How to write a killer bio

Original Post by Marci Alboher, Working the New Economy, on Tue Jul 28, 2009 11:03am PDT

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For a growing swath of the workforce the resume has been replaced, or at least supplemented, by the bio. If you've ever had to be introduced by someone at a conference, you know it's wise to give the person introducing you a written bio rather than sit back and hear how she decides to describe you. Written bios are posted on websites; abbreviated bios show up on sites like LinkedIn; even shorter ones appear next to our profiles on Twitter; and snappy taglines trail the bottoms of our emails.

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With the bio in full bloom right now, it pays to take some time to write yours in a way that that reflects how you want to be perceived. Perhaps you want to show a sense of humor or wit. Maybe you want to show your technical prowess by delivering your bio in a video format. And while you're at it, why not let your bio accomplish some personal branding for you. As you write yours, consider a few things.

If you're a writer, show off your writing

While writers should have an advantage in crafting well-written bios, it's remarkable how few unleash their facility with language when profiling themselves. Which is why I love the bio and "about Laura" sections of novelist Laura Zigman's website. They are composed entirely in the third person and the opening few lines of the bio give you an idea of her tone: "Laura Zigman grew up in Newton, Massachusetts (where she felt she never quite fit in), and graduated from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst (where she didn't fit in either) and the Radcliffe Publishing Procedures Course (where she finally started to feel like she fit in)."

If you get frequent requests for a bio, have a few versions ready

Sreenath Sreenivasan, a dean at Columbia University's School of Journalism, does a good job of offering his bio in different lengths, which makes life easier for anyone requesting a bio (and probably avoids a lot of unnecessary emailing back and forth.) He provides three options: "The 10-second Bio" in bullet points, the "In-depth Bio," which goes nearly a full page, and the "resume version."

Reveal your personality

Colleen Wainwright, a communications consultant whom I just praised for her newsletter prowess, reveals a bit about her style and personality while also providing the various format options with links to her "bio," and her "long-ass bio."

Humor humanizes

If you click the "our people" link on the website of Sixth & I, a non-denominational synagogue in Washington, DC, you'll see a series of bios all written in a light-hearted style, which fits in with the organization's informal vibe. Jackie Leventhal, who handles books, talks and culture, introduces herself with these few lines: "Hi, I'm Jackie ("Jacqueline" officially, "Jack" if you're a close friend or my father, who was hoping for a son). Cultural programs comprise my niche at the intersection of 6th and I streets. It is mandatory that I have my photo taken with the author, politician, celebrity, Supreme Court Justice, ambassador, Jonas brother, or other distinguished personality participating in one of the programs I coordinate."

Eddie Henein, the organization's security guard, starts his bio with: "Hello friends. I'm Eddie and I protect Sixth & I, the staff (who are like my family), and everyone who enters this most special place. I'm originally from Egypt and, if asked, I can and will walk like an Egyptian."

If you're thinking, "that would never fly at my company," have a look at the bio of tax lawyer Martin Ginsburg, posted on the official site of the law firm, Fried Frank. After listing a slew of serious credentials, he writes: "Professor Ginsburg's spouse was a lawyer before she found better work. Their older child was a lawyer before she became a schoolteacher. The younger child, when he feels grumpy, threatens to become a lawyer."

Sometimes the most serious types are the most in need of some humanizing.

Let your bio brand you (and don't be afraid to sell yourself)

Jeremy Epstein, a marketing consultant, writes in his website bio and LinkedIn profile that he is a specialist at building "raving fans" for his clients.  And though I'm usually wary of people who are quick to say how talented they are, Epstein shows that his own clients are willing to rave about him by linking to an impressive list of testimonials. If his clients are willing to voice their praise so enthusiastically, it seems to prove his statement about what he can deliver