Resumes are where all relevance, originality and impactful verbiage goes to die. They do little to get you hired and are mostly a complete waste of time. What human being on the planet actually enjoys reading them let alone writing them? And even if they did enjoy digging into them, would they really learn anything memorable about the candidate they are reviewing? So many resumes say the exact same thing, over and over, in slightly different ways. If you really want to make your mark - whatever your profession - you need to rethink how you position yourself across the board not just in a resume or your LinkedIn profile. So stop wasting your time dressing up that old resume and...
Instead, write a professional bio that tells your story, and outlines your unique strengths, purpose and point of view in 500 words or less. Seems like a simple, straight forward exercise though too few ever do this. It is the first thing I ask for when someone asks me to recommend them for a particular position or if I'm considering a candidate for hire. This is the best way I've found, next to an in person interview - to get to know a candidate and start to figure out what makes them tick. I've found though for many - whether they be graduate students or seasoned executives - that this is a terrifying exercise. And though it may be terrifying, it is essential not only for you to stand out in a sea of qualified candidates whatever your profession but it is also essential for you to have a good sense of yourself and what you want out of any professional endeavor.
Bio Writing 101 -- Where to Start:
1. Take a candid assessment of your strengths. The Gallup StrengthsFinder 2.0 will send you your top 5 strengths as well as language for how to describe those strengths. The reason this is essential is that so many resumes say the exact same thing and outline the same strengths for everyone. Find ways to thread in your unique strengths in a bio first, then in your social media profiles and finally in your resume.
2. Solicit feedback -- Ask at least three people you've worked with (not currently)and trust to share what they see as your unique abilities, gifts, talents - what they find most memorable about you and enjoy most about knowing/working with you -- and then also to share an area(s) for improvement. Feedback, especially the more experienced we become, is something we can always learn from. As a rule we should be constantly seeking feedback from a variety of sources though we should ask for it in ways that don't overwhelm. Balance as with everything is key. And never ask someone in person which puts them on the spot. Ask them over email so they have time to get back to you with a thoughtful answer.
3. Define Your Professional Calling(s). What is your professional purpose? What are you trying to achieve. What is all of this work leading to? Personally, I have no desire to work with people who aren't driven by their passion and purpose in life and work. My Grandmother used to say, 'Work is the Mortgage you take out on your life, make it count.' It is astonishing how many people I come across who have never given their professional purpose any deep or real thought. And yet look at the amount of time we spend at work. If you are unable to clearly define your professional calling then it's time to do some deeper work so you can find it and it's never to late to start.
4. Begin writing your narrative. Don't let the word limit hamper you. Just let your story flow out at first. Start with your purpose and weave in your strengths and where you think those strengths are derived. Just put it all down as best you can. You can always edit back. Make it personal. Your unique voice here is key, the tone should be conversational and professional as if someone were sitting down with you over coffee, authentic to who you are and above all else read like a great story. Why? Because people love to read stories. People remember stories. People share stories and each one of us has a unique story all our own. Once you have a solid draft go back to those that you solicited feedback from and ask for their thoughts on your draft. Then you can create several versions of this if, like me, you have several professional passions and callings. The first draft though will become your master personal brand narrative from which all other communications pieces you develop about yourself (resumes, social media profiles, CVs, will flow).
5. Simple is always smart. Having worked with branding and simplicity guru Alan Siegel for many years, he deeply ingrained this maxim of his which he built an entire company and branding philosophy around. Don't take this bio writing opportunity to write your life's story. This is merely your opening act, meant to generate interest and curiosity. To engage the reader so they want to know and learn more about you. Keep it simple, and to the point in 500 words or less.
Storytelling Lessons from a Legend
Branding, advertising, and storytelling legend Keith Reinhard, gave a speech this spring on The Magic of The Story in Lucerne, Switzerland sharing some of his best insights for creating enduring brands through the power of stories. Having worked with Keith for nearly a decade, I learned several masterful tools of persuasion and strategic influence that though they were lessons he applied daily in his work and leadership at DDB Worldwide, I found great value in applying them to my personal and professional branding efforts. Several brilliant insights from his recent speech stand out and apply in the context of developing our professional narratives:
It's been rightly said that a product without meaning is a commodity. A product with meaning is a brand. Your master brand narrative should reflect the meaning of your brand -- a higher ideal that drives everything your brand says and does.
The strongest brands don't see their audience as passive. They generate active engagement with both employees and consumers who become an important part of the brand story.
Do you want people to love your brand? Engage them with a story they'll never forget. It can work like magic.
-- Keith Reinhard, Lucerne, Switzerland, March 2016
The Magic in the Story of You
When was the last time a resume reflected the true meaning of one's personal brand, let alone generated active engagement of the reader? I'm not saying toss the resume all together as others have argued, for many professions it is an essential requirement for the application and hiring process. What I am saying is add a new element - the bio - to your professional profile arsenal and you'll be better positioned to not only get a job but find one that actually speaks to your broader passion and purpose. Keith used to always say, 'Never underestimate the power of Wonder, Surprise and Delight.' And to this day I always look for ways I can bring a little of this into everything I communicate about myself and others. We all have some magic in us, why not let that come through in all that we do and write and say?