How to Write a Professional Biography
If you spent time and effort creating a professional CV, you might well be asking –why do I need to create a professional bio as well?
The answer is simply that, although a well-prepared CV is an essential tool when you’re starting a job search, there are a whole host of other situations in which you may be asked to describe yourself, and let people know who you are.
Therefore, writing a bio can be a wise investment of your time.
In this article, we’re going to consider some of the reasons why a professional bio might be required and the different bio formats. We’ll also provide you with tips on how to write an engaging bio for different audiences, and provide an outline to help you get started.
Why write a professional bio?
These days,more than ever, people are getting to know us via our online presence, rather than in person.
While this can be a great advantage in business and in our professional life, as human beings it’s natural to want to know who we’re talking to, who we’re going to be working with, or whose ideas we’re going to be reading.
So, if we want to really connect with people, especially online, we have to work harder to let people as much about us as we want to share, in the shortest possible time.
If you’re reaching out to a new client, or looking for someone to collaborate with you on a new project, sending them your CV just isn’t an appropriate or professional option.
Yes, it says a lot about you, and tells your professional story, but it also labels you as a job-seeker, seeking approval, rather than as an equal looking for a partnership.
As an alternative, a professional bio can provide an engaging snapshot of who you are as a person, and an overview of your areas of expertise, professional achievements, goals and possibly your personal interests.
Why should you write one now, before it’s needed? Well, it’s just so much easier to have one that you’ve had the time to prepare well, than to throw one together in response to an urgent request.
Different types of bio
Whereas CVs tend to follow a fairly strict and rigid format, which makes them easier for recruiters to locate information and to enable them to be read easily by applicant tracking systems, professional bios tend to be much more flexible, and tailored according to the audience they’re aimed at. Let’s look at a few of the options:
Long professional bios
These are appropriate when you want to provide a comprehensive professional overview of yourself.
For example, if you were being introduced as a speaker at a presentation or panel, or as a senior executive on the ‘Meet our Team’ page of a corporate website, a long professional biography would form your introduction.
- Typical length: 3- 5 paragraphs
- Typical number of sentences: 3-5
Short professional bios
Short professional bios are more typically used as summaries on social media sites (e.g. LinkedIn), providing a higher-level overview of experience than a long bio. For example, they may also be used to give information about the author of a blog post or magazine article, or in the ‘About Us’ section of a company website.
- Typical length: 1- 2 paragraphs
- Typical number of sentences: 2-4
Personal statements describe your experience and qualifications, in an extremely concise manner. They are most typically found at the top of CVs, underneath a candidate’s personal details. The aim is to pitch your application to the recruiter, so that they are intrigued enough to read the rest of the CV.
Personal statements are usually crafted to be heavy on the use of certain keywords which relate to a particular position or area of expertise.
- Typical length: 2 – 4 sentences, 50 – 80 words
Which format shall I choose?
Because you may not be certain which of these formats is going to be most useful to you, it’s a good exercise to start by writing a long bio, and from there take the most essential details to craft a short bio and a personal statement.
Before you start writing a bio
Although even a long bio is unlikely to be more than 100 -150 words, sitting down to write it can be daunting. How are you going to select the most salient points from your professional life and career development? How are you going to clarify the kind of person you are?
Before you try to write your professional bio, it’s worth taking the time to prepare.
Start with your CV
First of all, how up to date is it? Most of us neglect to keep our CV updated, and only take it out and dust it off when we want to apply for a new position. But it’s really a good idea to update it regularly, say every 3-6 months, adding any new achievements as they occur.
Yes, it will grow longer and longer, but when you come to apply for a new position, it’s a lot easier to delete what’s not relevant than to trawl back through your memory and find examples of what it is.
First step: sit somewhere where you won’t be disturbed
Start with the long version of your CV, review it carefully. What have been the key moments in your career? What are the most interesting career developments? Pick out 5 key achievements, and 1 key qualification.
If you are just starting out on your career, and don’t have much professional experience, choose other areas, such as voluntary work, sporting achievements or awards, which you’re proud of.
Next: Who are you?
Now, what would you like people to know about you as a person? What are your qualities?
Ask your colleagues how they’d sum you up in 3 words. Also family, friends can provide useful insights into your 3 best attributes.
Later, you’ll work out if you want to include these on your professional bio, and how to weave them into the narrative.
Once you’ve done your preparation, it’s time to start creating a long bio that will grab the attention of your audience and create the positive impression you’re looking for.
