Really, when you consider that biographies can be used for networking purposes, as an interview leave-behind, when you publish anything, when you are speaking or presenting, on a website (for example, an “About Me” page or a business page introducing key employees of your employer), as part of a conference program (as a presenter or attendee), as a download from social media accounts, and much more, you begin to realize that almost any professional will benefit from having a well-written biography as part of their career marketing portfolio.
What Is a Professional Bio & How Is It Different From Your Resume?
Simply put, a biography is a narrative document, almost never longer than one page, that is written in the third-person perspective.
A well-written biography provides an attention-grabbing and meaningful introduction to you by telling your story in a way that illustrates your professional value.
But, isn’t that what a resume does? And your LinkedIn profile?
The answer is yes. Your biography, your resume, and your LinkedIn profile are all marketing pieces intended to sell you as THE person capable of meeting the needs of your target audience. They all should articulate your personal brand and tell your career story.
Still, there are significant differences and each serves its own purpose (although there is overlap and all complement the other). For a detailed comparison, see the infographic on this page.
The Best Biography is a Focused Biography
Your biography is not meant to be everything to all people. Consider it more of a living document that can be customized and edited for various situations.
There are many people who mistakenly refer to executive biographies, board biographies, and professional biographies as if they are three different documents. They are not.
Sure they are different in wording, but that difference has to do with the way they are focused and the audience to whom they are written to appeal. Regardless of whether you are writing your resume, your LinkedIn profile, or any type of professional biography, it is essential that you know your audience and what will interest them and engage them.
For example, the biography of a CEO seeking a public-company board position is going to be different than the bio of a sales executive who is speaking at an industry association’s annual conference. The bio that an independent consultant provides to prospective clients will be different as well. Consider even that the biography of a consultant who is targeting engagements with startup companies will be very different than the biography of a consultant targeting engagements with Fortune 500 companies. The reason? Simple. The CEO of a startup is facing very different challenges than the CEO of a Fortune 500. Your biography should be written to speak to the needs of the audience you are targeting.
The bottom line: know your focus, know what your audience is looking for, and then craft the story conveyed in your bio to speak to those needs. The value that your audience perceives in you is directly tied to your story and your story is one of the most important factors in getting people to know you, like you, and trust you.
7 Expert Tips For How to Write Your Professional Bio
First, think about the purpose for which you are writing your biography? Who will be reading it? What are the challenges, problems, goals, and/or needs of your target audience? What type of information will likely appeal to them?
Take a look at your entire career from a holistic perspective and mine for the stories. Think about each of your employers and how you added value. What are the common threads or “themes”? These themes will often help you pinpoint your unique value proposition. How will your unique value proposition be meaningful and solve the problems/meet the needs of your target audience? You must know the answer to this question before sitting down to write your biography.
Don’t just repeat the details in your resume. Facts are stepping stones to your personal story, they are not the end goal. It is okay to leave out your early career details or other roles that don’t help you tell your story. It is okay to structure and order your biography in whatever order makes the most sense for your story. While the overall message and branding should match, your biography should be written to tell a more personally revealing and narrative story in which your unique style shines through and your voice is heard.
You need to hook the reader right from the beginning. There are a variety of writing strategies that you can experiment with in your own bio to immediately capture the readers’ attention. Here are a few ideas:
Try leading with a sentence that makes it immediately clear to the reader that you understand their problems, challenges, and needs and are the ideal person to solve them. Here is an example from the bio of an executive who was targeting leadership roles with small and mid-size companies:
“Leading small-to-mid-size companies to a better tomorrow than today. That is the motivating goal that drives Nelson Turner’s executive leadership. Combined with his overarching belief that so-called business problems and challenges are just opportunities in disguise, requiring strategic and visionary leadership to recognize and capitalize on those opportunities, his career record is one of repeated and continuous success…”
Other techniques might include leading with a quote of something you have said that reflects your value proposition. Here is an example from the opening of a healthcare industry executive biography:
“With more than 20 years of executive leadership in healthcare, Leslie Blanco offers a time-tested and proven record of innovation, inspirational leadership, and growth. Recognized as a visionary strategist who passionately energizes the organizations she leads, Leslie has a special talent for engaging stakeholders at all levels and driving through internal and external barriers to exceed corporate objectives where others have failed before. “My definition of ‘No’ is different,” she explains. “No is just an opportunity to invite more people into the conversation, to find your way to Yes.”…”
A quote that another person has said or written about you can sometimes be an attention grabber. Here is an example of this strategy in action (this was the opening of a biography professionally written for a hospitality industry executive):
“Often referred to as a hospitality “Renaissance Woman” by her friends and colleagues, Janice Griffin has dedicated her life to the craft of developing and managing top-rated boutique resort and hotel developments in business, vacation, and experiential destinations….”
