What is a professional background?
A professional background is a summary of your professional experiences — coupled with any relevant personal information, including interests or passions — that you’ll use throughout your career as you network with industry peers, apply for new roles, or seek thought leadership opportunities.
Your professional background includes previous jobs you’ve had, successful projects you’ve worked on, significant accomplishments like promotions or awards, professional networking organizations you belong to, and anything else you’d share with someone who wants to know more about you professionally.
Not only is sharing more about your background a great way to tell more about yourself to others, it’s also an opportunity to wholly reflect on your professional journey and the goals you’ve achieved — plus, what you hope to achieve in the future.
Next, let’s dive into how you can get started.
How to Write About Yourself
- Don’t start from scratch.
- Know your audience.
- Show professional progression.
- Highlight your accomplishments.
- Be personable.
- Ask for feedback.
1. Don’t start from scratch.
If you’re having trouble figuring out where to start, try using a professional bio template to guide you. Templates, like the ones featured below, make it easier for you to focus on your personal information and accomplishments, without having to worry as much about the structure.
Featured Resource: Professional Bio Templates and Examples
Download the Templates
2. Know your audience.
Take into consideration who will be reading your professional bio and cater to your reader.
You may also want to draft different versions of your document to best fit specific audiences. For example, the version you post on your LinkedIn may not be as detailed as the version you post on your personal website, and if your reader is a potential employer, it would help to include details that specifically highlight why you’re the best candidate for the role for which you’re applying.
HubSpot Founder Dharmesh Shah uses different bios for different platforms. On Twitter, for instance, Dharmesh’s bio is short and sweet, which is perfect for Twitter’s character limit.
Alternatively, on INBOUND’s website, Dharmesh’s bio is written in third-person for attendees. This bio makes Dharmesh’s current role clear while providing some key background information.
Finally, in his OnStartups bio, Dharmesh’s voice is personable since he’s speaking directly to the reader. This gives readers more insight into Dharmesh’s background directly from his perspective.
The best part about this approach is that you can create as many versions of your bio as you’d like, or simply recycle a general version whenever you need it.
3. Show professional progression.
As you’re writing, think about structuring your professional bio in a way that creates a timeline to show your progression. Explain what your different roles were like, and emphasize responsibilities that set you up for success in your latter roles.
It’s important to note that your timeline doesn’t have to be linear.
“Look for a theme that runs throughout several of the jobs you’ve held, and present your choices in a way that shows common threads running through each of your career decisions,” explains career strategist Jenny Foss.
The goal is to clearly show your audience the different roles you’ve had, and how all of your experiences have contributed to your overall professional development.
4. Highlight your accomplishments.
One of the best things about writing your professional background is that it’s the perfect opportunity to brag about yourself — and I don’t mean humble brag.
Think of the most successful projects you’ve been part of, the strategies you’ve helped develop and execute, the deals you’ve closed, the revenue you’ve generated, and anything else that stands out as a major accomplishment.
“A former manager once told me to keep a ‘brag sheet’ in a document on my computer. The idea was to create a running list of noteworthy accomplishments, media mentions, awards, and letters of recommendation that I could reference to make it easier to write about myself. It also doesn’t hurt to open up this document whenever you’re having a tough day to remind yourself what you’re capable of,” Carly Stec, HubSpot’s Team Manager of Content Conversion, told me.
It’s also important to consider how success was measured in your previous roles — and how that might shape the way you write about it.
If success for you tends to be measured in quantifiable metrics, include strong statistics. It might look something like this:
- “In my first six months, I was able to sign up X amount of customers that generated an average monthly recurring revenue of $X.”
- “I helped boost customer retention by X percentage.”
- “With the strategy I developed, my team was able to lower customer acquisition costs by X percentage.”
If your role is primarily measured through qualitative goals, share a highlight that speaks to skills you excel at. For example:
- “I successfully executed a major project using strong time management skills and communicated the results to C-suite stakeholders.”
- “I was able to complete a project that was projected to take an entire quarter in half the time because of my organizational skills.”
- “I was selected to lead a database cleanup project due to my attention to detail and strong team collaboration skills.”
5. Be personable.
Timelines and accomplishments are great, but being personable is even better.
Readers should feel like they’re getting some sense of who you are from your professional background. This gives readers the opportunity to know more about you beyond a professional scope. If you have any cool niche hobbies that you enjoy outside of work, this would be the time to share.
Here’s a list of prompts to help you brainstorm the right “fun facts” to highlight:
- What TV show are you currently binging?
- Do you have any pets?
- What’s something most people don’t know about you?
- What languages do you speak?
- What are you most proud of yourself for?
- What’s something you’ve done that’s bucket-list worthy?
- What do you do to relax?
- What are three of your must-have apps?
- What would your favorite colleague say about you?
- What’s the best advice you’ve ever received and how do you apply it to your life?
