TIME Careers & Workplace

This Is the Absolute Perfect Way to Describe Yourself

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Know these four points and you're well on your way

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It’s been scientifically proven that talking about yourself makes your brain happy. Then why is it always so hard to write a professional bio for yourself?

That blinking cursor can be a nemesis when you have lots to share but you don’t know where to begin and you don’t want to bore anyone away by saying too much.

Don’t sweat it! You can write a bio that sends the right message and sounds like the true “you.” Here are four things to keep in mind.

1. Know Your Audience

When you’re writing your bio, you’re likely thinking about, well, you. But a better starting point is to think about who will be reading it.

Imagine a specific individual who will read your bio, and write for her. For instance, let’s say you’re on an alumni panel for your college. Student attendees will want to know what they should be doing now to get the career you have. In this case, your bio should reflect less of your day-to-day work responsibilities and more of the past campus activities and classes that helped you get the job.

The same applies for the bio on your company’s website. If you’ve been asked to write your own, think of a client who will visit the office. What should he know about potentially working on a project with you?

When you approach the process from the standpoint of what people will want to know about you—not how to condense your life story into two paragraphs—things tend to get a whole lot easier.

2. Know Yourself

Your bio shouldn’t be a laundry list of accomplishments; that’s what your resume is for. Instead, use it to show the person behind the accolades. You are more than your job role (especially if you have a trendy startup title; I’m looking at you ninjas and rock stars), so think about the strengths that make you good at what you do.

For example, in all of my jobs since college, I’ve been responsible for writing PowerPoint decks and documents to persuade others about ideas. “Strategy” has been in my job titles, but since that word has so many different meanings, I decided to focus on “story” when I talk about what I do. While “story” is also a general term, I’ve found that it connects better with the kind of help my clients and potential clients are seeking. The person who is thinking “my company’s story needs some work” is exactly who I want to reach.

Knowing yourself also means knowing your voice. Be authentic. Write about what you know best and write the way that you talk. If your bio readers ever meet you in person, they should feel as if they already knew you. One note of caution though: unless you are a comedian on the side, avoid using humor in your writing. If you can confuse tone when reading text messages, missing tone when reading a joke can be just as bad. (See Key & Peele for Exhibit A.)

3. Know Your Limits

Just as your resume is best when it fits on just one page, the person requesting your bio will also require a certain length. Whether it is two sentences, two paragraphs, or 200 words, respect the limit and challenge yourself to write just 50% of what is asked.

Why? Two reasons.

First, because your bio will be listed alongside others. If yours is noticeably shorter than the others but still packs a punch, it is more likely to get read (and remembered). Not to mention that event organizers may chop your bio down arbitrarily if you don’t follow their rules.

Second, because everything needs a second draft. Don’t just throw something together and send it off. Write it, sleep on it, then come back to it and ask: “Would I want to meet me?” Your bio should sound as close to your voice as possible (note: ask your organizer if it is appropriate to write in the first person) and leave room for intrigue. And when you catch yourself listing your fifth award, cut it short and write “Ask me about being a Rhodes Scholar” (if you’ve been one, of course!).

4. Know Your Clichés

When you spend nearly a third of your life at work, it’s easy to forget that the rest of the world doesn’t speak your industry’s language.

Use your bio to share facts and impact in plain English. Instead of saying you “managed multiplatform brand extensions to increase reach among P12-17,” say that you helped a brand reach a bigger audience of teenagers by being an effective project manager.

To be safe, before sending your bio to publish, double check to make sure none of your copy sounds like you wrote it in Corporate Ipsum, Startup Ipsum, or Social Good Ipsum.

If you’re still having trouble after trying these tips, give the Twitter Bio Generator a spin. You may not be a “Future teen idol” or “Freelance bacon nerd,” but you can get some good inspiration (or pretend to be one and get folks interested that way!).

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