Posted on 23 March 2011
“Andrew loves music and the outdoors, plays dodgeball and road hockey, and has way too many pets.” – Daybreak Team
The above is the last line from my biography. More specifically, my biography on the website for Daybreak North. And it’s once again got me thinking about how I present myself to the world.
Thanks to the advent of social media, we are in a time of unprecedented biography writing. Whether it’s the 140-characters in the sidebar of your Twitter profile or the full-length resume on LinkedIn, we are constantly being prompted to create a quick introduction, a public persona to introduce yourself to others.
But this isn’t limited to the internet. The first bio I consciously wrote was the opening sentences of cover letters to potential employers. I had to tell them who I was, and why I wanted to work for them. As a student, it was fairly easy: “I am a student at the University of Northern British Columbia looking for work experience to supplement my education” or something along those lines. Straightforward– I was a student, and that’s how I presented myself.
It was when I ceased being a student that it got more challenging. I wasn’t much of anything. The first job I applied for, as an government intern, was pretty easy– I was a recent graduate, which was what they wanted anyways. But after that it became more challenging. I was no longer a student, and a year on I didn’t really want to be portraying myself as a recent graduate– I wanted to show I was an actual professional. The conundrum, I think, was worsened by my degree in political science/international studies. I’m not sure you can go around calling yourself a “political scientist” unless you’re a professor. Teacher can call themselves teachers, employed or not; so can engineers, doctors, and lawyers. What does an unemployed BA call himself? I didn’t know (still don’t).
Based on my professional and educational experience, I settled on some form of “communications/research/marketing professional with experience in government/corporate/journalistic environments”, adding or dropping words to more aptly fit the job. When applying for work in Prince George, I would include my hometown education and upbringing more prominently than if I was applying elsewhere– my assumption being that being familiar (or unfamiliar) with the city you’re looking to work in can subtly affect your chances.
I would also add or drop jobs on the resume. I wanted to it to be succinct, so work that wasn’t especially relevant was added in a catch-all footnote, with certain experiences in sales or retail coming or going depending on how sales-based whatever I was applying for was. Tailor who you present to who you are presenting to.
This wasn’t limited to the job applications, though. Google being the new resume (according to some sources), I figured I should have a decent search engine presence. As it stood, there was some writing for the student newspaper and some soccer standings. Nothing to be ashamed of, but nothing that showcased anything I had done in the last couple of years, stuff that was a lot more relevant to some of the jobs I was looking for. So I bought a domain. And I put up a resume. This served the dual role of being a digital presence and showing that I had at least SOME knowledge of how to work with computers. My bios on sites like Twitter would also put forward a professional version of me: “communications and research professional”, sometimes even adding the fact I was currently seeking employment.
Over the last year, I have begun relaxing my biography. The nice thing about having a job is you have a more clearly defined way of presenting yourself– and this allows other aspects of your personality to come out more. For example, there’s no way I would put the lines about road hockey and pets in the first few sentences of a cover letter (although maybe it would help, who knows?) I recently updated my “about” page, and it has a combination of all worlds. The communications and research professional is in there, as are my current jobs, some past jobs, and my interests. I have the space to do that. On Twitter, I’m limited to less, so I write less: “I’m station manager of CFUR Radio and researcher for the CBC show Daybreak North. I play road hockey and dodgeball, and I have a lot of pets.” That’s the way it is most other places, with a link to more.
There’s also the question of what I put up in the first Google result. AndrewKurjata.ca can point anywhere I want. If you look at other people with online presences, they’ll often have their personal domain be their blog. I did this for a while, just as it was once a resume. However, given the sporadic nature of my posts, I don’t feel like my blog gives the best presentation of what I’m doing at any given time. My Tumblr comes closer, but it limits me to shorter thoughts. What I’ve settled on is a static page with a short bio and links to my main presences: this blog, Tumblr, Twitter. I then have a feed showcasing the latest photo I’ve shared, song I’ve liked, etc. It’s a static introduction, but with dynamic content indicating more recent activity. I like the compromise.
As for the bio on Daybreak, my first professional biography to go online? There was a bit of rewriting there. I’m not applying for a job, but I am trying to showcase my CBC personality to CBC listeners in northern BC. So I put where I’m from front and center. My educational and professional background is there. It’s a combination of credentials (I studied politics!) and colour (I sold knives!) Then my interests and hobbies round things out.
None of this biography writing has been done cynically. In fact, most (including the Daybreak one) wasn’t done consciously. It was simply a matter of me sitting down and writing what I figured would sound best. Everything is true, it’s just a matter of choosing what’s most relevant. People do it all the time, whether they introduce themselves to fellow professionals as “the accounts manager at such-and-such” or fellow parents as “Haley’s mom”. But with more and more of us going online this sort of bio writing/hat switching is going to come at a younger age, more frequently, and with more introspection than at any time before.
Sidenote: I haven’t even begun to get into the issue of profile pictures, which are a completely modern phenomena. It used to be only celebrities or politicians who would have to worry about how they wanted to look when people read about them, now everyone does it. Strange times.
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