Gather your material
Before you craft the final work, it will be helpful to consider most, if not all, of the following points. Don’t be concerned if you end up with pages of notes after doing this exercise: it will be easy to filter down to what’s essential when you’ve got everything down on the paper.
Where have you come from?
From your CV, you’ll already have selected the roles which have made you, professionally, what you are today.
- What is interesting about your career development?
- Which experiences really stand out, and which are not so important?
- Which experiences were stepping stones or leaps to the next level?
- Have you had an unusual or varied range of roles?
- Have you worked your way up from the most humble, junior position to one of influence and responsibility?
Instead of looking at your first roles as irrelevant, consider how impressive your progression will look to an outsider. Starting at the top and ending at the top is never going to be as interesting as starting at the bottom and enjoying the climb.
Tell your success story
Again, refer to your CV and list the most important professional skills from the Experience section. This is not about a particular success in a particular role. It’s about highlighlighting a pattern of achievements. When you look at each role, is there a specific aspect that you’ve excelled in? Mabe more than one, of course.
For example, have you led multiple teams to different levels of success? Have you implemented a series of organizational changes in different companies? Have you exceeded your sales targets in each role you’ve held?
The more experience you have, the easier this should be of course. If you don’t have much professional experience, then look at your achievements outside work, to find links between your hobbies, your academic achievements, your voluntary work, your awards. What do they show about you? Determination? Team spirit? Independence? Creativity? The list is endless.
What exactly do you do now?
This is not about your job description, or your job title, it’s about what you actually do in your current position.
How do you add value to your employer, to your clients, to your colleagues? For example, your job title might be ‘Customer Service Agent’, and your job description might list a number of duties, but, to put it simply, the purpose of your role, and what you’re good at, is to resolve customer issues via clear explanations, to their satisfaction.
Link your work and your interests
What makes you love the work you do? Apart from the salary, what is it that motivates you to go into work and do the best job you can? What is it that enables you to overcome the challenges you face in your professional life? Showing your energy and enthusiasm on your professional bio can be a game-changer, so take the time to ensure that you identify your authentic passion.
Who are you as a person?
In a long professional bio you’ll have space to tell a story about yourself. Work out ways to illustrate one or more of the personality traits that your colleagues, friends and family have helped you identify.
The most important thing here is to be authentic. If you don’t believe what you’re claiming to be, no-one else will. So choose a characteristic that really ’fits’ you, and it will shine through.
Show that you’re not a machine
In a long bio, you’ll also have the opportunity to round out your professional experience by sharing a little about your hobbies or community interests. This is usually done in the final paragraph. Rather than listing things at random, select activities which support the picture you’ve been creating. For example, if your bio positions you as a leader:
‘When not working, I serve on the Board of Governors of a local school, lead a girl guides group and go running on the beach with my two dogs’
So, here, leadership is highlighted indirectly, as well as an additional activity which the writer also loves, helping to create a more rounded picture.
Writing for impact
After gathering all the key points that you want to express, it’s finally time to start writing. To create a professional bio which sparks the readers interest and gives them the information they need in the shortest time, use the points below to guide you as you write.
Which voice to use
This is actually quite a controversial area, and opinions differ on whether you should use ‘I’ or ‘He/she’ when describing yourself on your bio.
Traditionally, the advice would, almost always, have been to write your bio in the third person, as if someone else was talking about you.
This is still very valid if you’re going to place your professional bio on a website, or use it to be introduced by another person at conferences and presentations.
However, these days a more personal tone is increasingly preferred: think about the professional summaries on LinkedIn or even Instagram. The vast majority of bio examples are written in the first person, that is, using the personal pronoun, ‘I’.
Why is this?
Using ‘I’ is far more direct and authentic
Energy and enthusiasm can shine through: it has far more personality
It is also less formal, and makes a better connection with the reader
There is always something weird about a person claiming themselves to be ‘an outstanding professional’ or ‘highly-talented’. Let’s face it, it’s just boasting and we all know who’s written it.
The golden rule of any bio is to make every word count.
The first sentence is especially critical as it sets the tone for the rest of your bio. It’s your first opportunity to show your personality. If you don’t engage the reader at this point, it’s unlikely they’ll bother reading the rest.
So, instead of a boring and chliched opening such as: ‘Hello, my name is Taj and I’m a CAD designer’, this person could have started off with:
- A statement about why he is so passionate about his particular CAD niche
- A statement about something he believes in, related to the world of CAD
- A brief and engaging story of how he came to work in the CAD field
- An opinion about the challenges or opportunities that this field offers.
