Sticking to traditional resume protocol when it comes to sharing your skills and experience could be placing you at a professional disadvantage. Who you are as a person is as important to landing the work as your hard-earned credentials, so increase your prospects by injecting personality into that bio.
Who told you that you could do that?
I vividly remember being challenged on the way I presented biographical information in the Summary section of my LinkedIn profile. The challenger clearly adhered to a strict interpretation when it came to what should (or should not) be included in a CV (or LinkedIn, its digital equivalent). A confession: I never sought out LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner’s permission before crafting my online profile.
What this minor incident highlights an interesting tension: every aspect of our business lives are being disrupted yet we cling to what is “customary” or “acceptable” to mention in a CV, resume or bio.
Can you name the professional behind this bio?
I was a corporate attorney for 11 years. I’m well versed in the practice of listing billion-dollar deals on a CV in order to get your foot in a prospective client’s door. But steadfastly sticking to the industry standard when it comes to presenting your experience may actually backfire: when everyone looks exactly the same, you become indistinguishable and then you’re really at risk of being replaced by someone with, say, equivalent experience and some personality.
A few years ago, during an online networking presentation at a global law firm, I shared the bio of a litigation attorney with the group, asking them to identify which partner at the firm it was. After numerous puzzled looks (followed by various credible answers) I shared the terribly bland truth: the bio belonged to a partner at a competitor.
Sure clients expect the professionals they work with to meet a minimum threshold of success. Realize, however, what they’re really looking for is someone they can form a productive working relationship with – and that has everything to do with who you are as a person, not your GPA.
You might be the perfect person on paper to do the job, but are you the sort someone can talk to and problem-solve with?
Should you be a “Good Guy” or even a “Decent Sort”?
One of my favorite think-outside-of-the-box bios belongs to the late Martin D. Ginsburg, husband of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. My favorite paragraph in his bio read:
Professor Ginsburg entered private practice in New York City in 1958. He withdrew from full-time practice when appointed the Beekman Professor of Law at Columbia Law School and moved to Georgetown University in 1980 when his wife obtained a good job in Washington.
Later he described receiving a “Good Guy” award from the National Women’s Political Caucus, noting that “…history reveals no prior instance of a tax lawyer held to be a “Good Guy,” or even a “Decent Sort.” No personal achievement escaped the wrath of his dry wit – and he had a thriving practice as a result of it.
Sharing who we are is a calculated risk. Your bio (more often than not) is the first impression. A wry sense of humor may rub some people the wrong way. But isn’t being lost in the crowd of equally qualified experts a far greater risk? Isn’t it better to standout to those who “get” you? If you’ve got the credentials, hesitating on the full personality reveal might be the absolutely wrong way to go about marketing yourself.
Intriguing Work Experiences Ignite Conversations
Monica Parker is the founder of HATCH Analytics, a change management and workforce strategy consultancy based in London. With a Master of Science degree in Sustainable Behavior from Queen’s University Belfast, Parker is no self-anointed expert in the social science of the workplace. Her degree provides more than adequate assurance to the credential-fixated (whether it’s her client base of corporations and professional services firms or conference organizers seeking out her thought leadership). HATCH’s new business pipeline is directly tied to Parker’s public speaking and the safe new business generation tactic would be to lead with her degree. However, a quick glance at this “behavioral nerd’s” bio (her exact words) reveals conversation starters not the typical higher education bragging rights. Parker has been a professional clown, an opera singer, a museum exhibition designer and more intriguingly, a homicide investigator for Florida’s Department of Justice.
Working on behalf of death row inmates would definitely spark a lively exchange – and for that reason Parker put aside her initial reluctance to share this bit of her personal history. “My homicide investigator experience separates me from the crowd, but I don’t know that anyone would say they hired me specifically because of it,” she notes, before adding “the experience gives them a sense of color of my personality and opens the door to discussing a topic that authentically matters to me outside of the scope of my work at HATCH. It allows me to be more me, which helps drive greater connection and meaning in my client relationships.”
Be The Standout In A Crowded Market
As the CEO of KAP Group, a strategic advisory firm helping real estate and private equity fund managers raise institutional capital, Jennifer Hutter has seen first-hand the difference showing a little personality makes. “The private equity world has misinterpreted the term “institutional” to mean conservative both in investment style and personal branding,” says Hutter, “and in a crowded market, fund managers need to find ways to stand apart or risk being indistinguishable from every other qualified fund manager out there. In private equity, being yourself can actually be a competitive advantage.”
Hutter has met with hundreds of private equity managers since launching KAP Group in 2009. To date she has found only one manager who (without any prompting from her) included a little creativity in his biography: the fund manager’s previous jobs included ski instructor and airline baggage handler. Details like this not only serve as conversation starters, more importantly in a relationship driven business, they provide “investors with insight into a manager’s personal brand, not just their investment style.” People continue to do business with those they know, like and trust, so even in a conservative industry, sprinkling in a few choice personal details can accelerate a new introduction along the marketing funnel to a deeper connection.
As for Hutter’s own bio, earning a pilot’s license the same year she launched KAP has enhanced many conversations with prospective clients, helping her find common ground during the sales process. Having an interest or experience you can talk about passionately is definitely half the battle to winning a client’s trust and ultimately, the work.
“Especially in consulting, clients hire a person, not a company” notes Parker, and “if a client can’t see that person clearly and authentically, they can’t connect with you.”
This post originally appeared on Forbes.com.