The Art of Creating a Professional Bio

Since losing my job in June, I've been doing a lot of freelancing. Fortunately, while I'd been working, I'd never abandoned my side hustle. So rather than start from scratch, I've taken on additional assignments from my usual clients and pursued new opportunities in an attempt to recreate a full work day and cobble together a semi-decent paycheck.

So far, it's been going well, but managing multiple deadlines can be challenging, and staying on top of invoicing has definitely proven time-consuming. To keep it all straight, I've created a color-coded Google calendar that is so (unintentionally) psychedelic, it will induce retirement-themed hallucinations if you stare at it long enough.

All that aside, one of the biggest issues I've faced writing for many different publications is a bit more personal. I'll be busy typing away when in it comes: the dreaded request for a bio.

Regardless of your background and your area of expertise, crafting an interesting and succinct biography – one that strikes the right balance between professional and personable – isn't easy.

You'd think that as a writer this would be a veritable breeze for me. It isn't. I suppose it's a bit like the old "cobbler's children have no shoes" syndrome; I struggle nearly every time.

I know I'm not alone because one of my ongoing assignments involves assisting real estate experts in creating their profiles. They, too, have a hard time figuring out what they'd like to include that will make them come off as authorities in their realm without seeming like pompous dolts.

We know ourselves better than anyone, so why is it so difficult? Well, for starters, it might be because, unless you're Elmo, speaking about yourself in the third person doesn't come naturally. Plus, from a young age, we're taught that it's impolite to brag, yet here's an instance where you're supposed to highlight your attributes (again, without appearing like a haughty jerk no one wants to collaborate with).

If you're like me, when the bio request comes in, your mind goes impossibly blank and you can't recall a single thing you've accomplished since you learned to tie your shoelaces. If you're lucky, you may remember once hosting a successful neighborhood lemonade stand, but that's about it. The whole thing is made worse by the fact that it's typically followed by "... and shoot it to me in an email by EOD." Eek!

Because I've been attempting to build a diverse portfolio, the bio I use for a real estate site isn't the same one I'd like to appear under a parenting rant. But some overlap definitely exists when it comes to crafting a professional bio. The following are my top tips. Good luck!

Stay brief

I recently attended a meeting in which one of the presenters introduced himself and launched into a bio so lengthy it nearly took us all the way back to his time in utero. If you're putting people to sleep while they're hearing your qualifications aloud, chances are they'll never devote 10 minutes to reading your epic bio.

As Polonius famously says in Hamlet, "...brevity is the soul of wit." Keep it concise. Don't leave out pertinent details or certifications if those will give you an edge with your audience, but don't add in throwaway lines just to bulk it up.

For example, skip: He enjoys spending time with family. Because when I read that I think, "Well, duh, I'd hope so."

You're not telling me anything new or interesting. If, on the other hand, it read: "He spends his long commute teaching himself conversational Italian and thinking about untraceable ways of poisoning his mother-in-law's schnauzer," well, now you've got my attention. It's not professional (so don't try it – even though it's totally tempting) but it would pique my interest.

Bottom line: Unless your closing is going to leave your reader or potential customer/employer wanting more, it's best left unwritten.

Stay relevant

I often change the details of my bio to establish why I'm contributing to that particular publication. So, if I'm writing for a parenting site, I'll include that I'm a mom of three and list other writing credits in that arena. If I've penned something for a personal finance site, I'll probably mention that I've previously worked as a bond broker and an energy reporter.

It's fine to switch it up where it makes sense. But it's important to only include those attributes or interests that support you in that field. To that end: If I'm coming to you for help with my taxes, I probably don't want to know that you never miss Burning Man, nor do I care that my periodontist has an irrational fear of pigeons. When I'm hunting for an SAT tutor, I don't need to know that her go-to karaoke song is "Sexual Healing."

I'm sure you know what I'm talking about: Kate Foster is a veteran web designer who strives to create and manage digital content that cultivates long-lasting relationships between individuals and organizations. She's also eaten in a Cracker Barrel in every state that has one except Iowa. #Goals

Sure, be honest, but not to the point that you're embarrassing yourself or alienating potential clients.

Bottom line: Don't shoot your credibility in the pursuit of originality.

Stay humble

Is there anything that makes you say "barf" faster than reading about a self-described "ninja," "rock star," "guru," or "wizard?" No, me neither.

It's natural to want to set yourself apart and appear confident in your skills, but when you're referring to yourself as the "horse whisperer of social media," or a "Google analytics unicorn" now you've just gone too far.

Bottom line: Let your achievements shine through with statements and facts, not buzzwords.

Stay away from quirky prompts 

In an attempt to get your creative juices flowing, some places will offer you prompts or questions that are intended to help you think "outside the box" and ultimately reveal something that allows you to come across as delightfully "real."

While some are helpful, others are just downright misguided. I give you:

What's your favorite lunchmeat?

If your pet could speak, what do you think s/he'd say? 

F*ck, Marry, Kill: Saved By the Bell cast edition

In your opinion, what is the hardest word in the English language to spell?

If you could only eat one variety of cheese for the rest of your life, which would you choose and why? 

Underpants: Yay or Nay? 

Bottom line: Know your audience and focus on what makes you the most qualified person to deliver what they're seeking, and save your Judd Apatow film rankings for Facebook.

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