As you progress in your career, you'll likely find that you're asked for a professional bio. Bios are used for a variety of things -- when you're invited to speak on a panel or at an event, when your company creates a press release or internal memo announcing your hiring, when you're launching a personal website to get clients, when you're creating a deck to attract film investors, or even when applying to fellowships and film festivals. Your bio is like your resume in that it showcases your career highlights, but it's less about proving your skills for a specific job and more about conveying your overall persona. It's also not exactly like your LinkedIn "About" section, which should have more of an approachable tone. A professional bio is a distinct document in your larger personal branding portfolio. Here are 5 key tips to remember when crafting yours:
1. Determine the appropriate length. Bios can come in all different lengths – most are relatively short (a paragraph to half a page), but those who are very advanced in their careers sometimes will have page-long bios. You may need multiple bios depending on what you are planning on using them for, but when writing, it’s good to have a target to know how granular you may need to get. If you’re creating something to be presented to promote a panel you’ll be speaking on, then a paragraph is plenty. When applying for fellowships or other professional programs, most applications will give you a word count limit. But if you need a bio for your website or pitch deck, you’ll probably want to delve a little deeper to give more insight into your background.
2. Lead with your current role. The first sentence of your bio should contain your title or a descriptor of your main role (or the role that is most relevant depending on how the bio will be used). It’s a good idea to qualify the role with some descriptors – for example, “Jane is the SVP of Alternative Programming at XYZ network, where she leads development and production of unscripted series targeted at female audiences.” Or “Joe is an LA-based TV drama writer with a passion for telling stories about the intersection of the personal with the political.” If you have some key credits, it’s not a bad idea to add these at the beginning too.
3. Create a structure and stick to it. After your lead in, you’ll need to decide the order of the rest of your story. Most often, people work in reverse chronological order (e.g. "Prior to XYZ network, Jane served as VP of Development at ZYX Studios, where..."), but it might make more sense for you to start at the beginning if some of your early career experiences led to later ones, or if the more significant projects you worked on happened several years ago. You might also want to group experiences by their type, especially if you're a multi-hyphenate (e.g. "Joe's credits include SHOW NAME, SHOW NAME, and MOVIE, and his prose has appeared in The New Yorker and The Paris Review. Joe is also a professor of screenwriting at UCLA Extension.") The key is to pick one way of framing your background and sticking to it, instead of jumping back and forth between projects or highlights. Read your bio out loud and consider whether it makes sense as a story, or if you're left with confusion about how and when you got from point A to point B.
4. Highlight your biggest achievements. Depending on how long of a career you’ve had, there may be too much to list in a short bio. And that’s okay – most people won’t read too much anyway! Much like a resume, you’ll want to highlight the most important achievements for the audience you are targeting. Make sure your proudest accomplishments make the cut, and you can even label them as your proudest accomplishments! It’s also a good idea to get specific with some of the titles of projects you have worked on or name some of your top clients (if they are recognizable). Any major awards you’ve received, prominent film festival selections, or notable speaking engagements also belong in your bio.
5. Include something personal. If there’s something that drives you to do the type of work that you do, you should spell it out in your bio. It’s great to say what you’re most passionate about or what type of impact you are hoping to have with the content you are creating. If you have side projects that you work on or organizations you are a part of, include them to offer a fuller picture of yourself. Many people will also share where they live, where they studied, the names of their spouses, children, or pets, or even list out a few hobbies or interests. These types of things humanize you and give readers a way to connect with you on a more personal level.
The thing that makes bio writing extra-difficult is that it requires a bit of bragging. In addition, we’ve found that sometimes people aren’t able to see the big picture when it comes to their accomplishments or how others view them. We strongly recommend getting a second set of eyes on your bio, or letting someone write a first draft for you (we would be happy to help!).
-- Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan
You're probably wondering: What is a professional bio, and do I need one? Have I not been getting calls for interviews because I'm sending an old fashioned resume and cover letter, and hiring managers are looking for newfangled materials?
A professional bio doesn't replace a resume in any way, and you should absolutely, unequivocally, never submit one in lieu of a professional resume or cover letter when applying for a job. Rather, a bio is a supplemental tool that will help you present yourself to your colleagues in a variety of settings and boost your career in a more general sense.
In particular, a bio can be useful for writers, directors, or other creative-types when sent as a precursor to general meetings (generally, an agent or manager would send it for you). Resumes for these types of professionals typically take the form of a credits list, but a bio will allow you to showcase some information that might not make it into the resume -- awards, fellowships, uncredited development experience, interesting personal anecdotes, and even some humor. By sending a short bio in advance of a meeting, you save executives from Googling you and trying to piece your story together themselves.
Bios also make up a part of your online presence. Many companies feature C-level executive bios on their websites, and some smaller firms have short blurbs on every person at the company! If you have a personal website, you should certainly include a bio somewhere on it. It allows you to summarize both your personal and work experience in one place, and it will help a viewer decide whether they want to learn more about you and guide them to the parts of your portfolio that are most relevant. Additionally, if you’ve ever been asked to speak at an event or contribute an article to a website, you’ll probably need a bio that will likely live online somewhere. This can only help you in your professional career -- having your bio posted on another organization’s site will inevitably give you some extra credibility. Bios are also a component of fellowship applications, and if you’re accepted, your bio will typically be featured on the program’s site. Needless to say, given the public nature of a bio, it’s important that you make it GREAT!
But writing a bio can be tricky. You want something well-written that flows nicely, so if grammar or written storytelling aren’t your forte, you’d do well to have someone write your bio for you. Plus, an outsider can often help you identify the most impressive aspects of your career and lay them out in an organized way. Writing a bio can sometimes feel like you’re being forced to brag about yourself, and most people are uncomfortable doing so. Remember those awkward times that your professors asked you to write your own letters of recommendation for them to sign? Bio writing can sometimes feel a lot like that. At the very least, we suggest having a friend or family member help you with your bio. But that’s why we’re starting our new service -- to help you with this very important component of your professional career.
Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan