10 Steps To Writing A Captivating Professional Bio

The British philosopher Alan Watts once said, “Trying to define yourself is like trying to bite your own teeth.”

Now, I don’t know if this teeth comparison was born out of Mr. Watts’ struggle to craft his own professional bio, but he sure hits the nail on the head. It’s not easy to articulate the essence of who we are and what we do in a single paragraph—and a crisp, compelling one at that! As a result, many professional bios are written in haste and sound more like an obituary than a vibrant testament to what you can offer the world.

If the task of condensing your life’s work into a few sentences and sounding like a human with a personality and pulse is making you sweat, I’ve got you covered! The following 10 steps provide a simple framework for crafting a bio that shines like you do.

1- know Your Audience

No one is being held hostage on your website. If anything, your readers are running wild with 4,543 memes and marketers trying to kidnap their scarce attention. You have less than two seconds to rivet the crowd before someone else does, which is why it’s essential to know who you’re writing for.

When you understand what matters to your audience, you can ultimately tell better stories that engage and entertain them. You can also share how your values align with theirs. Your bio should communicate “I see you” to these people, almost like you’re directly speaking to their needs.

I know, I know...if there was ever a time to be self-centered, this seems like it would be it. But alas, like every piece of content you produce, your “about” page or bio isn’t actually about you: It’s about how you can serve your audience.

2- Start With A Provocative Hook

Your opener should immediately establish who you are and how you add value to people’s lives. No matter how “dry” your niche might seem, remember that to a specific group of people, you offer an exciting, much-needed solution to a problem. So excite them already! Fill in the blanks below and then add a little pizzazz…

  • (Name) is a (title) who works with (your audience) to (how you add value)

  • (Name) has (won/achieved/helped/etc.) (insert unique win or experience)

  • (Name) is a (title) at (company), where (name) (verb) (what you do)

Consider the following introduction from ArnoPaul, who works at a Dutch design agency: “ArnoPaul is the most understanding front-end developer you’re going to meet, ever. From technical, design, user, or client perspective— he’s there for you, fully aware of the context of a project.”

Front-end developers aren’t exactly known for their nurturing qualities or patience with people who don’t speak their language, so this sentence immediately piques the reader’s interest in what ArnoPaul has to offer. Now, it’s your turn: How are you in a unique position to help clients? What is the philosophy that drives your work, and how do you put that philosophy into action?

3- Share How You Got Your Superpowers

The “origin story” is a concept that comes from the world of comics, where the creator reveals how a hero gained his superpowers. If Spiderman was invincible or born perfect, we simply wouldn’t relate to him or care. Plus, narratives are inherently much more engrossing than plain facts.

Basically, this is where you can finally pop champagne from your bubble bath and laugh at all the struggles you went through to reach your current rockstar status! It’s no secret that people care about your “why” today more then ever (thanks, Simon!). Take a quick zip through time: Invite your audience to see you at the start of your professional journey, add a surprise twist or defining moment, and then end with how you use this hard-earned expertise to help people today. And of course, your origin story should be distilled into its briefest possible version.

Here’s one engaging example from copywriter Joanna Wiebe:

I fell into copywriting. Just totally tumbled in, head over feet. I didn’t like the word “copywriter” when I first started–so I went by “creative writer.” Big mistake. That must’ve set me back a good 3 years. Now I know that COPY is awesome, and copywriters are the best-kept secret in the sales and marketing world. “

Joanna doesn’t go on and on about how she regrets those lost years as a creative writer. Rather, she’s honest about how her life experience informs the awesome work she does today! Here’s another example of a story-driven bio from branding guru Pete Kistler:

“Pete Kistler is the co-founder of BrandYourself, which provides software & services that help nearly a million people protect & improve their online presence. Pete's software is known for receiving one of the largest offers ever on ABC's Shark Tank ($2 million). After being mistaken for a drug dealer with the same name in Google, Pete learned the hard way that the way we look online directly impacts our lives. Whether applying to jobs, competing for clients, running a business or applying to college, our online presence can make or break our opportunities. After his case of mistaken identity, Pete started BrandYourself to help others control their online presence.”

This quick glimpse into Pete’s personal story is much more memorable than the typical “condensed resume” bio. He effectively shares his firsthand experience with the problem, how he earned his stripes, and why he’s not just super qualified but also personally invested.

Here’s a few questions to get the creative juices flowing…

  • What personal reasons drew you to this line of work?

  • How did your childhood prepare or inspire your current role?

  • What mistakes have you made along the way that ultimately made you stronger?

  • If Oprah asked for your “aha” moment, what would you tell her?

4- Hold a “Describe-Me-In-three-Words” Poll

No matter what industry you’re in, people want to work with those they find likable and genuine. After all, there are plenty of competitors with similar or even superior qualifications. Your bio should differentiate that special somethan’ somethan’ only YOU have, so put your personality on display.

I get it: Writing about yourself can trigger that cringey feeling of *shudders* seeing yourself on video. Others are often much better and less awkward at pinpointing what makes us unique than we are. So if you work in an office setting, let your colleagues do the legwork for you! Ask each person to describe you (and other colleagues, if you’re doing a team-wide bio revamp) in three words. If you’re a solo-preneur, ask trusted friends, clients, or family members for their insights. This practice can be super illuminating and help you weave some hard-to-describe personality magic into your bio.

5- Show, don’t tell

The most painful part of writing about ourselves is striking that delicate balance between sounding confident and cocky. The easiest way to avoid explicitly saying that you’re “wildly successful” is to show it instead! What is your greatest professional accomplishment? Any hard-hitting numbers that display your success? Where have you been published or featured? What is the fact that people ooh and aah about at dinner parties?

You have a limited amount of space, so each word needs to be clear and impactful. Be ruthless with weak verbs or filler words that distill the potency of what you’re saying.

6- avoid jargon at all costs

Chances are, the majority of people have no idea what it is you actually do all day. Your industry lingo is gobbleygok to most people, so stick with universal language that everyone can understand.

One good example is from a Baltimore-based agency called Mission. They do all sorts of mysterious advertising-branding-marketing-design voodoo. The co-founder Joe handles the technical side of business, and this could have gotten complicated real quick.

Instead, his bio reads: “Joe moved on to start Mission in 2000 with his business partner, Todd. It was sort of a right-brain/left-brain endeavor. Todd made things look pretty, and Joe made things work.”

How easy was that?

7- Use humor If/when you can

People buy from brands that crack them up. Ditto with people. Humor lowers our resistance and captures our attention like nothing else. Obviously, certain companies can get away with much, much more and it’s important to stay within your brand voice and style. But if you can sneak in a little something to make people smile, do it!

Here’s one example that I found memorable from the creative director of a Canadian agency called Zulu Alpho Kilo:

“Marcus has a reputation for pushing his creative teams further than any other creative director. He makes them work late nights, weekends and through holidays in pursuit of that one truly breakthrough creative idea. And when they’ve finally cracked it after weeks of grueling and thankless work, Marcus will triumphantly stand in front of the client and present it as an idea he had in the shower that morning instead.”

8- Add a photo

People are visual creatures, so definitely add a photo if you’re at liberty to do so. A nice, high-resolution picture works wonders for helping people feel like they really know you.

9- Wrap it up with a human touch

The end of your bio is the best place to add a punchy touch of your personality. Including personal details gives prospective clients an easy way to relate to you and break the ice in a networking situation, too (“So, you’re a fellow jazz fan/bacon lover/bird watching fanatic!”).

Consider the following questions to give people a glimpse into who you are beyond your 9-5…

  • Who is a hero of yours?

  • What do people ask your advice about?

  • What makes your eyes light up outside of work?

  • What’s next on your bucket list?

  • Where are you from? Do you have any regional habits or tendencies that your colleagues tease you about? Perhaps a fanatic obsession with a sports team?

  • Is there anything people always tend to find fascinating about you?

  • Craziest travel destination or story?

10- Include a CTA

By now, your bio has the right people intrigued and wanting more of you, so don’t leave them hanging! Provide some form of contact information, whether it’s an email address, Twitter handle, or a link to your LinkedIn profile. This also shows that you’re approachable and want to connect.

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When done right, your website’s bio acts as a powerful business tool that sets you apart and reflects why you’re indispensable to your target audience. Your bio helps customers decide that you and you alone are the one for them, so make the most of this first impression!

Want professional help writing your own bio? Feel free to reach out at hannah@hannahchenoweth.com. I’d love to work together to create a strong, captivating bio that suits your unique needs!