If you have an especially compelling “origin” story that explains what has shaped you into the leader you are today, you could try leading with that, as in this executive’s professionally written biography:
“A first-generation American of immigrant parents, Omar Khalil grew up believing that with hard work and perseverance, no dream was beyond reach. His father came to America with just $50 borrowed dollars and a desire to pursue the American Dream. Working two full time jobs while he took classes and earned his master’s degree, Omar’s father became a pharmacist and a real estate investor. Omar explains that it was from watching this journey that he was inspired to pursue his own career with such fervor, a career that has taken him in even more uncommon directions than his father’s mix of the pharmaceutical industry and real estate….”
Avoid using jargon; especially unsubstantiated jargon. Tell a story that shows you are an “outside the box” thinker rather than stating it. The same is true of words and phrases such as results-driven, go-to person, innovative, team player, proactive, etc. It isn’t that you should never use these words if you believe they best convey the message that will appeal to your audience. Rather, you should not use them without using a story to demonstrate how these are true of you and how they will benefit the reader.
For example, you can state that you are a change agent, or you can show it through the stories of your career. Imagine how much less credibility this executive biography for a financial services industry executive (this is an excerpt from the middle) would be without the stories demonstrating HOW she is a “change agent”:
“Recognized as a high-energy, dedicated change agent, most recently as the COO of Xxxxx Advisors, Joan is credited with transforming the established $1.4B AUM wealth management firm, significantly raising the firm’s valuation and positioning it for acquisition by Xxxxxx Group. After pinpointing considerable cultural and process barriers to achieving strategic goals, Joan took over the operational reins of the firm and led development and implementation of a turnaround plan that included a substantive talent refresh, deep cultural change, and process re-engineering, while simultaneously scaling Xxxxxx’s primary differentiator—behavioral wealth management—a holistic offering that combines wealth and investment management with human behavior science. As results, Xxxxx’s operations were completely streamlined and empowered to do much more with less while cementing an edge within the competitive wealth management market….”
Sharing a little bit of personal information that shows who you are outside of work can help infuse your biography with personality, making the content seem more authentic, genuine, and uniquely yours. Unless it relates to your target in a direct way, it is a good idea to steer away from information that reveals religion, politics, or other associations that might be the cause of conscious or unconscious bias. However, including some information about your interests, hobbies, travels, charities you support, brand values, personal vision, and sometimes even your family can be conversation starters and help make you more relatable to the reader, establishing connections.
Here is an example of this from the board biography of an executive in an investment firm:
“Aligned with her recent leadership in the socially responsible investing (SRI) space, Kathy is a dedicated and passionate advocate for sustainability, environmental, and social justice causes. In recent years, this has included traveling to North Dakota with a coalition of EMA, First Peoples, Oneida Foundation, and members of the press to raise awareness for the Standing Rock cause, and Kathy authored the Xxxxxxx corporate resolution regarding the Dakota Access Pipeline.
In 2016, Kathy spoke at the Environmental Media Awards in Los Angeles, and in 2015, at the High-Water Women conference. Through her work at Xxxxx, Kathy had the chance to partner with activist nonprofit organizations such as Xxxxxx Foundation, Environmental Xxxxxx Association, Xxxxxxx Foundation, Xxxx Affirmative, and others.
Kathy presently lives in City, State and can be reached at 000.000.0000.”
Here is another very different example from another executive board biography:
“Martina Hartford currently resides in Xxxxxxxxx. She is an avid world traveler and in her personal time she enjoys seeking out new adventures internationally. Her charitable interests center primarily on international humanitarian efforts that benefit impoverished people around the world, particularly those that seek to better the lives and education of children.”
Edit, edit, and then edit again. When you think your biography is perfect, set it down overnight and then read it again. Edit some more. Your goal is to be as succinct as possible; to tell your story and get your message across with as few words as necessary. Don’t try to “wow” your reader with fancy language and obscure words that will require them to read with a dictionary. Use clear language that is formal yet conversational. Break up long sentences into shorter sentences. Break long, dense paragraphs into multiple shorter, easier to read paragraphs.
As explained earlier in this article, biographies can take many forms and be used in many different ways. The recommendations here apply to more traditional, one-page narrative biographies.
If you don’t have the design skills to create a professional document, there are professional bio templates available at a very low cost. If you do decide to use a template for your bio, make sure you redesign your resume to match the design. Distinctive Resume Templates are arranged in collections that make this easy. Choose the design that catches your eye and purchase the entire collection with templates designed to make it easy for you to give your bio, resume, and other career marketing documents a modern facelift. The biography templates shown below are just a sampling of what is available.