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March 5, 2015

Five ways to make your professional bio pop

Daily Briefing

Failing to spend adequate time developing you professional bio and keeping it up-to-date "is a pretty big missed opportunity," Meredith Fineman argues in the Harvard Business Review.

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Fineman is the founder of FinePoint, an organization that helps people develop leadership skills through public relationship tactics. As part of her job, Fineman works with clients to improve their professional bios. "A bio can help you get hired, gain visibility, and win you serious respect," she writes.

Fineman offers five tactics for creating a well-structured and meaningful professional bio:

1. Develop the basics. First, Fineman says individuals should create a long (full-page), short (paragraph), and two-line (elevator pitch) bio to use depending on the circumstance. She stresses that all bios—from those on LinkedIn, to personal websites, to company websites—should be exactly the same and should be able to communicate who you are to another person. "If a journalist or recruiter cannot figure out who you are in under 30've lost your chance," she says.

2.  Update constantly. Fineman encourages updating professional bios once every six months to add any "experience you have accrued" and tweak anything that might have changed. She suggests setting a recurring calendar reminder and having another person read over changes to ensure you do not leave out anything important.

3.  Link to everything. "It drives me crazy to see accomplished people using bios that do not link to their work," Fineman writes. She says linking to anything you've written, press releases about an accomplishment, or even your personal website can help show the reader your body of work. "Don't assume that someone will read your bio, alight on something you've done, open a browser tab, Google that accomplishment, search through the results, and then read about it. That's too much work. "

4. Language matters. Fineman warns against using passive voice or verbs that imply you are "trying to" or "attempting" to do something. Both of those things, she says, could make the reader feel like you are trying to "downplay" your achievements. In addition, she says, "sing your praises about prizes, things you've written, positions you've held," rather than just making a list of achievements—but avoid sounding too casual, as professional bios "are not...the place to be playful."

5. Use your bio as a 'call to action': "Your bio is a marketing tool for your business and for your career," Fineman writes, adding, "It would be a waste to have someone read your bio and not become a potential customer." She encourages things like linking to how to book you for a speaking engagement or enroll in an online course you offer. But she suggests limiting calls to action to two in order to avoid the bio reading "as a hard sell" (Fineman, Harvard Business Review, 3/2). 

The takeaway: Meredith Fineman in the Harvard Business Review offers five tips to writing a clear, concise, and thoughtful professional bio. She argues that failing to spend adequate time developing and updating a bio "is a pretty big missed opportunity."

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