“Your bio is a strategic play and should be treated as such. A bio can help you get hired, gain visibility, and win you serious respect,” writes Meredith Fineman in the Harvard Business Review, advising from her work on personal branding.
Here’s insight into how you can overcome mistakes that undermine the impact of professional bios and achieve executive presence with yours.
AVOIDING COMMON MISTAKES
Be Consistent Across Platforms
Look at every place your bio appears as a potential touchpoint for elevating your profile and career, and make it the same message. Fineman finds that a big mistake is lack of consistency across platforms. She writes, “If a journalist or recruiter cannot figure out who you are in under 30 seconds (because you have six different bios in six different places), you’ve lost your chance.”
Fineman recommends that everyone have a consistent two-line bio, short bio, and long bio. When it comes to the short versions, she advises to find the 15-second version of yourself professionally, “Think of it as trying to give your bio as an elevator pitch.”
Keep It Fresh
If you’re not updating your bio every six months, then you’re at risk of letting it go stale. Even if your position stays the same, you can reflect new achievements or experiences you’ve collected. Fineman recommends to set a calender reminder.
Use Your Last Name
It sounds more professional and carries more gravitas than your first name when linked to accomplishments.
Use Active Voice & Verbs
Research has identified significant differences between how men and women talk about their career accomplishments (women tend to understate them), and suggests that women can enhance their executive presence by ensuring confident expression about their accomplishments. The bio is an opportunity to do this in writing.
Fineman writes, “When someone has used the passive voice in their bio, it always feels to me like they’re trying to downplay their achievements. The point of your bio is to emphasize your achievements.”
She recommends to eliminate soft language like “trying to” or “attempting to” when speaking about current efforts. “That makes it sound like you’ve already failed. Remove it. You are not attempting to do it, you are doing it.”
Include Selective Achievements & Expand on Them
Your bio is an opportunity to choose your strongest achievements, purposefully include them, and convey what’s so compelling about them. Fineman argues you can’t do that with a list.
Being selective about achievements you include and put meat on them, while drawing in passions. Fineman advises, “This is a professional bio, so while you can include your hobbies, choose carefully and be straightforward rather than coy.”
Include Links To Outcomes & Actions
Treat your bio as a showcase for your work, and make it easily accessible – press releases about awards, pieces you’ve written, published results of your work, visible outcomes. Equally if there’s a call-to-action possibility, such as booking you to speak at an event, link it.
GOING FURTHER – CREATING EXECUTIVE PRESENCE
Beyond getting basics right, your bio is an opportunity to convey your executive presence. This may be especially important for women because executive presence is in the eye of the beholder and it’s more likely to be conferred upon men.
In an article entitled Executive and Board Candidate Bios: Executive Presence on Display, Paula Aisnof, Principal & Founder of Yellow Brick Path, shares perspective on how you can.
Try asking these questions.
Could I change the name & mistake it for somebody else?
Aisnof comments that most corporate bios are highly undifferentiated, providing little insight into the person behind the words, “Change the names and locations and those bios could be about 80% of executives.”
A good way to avoid this is to immerse yourself into creating your bio, whether you’re writing it. When leaders hands-off delegate their bio, they delegate their personal brand. Aisnof writes,“One reason for the overwhelmingly blandness is that bios are frequently written by third parties who do not necessarily understand the executive’s story or the targeted audience.”
If you want your bio to be involving, get involved with it.
Does it tell a story that builds my executive presence?
“Whether used for business purposes, for advancing an executive’s visibility through professional or community activities, or for job search,” writes Aisnof, “executives these days must reach beyond being a commodity in an overcrowded market of similarly accomplished peers.”
Her advice is that bios need to have a story that “entices the reader to want to get to know the executive personally and understand his or her unique talents and value.”
Harness the persuasive power of storytelling for your personal brand. This doesn’t mean turning your bio into a mini-novel or downgrading its professionalism. It means ensuring your bio reflects an engaging narrative of how your achievements, experience, and journey reflect your unique talents and value. Does it tell a story about how you’re a thought leader? Strategic foresight and execution has been identified as one of the seven skills you need to thrive in the C-suite.
Does the first paragraph bring me to life as an executive?
Aisnof advices, “The bio should immediately and accurately create a picture of the person being described, portray a person with distinguishing capabilities and qualities, and communicate the subject’s level of authority, responsibility, and expertise.”
Do you know what motivates you, what makes you excellent at what you do, why people like to work with you, and what others say about you? Aisnof has previously found that an executive brand comes down to “essense factor – who they are”, “guru factor – what they know”, and “star factor – what they do and how they do it.”
Have I given compelling and differentiating specifics?
Emphasize specifics, not generics. Don’t highlight “leadership skills”. Instead, demonstrate what makes you a remarkable leader.
“It is the specifics that set the executive apart from other great leaders and outstanding communicators,” writes Aisnof. In the best bios, the reader will come to the conclusion that the executive is exceptional based on the information presented rather than being told by the executive that he or she is great.”
The same goes for accomplishments. Aisnof urges, “These should be earthshaking, company-saving, award winning events supported by quantitative results where possible and be related to the interests of the targeted audience,” without disclosing sensitive corporate or client information.
Is this a board candidate bio?
If so, then Aisnof recommends including: any boards – including non-profit on which you already have served; reflecting any corporate, civic, or charitable-focused leadership roles that demonstrate ability to guide an organization; any awards especially outside your company that have recognized your accomplishments; and any media coverage, publications, or speaking appearances. Ask from the selection committee perspective: “What is the most important and differentiating contribution the executive would be making to the group?”
When embraced, managing your bio can be part of strategically managing your career advancement.
By Aimee Hansen