What’s the difference between an executive résumé and an executive bio?
For one thing, an executive bio is a career portfolio document that transcends the shelf life of an executive résumé. Senior executives, business owners, and other non-job seekers use executive bios for websites, press kits, RFPs, speaking engagements, and more, whereas executive résumés are used only for active or passive job searches.
Another distinction is content order. An executive résumé almost always tells a story in reverse chronological order, without hopscotching around. An executive résumé is also written in first-person with pronouns and articles of speech redacted.
On the other hand, executive biographies are written in third-person storytelling form and can include or exclude content, ramp-up or downplay elements of the story. Also, because executive bios aren’t restricted to a reverse chronology presentation, they can be written to shine the best light on the best parts of one’s career.
In fact, executive bios have strengths that résumés don’t, mainly because of their storytelling format.
For job seekers, a third-person career narrative can be helpful when used:
- As an early approach when networking. An executive résumé’s purpose is clear and loaded with intention, so its well-mannered cousin, the executive bio, can be a nice first approach when reaching out to friends and past colleagues to confidentially express that you might be open to a change. At some point someone will ask if you have a résumé, so the bio serves as a first “permission point.”
- As a document for boards of directors and hiring committees. Less common, but sometimes a requested document for very senior professionals. Quite common if you are a board director.
- As a starting place for a search firm’s internal professional appraisal. Retained search (vs. contingency recruiting) firms have their own sophisticated processes for presenting candidates to clients. With a placement fee reflecting 25% to 35% of the candidate’s first year salary, every word counts, so a well-written bio offers prewritten material the firm can blend into their own dossier.
- As a tool to tune parts of a career. Because bios are written in narrative form, they offer room to shed light on parts of the story that matter most, and dial back less important parts.
How to Order Your Executive Bio’s Content
Nearly every executive bio starts with 1-2 overview paragraphs introducing the scope and entirety of your work. However, interior paragraphs can be ordered in ways that suit our needs. When helping clients decide the content order for their executive bios, I ask that they choose which of the following best suits them at this point in their careers:
Reverse chronological. Starting with recent career details and working chronologically backwards (like the résumé) is most common for executive bios, as one’s most relevant career details are frequently the most recent.
- A VP of development wanted to position for an SVP or GM role—internally or at another organization—so the most important career details were also the most recent.
Thematic. Useful when experience in certain areas is so deep, and across so many years, that repeating it over and over isn’t an efficient use of space or a reader’s time. (Résumés don’t offer this luxury.) Organizing by theme also lets us use bolded headers to categorize content.
- A marketing consultant wanted to present two main experience themes: “programs and campaigns” and “systems and infrastructure.” Experience was both in-house and on behalf of agencies and clients, so adhering to a timeline would have diluted the emphasis. Organizing those ideas under two headers let us present the experience collectively.
Career phase. Useful when there are either distinct or disconnected periods in a career that aren’t easy to understand (e.g., start-up phase, in-house leadership phase, advisor phase) or when there are periods of sameness across several companies.
- A private equity investor and start-up advisor needed not only to unify parallel career experience (developing and selling a company), but also to give less page space to an early career at four private equity firms that were nearly identical in nature.
Chronological. Starting with early career details and moving toward the present day is helpful when you started somewhere you loved, moved somewhere else along the way (away from the direct work and/or into management), and want to return somehow to the direct work.
- Educated in applied physics, a software development engineer spent fifteen years in mathematics and coding, but in the more recent twelve years, had led teams in those same areas, hence losing touch with the actual work. The engineer wanted to explore the possibility of returning to “doing the work,” so we presented the early career first. Meanwhile, nights and weekends were dedicated to updating the skill set.
Why Write an Executive Bio?
It’s important to examine your purpose for writing and using an executive bio. How will you intend to use it? Well-written content can be used in whole, in part, or as source material across a variety of professional needs. Here are some uses.
Long-form executive bios (one page):
- Press kits
- Corporate bios
- Website bios
- Stealth job seeker networking
Short-form bios (1-3 paragraphs):
- Investor relations pages
- Speaker intros
- Book back covers or jacket liners
Short-form bios (one line):
- Author bylines
- Twitter, Facebook, and other social media bios
Choosing the Right Tone of Voice for Your Executive Bio
Executive bios can range from conservative and formal to visionary Silicon Valley tech mogul to whimsical artist or creative.
A board director whose public persona relies on serious experience and extensive credibility requires her to write a deeply conservative style. A chief architect needs a blend of technical know-how and approachability. A political commentator might plan on ruffling a few feathers, and as such, won’t be afraid to draw a forceful line in the same.
Whereas the executive résumé puts bumpers around your tone of voice, your executive bio’s overall feel is entirely up to you. Choose wisely.