How To Write a Good Bio on a Tight Schedule
Interview yourself, then copy the style of someone you like
Aside from a face-to-face meeting, your bio is your most important first impression. So, what is a bio? Your bio is your About Me, your cover letter, your thing that collects what you want to people to know about you before you’re put on the spot.
When you’re a professional or have professional ambitions, you need to be able to describe who you are and what you do quickly and easily. It sounds easy, but it can be a challenge.
Writing about yourself can be tough, but sometimes necessary. I’ve written bios for all kinds of kinds, and my biggest goal is getting to know you. You already have that covered, so use these tips as a framework to get you where you need to be.
1. Define Your Audience
Your audience is whoever is reading your bio.
Think of your bio as the best parts of your story, the parts you consider most relevant. You may need a bio for many reasons and, just like you direct a resume or cover letter to who is receiving it, so too should your bio cater to whom you’re trying to reach. Defining your audience will help set the tone.
People want to get a sense of who you are professionally and personally — and they want to like you.
Don’t let that “like” word set you off-course. Your story is not about being liked, it’s about representing yourself as you are.
2. Interview Yourself
I know, the thought of interviewing myself is cringe-worthy. When I’m working with clients on a bio, I generally start with a questionnaire. Genuine answers to mundane, work-related, and even off-beat questions can tell a lot about you and give an unexpected insight into you are.
First, think about the basics — things you might find on a resume:
+ Work/industry experience
+ Education / Coursework / Certifications
+ Awards / Personal Achievements
Who you are outside of your workspace?
+ Hobbies or side-hustles
+ Pro-social causes or other charitable interests
+ Inspiration / Goals
Add a few personal nuggets:
+ Where is home?
+ Describe your family life.
+ Personal awards or achievements
+ What inspired you to this chosen field of work?
+ What strengths do you bring to the table?
+ When do you feel most proud of your work?
And a couple of offbeat questions:
+ How do you take your coffee? Or do you?
+ What was your last small victory?
+ Something unexpected. (Don’t overthink this. Maybe it’s the last book you read. Or that you still buy CDs. Are you an unabashed Belieber? Would you qualify for most frequent Target shopper? This is just something I didn’t expect to learn about you.)
If you have time, I encourage compiling examples of bios of people within your industry and out. These are things you can collect (pin or bookmark) any time and reference when you’re in a bind. When I was writing my bio, I went to the websites of people who had similar backgrounds, aspirations, or voice as what I was trying to create. Here are some examples:
- I’m Kate Arends. In 2014, I began publishing personal essays exploring my journey through divorce, mental illness, and an undiagnosed learning disability. That experience showed me style without life is just imitation.
- I’m a writer who draws. I make art with words and books with pictures.
- Austin Kleon is the New York Times bestselling author of a trilogy of illustrated books about creativity in the digital age: Steal Like An Artist, Show Your Work!, and Keep Going.
- Bri Emery is a Los Angeles based graphic designer, art director, and the founder of designlovefest, a lifestyle blog with an eye for design in style, DIY, food, travel, entertaining, and more.
- I’m a true California girl, raised in the City of Angels. I started this blog in 2005 to chronicle fashion, music, food (including a culinary school stint!), and art as a creative outlet while unfulfilled at my full-time job.
- I’m Beth, a writer, photographer, entrepreneur, and the creator of the award-winning blog, Local Milk, my food, slow living, and travel journal.
- A creative girl with a passion for strategy, I teach creatives & entrepreneurs like you how to build beautiful lives & businesses they love
- Matt Lehman is equal parts graphic designer, illustrator, and art director.
- Mary Laura Philpott is an essayist whose writing appears in publications including The New York Times, The Paris Review, The Washington Post, O The Oprah Magazine, and others. Across her work, Mary Laura examines the overlap of the absurd and the profound in life, literature, and culture.
Earlier, I mentioned Kate Arends, the Creative Director and Founder of lifestyle brand Wit & Delight. Her website is a great example of how to cater to your audience. Case in point: she has two bios. The first is on the brand’s About page and features a brief two paragraphs describing how Arends created her brand. It includes details like “designer by trade and a self-taught writer” and lists the statistics about the brand and its audience as: “3.3 Million followers later, Wit & Delight has become a resource for others to feel less alone in the ups and downs of their journey through life.”
The second bio is more personal but maintains a professional tone. The main difference is the bio comes from Kate’s POV.
“In 2014, I began publishing personal essays,” she writes. This one is three paragraphs long but is just one part of her story presentation. As one scrolls down, she lists fun facts about herself, like “Talent I Wish I Had: Sing and Dance Like Beyoncé.” There’s a statement about what she believes, “In taking life’s little pleasures seriously, that a home is a haven, that beauty isn’t always pretty, and that a relationship with oneself is the ultimate love story,” as well as ways to work together and related posts about her brand, community, and family. It’s personal but circles back to business.
Have I met Kate? No, and I don’t have to. A bio is a first impression that can compel me, without meeting Kate directly, to pursue her work or not.
