Web profiles matter because how you communicate “you” is the essence of how you sell.
If you sell your skills, knowledge or experience, a profile is your online elevator pitch. But, nothing reduces intelligent, interesting professional people to inarticulacy more quickly than the prospect of writing a good autobiographical professional profile for a website. So why does writing a professional profile for a website or social media so often lead to disappointment?
Four archetypes of web profile writing failure
1. Corporate Clone
“John is a results orientated professional with fifteen years experience in blue chip corporate environments and a track record of expertise in strategic widget delivery. He holds an MBA and a double-first in widget design theory. John is married with two children and enjoys playing golf.”
The problem with this kind of profile is that it’s dull. Dull neither sells nor builds empathy. The implicit message that this type of profile sends is that the writer is undifferentiated and unimaginative. Specific problems are:
- corporate cliché phrases like: “results-orientated”, “corporate environments”, “track record”.
- the absence of any distinct, personal information beyond an interest in golf and reproduction.
Overall, the writer’s interests seem limited to golf and reproduction.
2. Web 2.0
“John(ny) is a widget visionary who’s done cool strategy for longer than he can remember. He’s a ninja when it comes to getting things done for clients. Did you know, Johnny is also a breakdance champion and uses a Delicious Vinyl turntable mat as a mouse pad?”
This type of profile uses a commoditised version of web 2.0 cool that adds extraneous detail to suggest a personality. The problem is that it doesn’t sit comfortably with corporate clients looking for grown-up delivery. As a style, it’s just about OK if you’re a creative. But even then, the essence of creativity is not to follow the crowd.
3. Profile Schizophrenic
“John is a leading widget entrepreneur. His background includes leading the operational risk reporting division of Oligarch Multi-National Widget Enterprises. Prior to that he served as chief management accountant for United Widget Corp.”
This type of profile is common when people want to make a career change. The problem is that there’s no join between past experience and current ambitions. As a result, the profile loses credibility.
4. Adjective Bingo
“John is a passionate, dynamic and driven change-agent with a talent for leadership and the ability to get teams mobilised. He is a perceptive corporate strategist and deeply empathic about customer needs. He is also politically astute with the ability to influence senior stakeholders.”
This type of profile is a variant on the Corporate Clone archetype. It’s an attempt at personal disclosure that involves listing the same personal qualities that 80% of other professionals say they possess. Without concrete reasons to believe, the reader will feel either sceptical or bored.
Basic anatomy for writing a successful website profile
Most people just need a quick web profile anatomy lesson to write a compelling and credible personal profile. Good professional profiles are built in five parts:
1. Personal brand essence
This should be your unique value to clients summarised in not more than two sentences. This should be true to yourself, different from other people and motivating to clients.
2. Professional credentials
This is a mini-résumé that summarises your experience and qualifications in a paragraph. Most personal profiles make the mistake of only doing this bit and missing out the other parts.
A satisfied client can say things about you that would sound arrogant if you said them yourself. Endorsements give a reason to believe in you. Connect them to LinkedIn for reference-ability.
4. Evocative personal details
This section “humanises” you to the reader, evokes your character and communicates personal uniqueness. This section is the tie-breaker in a world where brains are two-a-penny and we compete against people with similar training, qualifications and experience. A helpful device is to describe the personal meaning of a favourite book, a significant work experience or a key influence on you. We’ll talk more about that in the next section.
5. Latest thinking
Your knowledge is what you sell. On the principle of “show don’t tell” demonstrate your insight with blog posts cross-published beneath your profile. Obviously, you can only do this on a website with cross-publishing capability. If you need one built, ask us!
Ten ways to evoke your character without ever saying “passionate”.
Section four of your profile is the evocative, human bit. It’s the hardest to write. To help, here are ten ways to communicate something personal and authentic. Describe the personal meaning (in a professional context) of:
- A favourite book.
- Your proudest moment.
- A significant work experience.
- A personal sporting accomplishment.
- An intellectual or cultural accomplishment.
- A social cause with which you’re engaged.
- Overcoming a problem or disadvantage.
- The toughest project you ever completed.
- The company you most admire .
- An aspiration or personal goal.
Also, just in case, here’s how not to evoke character:
- List hobbies, cultural preferences or domestic details without relating them to personal meaning.
- Describe ubiquitous pursuits and preferences unless you can put an interesting personal spin on them.
- Describe meanings or experiences that are irrelevant to work.
- List tired adjectives such as “passionate”, “dynamic” and “committed” in an attempt at self-description.
As always, I’d love to know if anyone else has any tips for writing an effective online profile. Photo credits
- Baby image: Benjamin Earwicker, http://www.garrisonphoto.org/sxc
- Corporate Clone image: Gordon Fortune, http://www.sxc.hu/gallery/Bullit
- Web 2.0 image: Fausto Giliberti, http://www.sxc.hu/gallery/pac
- Profile Schizophrenic image: Billy Alexander, http://www.dreamstime.com/Billyruth03_portfolio_pg1
- Adjective Bingo image: Alexander Chechetkin, http://www.sxc.hu/gallery/chechetkin
Most of the posts in this genre stop short of offering context and detailed suggestions.
Speaking of context, I’d add the importance of knowing your audience. Whether your profile is meant to assist a career transition, or functions as a marketing tool, it has to be oriented toward your target reader. So simple, it’s easy to overlook, but very important.
For more context, check out the before-after profile analyses that I’ve written on my website: pivotalwriting.com
Thanks again for the tips!