks to whom you want to promote yourself professionally, don’t want to be bored. And they won’t be, if you speak to the heart of what they want to know by answering these five questions:
1) How do I place you – aka, what do you do, what can you do for me, and why do I want to know you?
First off, the bio should position you, set a frame defining the industry, field or service you’re in, and show the ground you’re standing on. You’re a civil engineer in waste water management. Good to know. Now tell me what you really do and the results you can produce. Tell me what’s distinctive about you – why you stand out – and tempt me with what I can learn from you.
Be real. Cut the jargon. Look out for those empty, trendy words that are easy to use as shorthand.
As a consultant, I’ve been guilty (way too often) of using words like “empower”, “transform”, or “create authentic leaders”. Such words don’t mean much, especially because they’re so overused. They’re hardly vivid enough for your story-bio. Phrases like, “I ask provocative questions to help people clarify what they really want to do”, “or ,“I help groups hold hard conversations in which people really listen to each other and make big decisions” are a bit wordy, but way more interesting than “empower”.
2) Are you credible?
What qualifies you for the field, job, or business that you are doing or seeking? Tell me about what you have done, achieved, or earned so I know why I should listen to you.
Credibility is about more than credentials, although your experiences, titles, degrees and achievements do count. When you’re just starting out, or are in transition, you may need to buoy yourself up with some special inner qualities that make you stand out.
You can establish credibility from the inside out by using the 3 c’s of conviction, commitment and character. Conviction tells us that you really care about the problems, issues, or business line you’re working with. Commitment tells us you’ll get the job done. And character is that intangible sense that your values are solid and relevant to what you want to achieve and that you approach the world with a mix of positivity, humility, generosity, curiosity – your unique, strong suit.
You can also tell us about your origin story, that part of your past you can pull forward to prove that you are suited, in fact destined, to be doing what you are (or want to be) doing. As one of my clients who spent summers as a toddler in a mining camp told me, “I was born to work in the mining industry” – a small fact that irrefutably showed his depth of understanding of the world of mining.
3) Do you have authority?
Authority is different from credibility. Just look at the US Presidential debates. Some candidates have withdrawn even though they had credibility, based on their experience – they just couldn’t convey sufficient authority in the wahoo-public-free-for-all debate environment. And certain candidates, who speak with great authority – well, I’ll let you judge their credibility. (A hint: I still believe in fact checking!)
You can build authority. Boost yours through your public presence, your social media contributions and publications, your ability to articulate key issues, and your effectiveness at presenting ideas.
One way to demonstrate even greater authority as you talk about your accomplishments: sprinkle in a dash of humility – you’re confident enough to be humble!
4) Do I like you?
Resumés aren’t about feelings – and employment specialists strive for objectivity in the process of culling through documents. But here’s where your bio differs from a resumé. Let your bio have drama – add a bit of the backstory behind your work. Let us feel how you’ve challenged yourself, taken risks, risen above circumstances. We want to cheer as we discover that you’re practically destined to be doing what you are doing. Let us know that you are competent, confident, and that you care. Help us want to know you.
5) Do you like me?
This is a question some forget. We scan bio’s to connect with people – to know if they’re credible, useful, and likeable. We want to know if you’re the kind of person who understands us, our challenges, our problems, our aspirations and our world.
If I’m recruiting for a company, I want to know that you like the company. But if I’m just considering whether to get to know you professionally, I want to know that we could hang together – that you’re the kind of person who would welcome my invitation to connect. Write in my language, share my pain and possibilities. Let me feel that you are really hoping to connect.
Which, I hope, you are.