Building Your Personal Brand Starts with Your Bio — Here’s How to Optimize Yours
Stephania Varalli, former Co-CEO, Head of Media for Women of Influence, shares her advice
By Stephania Varalli
Your professional bio is often your first opportunity to showcase all that’s unique, interesting, and accomplished about you — if it is written well. If it’s not, you’re missing out on a critical element for building your personal brand.
The question is, how do you know if your bio is working for you, or against you?
Throughout my 20-year career, and especially in my most recent role as Co-CEO & Head of Media at Women of Influence, I’ve reviewed, written, and edited hundreds of professional bios. The best have had clear elements in common, even though they’ve varied across industries and career stages, and from corporate to entrepreneurial.
Not all of the standouts were chock full of stratospheric accomplishments, but they all presented their professional details in a way that grabbed attention, told a story, and fit both their brand and the platform it was being shared on. Simply put: they said the right things, in the right order, and in the right way.
It often only requires a few tweaks to take a bio from good to great, once you know what to look for in the content, structure, and style. These three questions will get you started on optimizing your own professional bio:
Content: Is your personal brand being conveyed?
The content you include in your bio should tell a cohesive and compelling story about who you are, what you’ve done, and what you like to do. The challenge? It’s not easy to judge a description of yourself with a neutral, outsider lens. Here are a few approaches to try:
- Imagine you are meeting (or being introduced to) a new person at a networking event. What are the most interesting and defining facts shared about you? What tidbits always get a positive reaction? What falls flat? And does it line up with what’s in your written bio?
- Look at each item or detail you’ve included, and assign it a brief purpose. Does it establish your breadth of experience, or your credibility? Does it add a personal touch that humanizes you? Does it show knowledge in your field? If you can’t say why it’s in there, then why is it in there?
- After you’ve reviewed what’s included, reflect on what isn’t. Is there an element to your professional story or personal brand that doesn’t come across? What fact can you add that supports the missing message?
- Imagine your name isn’t included on the bio. Can you still identify each detail as uniquely about you? The easiest way to fall into this trap is by vaguely stating who you are (for example, a change agent, or an equity ally) without demonstrating it through examples (led a transformation project, headed an equity committee).
Structure: Have you got your priorities straight?
Ideally, your first sentence will act similarly to a headline, sharing an informative and compelling snapshot of you. This not only increases the likelihood that they’ll keep on reading, it also prioritizes the important points in case they don’t. The task might sound difficult, but it can often be accomplished with a combination of your name, title, and an impressive fact that demonstrates your personal brand, or a key element of it.
Follow up your first sentence with more details about your current work. It can be tempting to arrange your bio chronologically, but you’re better off sharing accomplishments from prior roles or careers after you’ve already explained what you do right now.
The humanizing elements — noting that you have kids or a pet, or the hobby you’re passionate about — should be saved for the end. It’s important to note that while these can establish you as ‘real’ by sharing personal details, they should only be included if they are important to you and your brand message.
Style: Does it fit your brand, and where you’re sharing it?
Most bios I’ve come across fall into two broad style categories: professional or fun. The latter are often written in first person (I am…), are designed to cultivate an informal, instant-friends vibe, and are difficult to execute successfully if you aren’t a professional writer. They work great on personal websites or blogs, but for most other platforms, I suggest sticking with third person narrative (she/he/they) and allowing the place it’s being shared to help guide the style.
You don’t have to give up your authentic voice — but you do need to consider your audience. The golden rule: your bio is for them, not just about you!
For a professional bio that you’re adding to your LinkedIn profile, you don’t need to stray from a standard format of 2-3 paragraphs of a few sentences each. If you’re also submitting content, being introduced as a speaker, or have space restrictions on a corporate site, get yourself ready with multiple bio versions. I personally always have a short version ready, all in one paragraph, and about 100 words. You can base these variations on your original longer format one, so if you’re starting from scratch, start there.