Your aim is to intrigue or challenge your reader so they’ll be interested to read on and learn more.
Do your research and use keywords
If you’re looking to optimize the possibility of your profile coming up on Google or LinkedIn searches, make sure that your professional bio is rich in relevant keywords. Which keywords to choose? Ask yourself:
- What are your areas of specialization?
- What do you want to be known for?
Your CV and even your job description are the places to look to find the keywords which match your skills and that potential employers or clients may be using in their searches.
Cut out the cliches
A bio that’s packed with clichés is the quickest way to kill a reader’s interest. Words such as ‘motivated’, ‘successful’,’creative’, and, above all, the dreaded but ever-popular ‘passionate’, are repeated endlessly on CVs and bios, until they have all but lost their meaning.
This isn’t to suggest that there’s anything wrong with being motivated or passionate, far from it. However, instead of using easy but tired terms, try to communicate these attributes in other ways, via the information you provide and the stories you share. How exactly do you demonstrate your motivation or passion? What examples could you provide?
Everyone loves a good story
As human beings, we’re not hard-wired to love adjectives. However, our brains are definitely hard-wired to love stories. Think about starting your bio with a short anecdote that says a lot about you:
- “On my 14th birthday I realised…”
- “My English teacher said to me ….”
- “Lost, half-way up a mountain, with a broken leg….”
Much more intriguing than: ‘I am highly-motivated and passionate about writing’
Choose a story that illustrates an epiphany, a moment when you realized a truth about yourself or your values. Make sure it’s a true story that means a lot to you.
Keep it simple
Expect people to scan your bio, and make it easy for them to extract the key information.
Keep your paragraphs short, and break up your sentences into different lengths. Likewise, don’t use jargon or long, multi-syllable words where you can avoid them. Use an online thesaurus to help you come up with simpler alternatives.
However, if you’re writing your bio on LinkedIn or Instagram, where there is a limit on the number of characters you can use, take the opportunity to say as much as you can, without cramming everything into one crowded, hard-to read, paragraph.
Tell the reader what you want
So the reader has finished reading, what do you want them to do next? To get in contact, or something else? At the end of your professional bio, be explicit and there’s more chance that you’ll achieve the outcome you’re looking for.
A picture’s worth…..
Adding a photo or a video to your bio will add interest and originality. A video, which will show your body language and voice tone will make it so much easier to connect with the reader.
Now, let’s look at a basic format that you can use to get you started on your long professional bio. This is only a guide, and we’re going to use first person, ‘I’.
Once you’ve inserted the basics, change the order, and expand the sections as you like.
This should include your name, and what you do .
Strong opening. A story, anecdote. 2 or 3 sentences.
I am a (job title) and I work with (employer or type of client) to (how you add value and help them).
I know / believe …………… (insert what you know or believe about your kind of work).
I’ve ………………(insert you most interesting challenges and roles)
I’m a qualified / certified ……..(insert your most impressive qualifications or awards) / I hold …. (insert degree or school certificates), from (institution)
Paragraph 6: In my free time I……
Search on Linkedin and other similar sites and you’ll find lots of great bio examples to inspire your creativity. Search for others who hold similar roles to yours.
However, what is absolutely essential is that you resist any urge to cut and paste, copying someone else’s. This will only seem inauthentic and really, it won’t do its job –that is to share as much as possible about the real you and your professional expertise, as you want it to.
Stick to the research you’ve already done and keep it real to reflect your unique background and experience.
So, this is the first draft of your long bio. Polish it and flesh it out as required until you’re satisfied that it really creates the impression you want it to, then add your photos and video if you have one.
Once you have your long bio, it should be relatively easy to pare it down as to create a short professional bio, personal statement or headline.
The final stage is to decide how and where you want to place your bio. If you have a personal website or blog, these are the obvious places where it can help to introduce you to your readers. Likewise, if you have a Facebook business page, YouTube channel or Instagram page.
If you’re starting work with a new employer, supplying your bio before you join, can help to introduce you to your future colleagues. When you’re involved with community or voluntary projects, a short professional bio included in an email or newsletter can also get you off on the right foot.
And then, of course, there’s LinkedIn and other professional networking sites.
We hope that by taking you through some of the key points you need to bear in mind when creating your professional bio, we’ve helped to make the process of writing a bio less daunting.
Good luck and enjoy writing!