Career Q & A: 5 (Mostly) Painless Tips for Writing a Better Bio
I’m struggling with coming up with a bio that sounds confident but not braggy, approachable but also serious. Plus I’m a creative, so it should sound…creative. It’s enough to make me to avoid my LinkedIn account. Is there a magic, bio formula I can use?
— Tania D.
1. Accomplished people have short bios. Yours should be, too.
Here’s an example of a bio for the artist, Maya Lin: As an undergraduate at Yale, Maya Lin won a national competition to design the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (1982) in Washington, D.C. Since then, she has designed memorials and landscape sculpture across the United States, including a multi-site project along the Columbia River in Washington and Oregon tracing the path of the explorers Lewis and Clark. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and received the National Medal of the Arts in 2009.
2. Use the journalist’s tool: the inverted pyramid.
Give the important facts first to grab your reader’s interest. Start with your greatest accomplishments and drill down from there.
3. Identify your audience.
Keep in mind who will read your bio. Is your reader a corporate executive or a potential client? Or is your bio listed on a professional ad page? In each case, your bio should reflect what you want the specific audience to know about you.
4. Use the third person; avoid the passive.
Your bio should read as an objective statement about yourself. Instead of writing, “I initiated and managed an extensive rebrand of Company X,” you should write, “ Ms. Jones initiated and managed an extensive rebrand of Company X.”
Avoid the passive voice when possible, since you want your professional life to sound vibrant and active. Write, “Ms. Jones became Creative Director of Company X in 2010” instead of “Ms. Jones was promoted to Creative Director of Company X in 2010.” That sounds like you took charge in a dynamic way.
5. After you’ve written your bio, write an “elevator pitch.”
It’s useful to have a one-liner that states your purpose, much like what start-up entrepreneurs do when pitching their big idea. State who you are and what your goal is. For example, “Ms. Jones is an accomplished creative director seeking agency work in digital or print platforms.”
Having a bio is becoming more important in the digital age where people “meet” you via the words on a website. In essence, keep in short, start with the most important facts, write with your audience in mind, use the active tense, and make sure you have a short version “elevator pitch” which highlights the most important aspects. The main goals of any bio is that it promotes you and describes your personal brand. We hope these tips are useful!
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Barbara is a writer and educator with a PhD from the University of Chicago. For the last 13 years, she’s taught writing and research at Parsons School of Design and Barnard College including white papers, design documents, grant-writing, academic research papers. She also writes marketing and web content for various Silicon Valley technology companies.