4. Choose Your POV
The bios I shared above are written in first or third-person point of view, and this is entirely up to you. Some people find it easier to write from themselves, and others as if they’re describing someone else.
The difference lies in whether you’re introducing (I am a writer) or describing (Samantha is a writer).
It all works, but if you’ve chosen your audience, and that person is a hiring manager at a company where you’re seeking work, it’s likely best to write as yourself and not, for instance, as Samantha. There are no hard and fast rules in this game, so if you’ve got bigger ideas, and they’re relevant to who you are, pursue it.
You may be surprised, but starting can be the hardest part. Generating that first knock-out line carries a lot of pressure, right? Don’t overthink it; just don’t start there.
Go back to that questionnaire.
Go back to that research.
A first line is where stealing is appropriate and encouraged. It’s a starting point. Change out your name and career goals into one of the lines you researched earlier.
Revisit Bri Emery’s bio above:
Bri Emery is a Los Angeles based graphic designer and art director and the founder of designlovefest, a lifestyle blog with an eye for design in style, DIY, food, travel, entertaining and more.
[Your name] is a [town you’re located in]-based [job description most recently held].
Here are a couple of versions I’ve tailored for clients:
I’m Blaire, a Nashville-based associate producer and the creator and star of The Blairette, an IGTV reality series.
Josh Keith is a music producer, mixer and co-owner of Prime Recording in Nashville, TN.
Now, you may be thinking — this is simple. Of course it is, we’re just starting.
Once you get that introductory sentence out of the way, you can start thinking about other things you want to add, which is where the work you’ve done already can come into play. So, what comes next? Think about keywords. Looking at the research above of like-industry bios above, I can cherry-pick phrases that apply to me:
equal parts; essayist; creativity in the digital age; overlap of the absurd and the profound; exploring my journey; style without life is just imitation; chronicle; creative outlet; entrepreneur; travel journal; beautiful lives; culture; business; literature; life
Then, I look for keywords that describe the type of work I’m looking for. I look over job descriptions for positions or work similar to mine. A quick search reveals a few good details:
creating content aligned to our campaigns; owning full production of short videos — including interviewing, filming, and editing; grow, mentor, and lead a team of copywriters, building thoughtful processes and strategies that allow them to successfully execute across all channels and initiatives; develop and execute strong design vision; identify, sharpen, and evolve brand vision and value through creative communications
Prospective clients and employers can and will find out a lot about you by doing a simple web search — make sure what pops up first is exactly what you want them to see.
Here’s a sample of how a five-paragraph bio might be structured:
2–3: Past work (if you’ve had 12 jobs, that’s fine but don’t go through them all — only talk about relevant work)
4: What you’re doing now.
5: Personal/ What you do outside the job
Relevant work is anything that leads you to where you are now. Was working at Express in college an important job for me? Sure, it taught me a lot about business, sales, and what shoes to wear when you’re standing on a marble floor for eight hours. If I had more business-centric aspirations, I would include this. Remember, if you can tie the work experience to your personal development, it’s worth including. While this is your story it’s not a memoir.
A paragraph is not a five-sentence block. It’s a “distinct section of writing usually dealing with a single theme” — so when I suggest five paragraphs, it may look like a lot; it may not. Most people would rather read a shorter, concise bio than one that drags on with too much information.
6. Add Details
It bears repeating if someone is reading your bio, they want to like you. They don’t want a regurgitation of your resume; they don’t want to see your Millenial trophy case; they want to know who you are. So sprinkle details throughout that give an idea of your personality. Did I go on coffee runs as an intern? Yep. I included that very brief anecdote because it gave me insight into who ordered a triple soy latte and who takes a standard drip. By adding this detail, I reveal the sometimes mundane but important work of an intern, and also how I used it to my advantage.
The personal section is for you to make clear you have a life outside the office — this is important for two reasons:
- Life is dramatic. But if I’m hiring you, or collaborating in any way, I don’t want to hire the drama. To paraphrase Gandhi, be the person you would hire.
- By revealing details about your life, you’re still sharing relevant information. I have a dog. I’m a reader. I’m a bourbon enthusiast.
Give people a way in.
7. Spell + Grammar Check
Most word processors will correct common errors, but Grammarly, ProWritingAid, and Hemingway are apps that work with desktop programs (like Microsoft Word), online editors (Google Docs), and as a live editor. Running your work through these editors can not only reduce typical errors but also reveal helpful tips like if your sentences are too long or you’re overusing words. You need tools like these.
The most important thing you can accomplish in a bio or cover letter is a reflection of who you are. Whether it lives on your personal website, LinkedIn page, or on a cover letter for a potential job, this is a place where you have complete control of every word, anecdote, and toots from your own horn. Not only that, but you set the tone and frame the way that best reflects your abilities, experience, and truly, what you can bring to a role. Don’t hold back and don’t bury the lede.
And when you’ve put in the time to write your bio, don’t forget to have someone else read it before you sign off. It’s a project and, like any other, it deserves its own approval process. Just because you’re the creator and final approver doesn’t mean it can’t improve in the process.