When you leave your career of 36 years and launch a digital media and strategic communications company, you end up doing — or redoing — a lot of things you never expected.
For me it was my bio. And also 3 million things related to state filings, taxes and accounting, but today I want to talk bios.
Most of us have written (and rewritten) short bios, long bios and targeted bios. If you have somehow escaped this exercise, it’s time to have at it. You’ll thank me when you get that 3 p.m. email asking for one ahead of that conference the next morning.
I probably have written some version of my bio at least a half dozen times since leaving my job as Senior VP of Content at NJ.com at the end of December. I can’t say I really love any of them because it’s hard writing about yourself and even harder being objective about it.
But I do love working on bios for clients and friends because this is the best type of editing. The facts are usually all there, but the story — the fun part — can be lacking.
A bio is your story, the way you want to be received by the other members at the conference or the clients you’re pitching over Zoom.
A to-do list for your bio
Bios should be organized and presented in a way that clearly tells a story. If people want your resume, they can find it. But the bio you put in front of them is your chance to bathe in the best light. So yes to personality and what makes you charming and indispensable and no to something that feels like a resume for 1996. Hire for attitude, train for skills, right?
Anyway, here’s what I see as the big requirements for a great bio, starting at the top.
- I prefer third person. It just feels better … like the Great and Omniscient Bio-Maker wrote it for you.
- There’s a place for your contact information, current job title and experience. It’s not at the top of your bio.
- The top of your bio is your elevator pitch. I don’t care where you went to high school. Tell me why I need to listen to you at this conference. Or why I want to connect with you on LinkedIn. Or why I should be trying to hire you. Feed me specifics.
- Your elevator pitch should be rich and honest — and illustrate the qualities and traits that make you awesome. It is not where you tell me you earned your Certificate in Community Planning in 2008.
- Work from the top down and be intentional. Maybe it means starting with a list of what you want to share and turning that into the guts of your bio.
- Try to be brief. If you can use links to get people to a full bio, your LinkedIn profile or your resume, all the better.
- Keep sentences tight and the writing loose, but not informal. Bios get skimmed, and skimmers don’t like to be slowed down by a lot of clauses and commas.
- If you’re speaking to people who have had a chance to read your bio, reference something in it. For those who have read it, that acknowledgement will be a little cookie. For those who haven’t, maybe it’s the reason they’ll now go check it out.
- Keep it current. Your bio is no different than your resume or your LinkedIn profile. It needs care and tending.
Kevin Whitmer has more than 30 years’ experience leading large news operations and building digital audiences at one of the largest and most influential websites in the country. His firm, Whitmer Consulting LLC, specializes in strategic communications, digital media and marketing.
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