Bragging Professionally

This past year a group of my friends and I applied to speak at a conference, and while we failed miserably at earning ourselves the desired opportunity, we had our first real brush with the need to brag about ourselves in a small paragraph. Writing your own bio is a delicate craft, but one that you can’t live without practicing at least once. Looking back, our bios lacked consistency and the oomph we wanted to project. It’s difficult to know what to say to a stranger you’ve never met, and there really isn’t any training on this challenge. Perhaps it comes naturally to some, but I unfortunately do not share that inherent talent.

So last week, when one of the senior managers at my company, Cindy, suggested setting up a lunch to teach the younger women at work how to write about oneself, I jumped at the chance.

And I’m so glad I did. I came out of it with a passable bio of my own, but more importantly, I learned what I needed to one day create those amazing paragraphs I’m reading about strangers:

Facebook COO and author of bestseller “Lean In,” Sheryl Sandberg is now asking men and women to “Lean In Together” to further gender equality at home and work. The former Google executive joined Facebook in 2008 and became the first woman on its board four years later. Sandberg helped the social network scale globally, go public and expand digital revenue. Earlier, the Harvard MBA was a World Bank economist and chief of staff to then-Treasury Secretary Larry Summers.

Now, Sheryl Sandberg is clearly a woman with hundreds and hundreds of accomplishments that she could brag about. I’m sure it becomes a lot easier to write about yourself once you have the confidence of your achievements to pick and choose from.

But what do you do when you’re not in that position yet? What do you have to write about?

That’s what Cindy set out to teach us and she made it easy with an informal template we could follow. Now, while the talk was targeted towards the young women at our office, I feel like knowledge could easily apply to any inexperienced professional and so I thought I’d share here what I gleaned from the informational:

The point of a bio is to show the world that you’re qualified to do what you do. If you’re speaking for an event, you want to show the audience that they’re getting “their money’s worth” (Cindy). So you have to brag and not feel uncomfortable about it. One important tidbit that might help with that is knowing no one is going to call you out on what you write in your bio if it based in truth. So go ahead and take ownership. Be proud to describe your accomplishments; use I instead of we and active voice rather than passive.

That’s where the art of the craft factors in. That’s also where the template makes your job a little easier.

Cindy recommended the following in your effective bio:

  • What you currently do (with an interesting spin)
  • Where you work
  • Crazy shit you’ve done
  • Previous jobs (if exciting & relevant)
  • Education (if young & impressive)
  • Something personal + fun (so you sound human)
  • Any social media information

During the workshop, while we went around reading our drafts, the most influential and crucial element is word choice. Taking a sentence like “She works to make code faster and more effective” and converting it into “She transforms monolithic, legacy code ” is simple but profoundly effective.

Humor, especially for informal bios, is key and easily warms your feelings toward a stranger. I know because I was doing this workshop with all these women who I’d never really spoken to before; hearing the final drafts of their crafted bios made me want to be besties with each and every one of them. Humor and playful wording revealed their inner funselves while also establishing their professional credibility. Adding complementary phrases like “discussing *** over a glass of wine”, “loves stirring up trouble”, “enjoys eating more than you” gives a standard list of accomplishments flair and human insight.

It’s amazing how a few sentence tweaks and key words transformed bland to blazing.

So going through the elements Cindy recommended, I told myself I definitely wanted to include my education (MIT — BS & MS) and my previous job as a PM as well as the fact that I am now a developer. Then I tried thinking about crazy cool stuff I’ve done and I drew a blank. Eventually, I decided the fact that I’ve taught at a community college is cool, but I’m still on the look out for more compelling facts. Last but definitely not least, the “human element”. I have no clue what I do for fun that other people would think is unique and interesting. I finally decided to choose the fact that I like to try and compose music on the piano and I write. Why? Because I had had a piano lesson the morning of the group session and I was thinking about writing about the session anyway, so both hobbies were fresh on my mind.

So my bio elements:

  • Education: MIT, BS & MS
  • Jobs: Program Manager & Front End Developer
  • Crazy, Cool: Lecturer at Foothill College
  • Human Fun: Piano & Writing

Putting it all together, I ended up with:

Denzil works as a front-end developer at Yammer (secretly, a Microsoft company). Previously, she tackled the roles of Program Manager at PowerPoint and lecturer of programming in Java at Foothill Community College and San Francisco State University. Denzil graduated from MIT with a BS & MS in Computer Science, focusing most of her research in ed-tech (a passion of hers!). She is currently preparing to attend Harvard Business School this upcoming fall. In her free time, Denzil enjoys playing the piano and authoring op-eds and fiction over a glass of red wine. Follow her @denzils91.

I don’t love it, but the most important lesson that we received out of this informational was that your bio is always a draft. Keep racking up accomplishments and hobbies and then, write, re-write, & re-write some more. It’ll just get easier with time. And hopefully, wit will come more naturally too. One can dream.

Until next time! Have fun practicing your bragging skills.