Being personable is also a great opportunity to address any unconventional moments in your professional background. For example, maybe you’ve made a drastic shift in your career path, or you took a sabbatical at some point.
These types of stories can make you more relatable to your audience, and you never know who you may end up connecting with over one of your hobbies or more personal moments.
6. Ask for feedback.
Constructive feedback is key when you’re writing about yourself. While many choose to source feedback after completing a draft of their bio, it’s just as beneficial to get feedback from your peers at earlier stages of your drafting process.
Oftentimes, our peers can help identify our strengths and where we have opportunities to improve. If you’re having trouble developing a clear timeline or pinpointing which highlights you should mention, get together with a peer to brainstorm ideas.
Reflect on successful assignments that you’ve collaborated on and ask your peer to provide honest feedback about what you did best — and include that feedback in your bio.
If you need help getting started, here’s a list of discussion questions to use with your peers to uncover professional strengths you might be overlooking in your own self-assessment:
- What role do you think I tend to play in group work?
- How have I helped you be more successful?
- What do you think my most impressive project has been?
- What was your first impression of me?
- What do you think my strengths are?
If you’re feeling stuck, don’t be afraid to leverage our free professional bio templates to help you get started.
Next, let’s go over professional background examples from both tenured and early-career professionals.
Professional Background Examples
1. Bozoma Saint John
Bozoma Saint John opens her biography by covering her most recent role at Netflix, then goes all the way back to the beginning of her career. From there, she provides a detailed overview of her accomplishments, inserting the names of the most notable organizations she has worked with.
Notice how she familiarizes us with her by using her nickname, “Boz,” throughout her professional background. In the same way, you can use your nickname throughout your bio (if you’re writing it in third person).
We’d recommend writing a background like Saint John’s if you’re seeking speaking or presenting opportunities.
2. Jim Kowalski
Jim Kowalski walks us through his passions before describing his work experience and accomplishments. He makes it a point to connect his love of the automotive industry to his ethos in his work. Another notable feature of his professional background is that he mentions a brand he invigorated (it was “almost dead,” he asserts). He closes with his fascinating adventures around the world, including building a home in Thailand.
Mention ways that you’ve prevented clients and other companies from failing. If you’ve had noteworthy adventures, consider bringing them into your professional background as well. A background bio doesn’t have to be wooden; it can be fun, too, as long as you remain within reason. Plus, it gives the reader a chance to connect with you.
3. Katherine Gundlach
If you’re a college student, you might not have a long list of professional accomplishments, but you can take note from Katherine Gundlach’s example and write about what you love to do — and why you love to do it.
Katherine Gundlach opens her professional background with her current status as a college student, then goes into an anecdote that describes why she became a photographer. In the latter half of the bio, she describes her mission when photographing others. In your own bio, describe the purpose of what you do (or the reason why you want to pursue a certain field).
She also says where she’s from. Mentioning personal information in your professional bio can be a way for readers, hiring managers, and colleagues to relate to you.
4. Erick Rheam
Erick Rheam’s professional background effectively outlines his path to becoming a motivational speaker. He also cements his expertise by stating that he speaks regularly across the U.S. After, he outlines his vision and purpose for doing what he does. Like some of the other examples on this list, he includes personal information about himself: that he’s a runner.
This professional background is done well because it’s succinct and balances professionalism, expertise, and personality. Consider achieving a similar balance in your own background document by dedicating 1-2 sentences to each aspect of your professional and personal life.
5. Dr. Houyuan Luo
Dr. Houyuan Luo’s professional background is a classic example of a bio that’s inspirational, professional, and persuasive.
In the medical industry, education is immensely important — how long you studied can determine your level of expertise. Dr. Luo immediately lists his academic background, then details how passionate he is for his field. He emphasizes his humanitarian values most, cementing him as an excellent candidate for clinical training and speaking opportunities.
If you work in the healthcare, non-profit, legal, educational, or environmental industries, consider emphasizing your values and ethos in your professional background. Like Dr. Luo, you can leave mention of your current position for the last sentence.
6. Claire Buswell
Claire Buswell immediately establishes herself as a relatable persona by going over her personal history first — then connecting that to her role today. Because she was once in the same position as her clients, Buswell is better prepared to help them professionally. She makes that clear in her professional background and is vulnerable about how hard it was to find a job.
If you’ve created a business that solves a problem that you experienced, consider bringing that into your professional background. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. In fact, being vulnerable can make you more relatable, and your level of success now will be testament to your methods’ effectiveness.
Ready to start writing?
Keep these tips and examples in mind as you’re writing about your professional bio. Your final product should be a written statement that boasts your most notable skills and achievements. As you continue to progress in your career, take time to update your bio like you would your resume, and continue to impress your readers.
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in November 2020 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.
Originally published Jul 28, 2021 2:00:00 PM, updated July 28 2021