Six Easy Steps Toward A Better Online Profile

by Natalie Canavor

More and more, we are what we write. We do business with people we’ve never met based on their online credentials, web sites, and e-mail messages. When we meet face to face, typically we’ve first established common ground through written media and maybe a few phone calls.

So what we write about ourselves––and how we write it––really matters. Presenting our credentials well can make all the difference in how we’re perceived by prospects, potential collaborators, and colleagues who might provide referrals.

The online networking profile is a new kind of credential, so there are no set guidelines for writing one effectively. But here are some ideas to help you stand out from the ever-present competition.

1. Consider using “I” to frame what you say. These days, we can reach people more warmly and authentically in terms of “I” rather than the resume-style “he” or “she.” Using “I” inspires you to demonstrate more individuality, and leads you to take a more personal tone.  That doesn’t mean you should start every sentence with “I.” You’ll sound boring and egomaniacal. Try building sentences such as:

Since the age of four, my passion for arranging flowers was so clear, everyone knew it would be my life’s work.

A career in public relations found me when I was in college—even though I’d chosen to study dentistry.

Realizing that like me, most people become terrible writers thanks to public education, I decided to share my hard-won expertise by writing a how-to-do-it-book.

The “I” framework helps you share who you are with more genuine feeling. But if you think you need a statement written in the more abstract third person, try writing it in first person anyway, then translate it into “he” or “she.” You’ll need to make some changes so it works, but your statement will pick up more personality that way.

2. Know who you are and where you want to go. Easier said than done! Do you know your business goals for the year? The next two years? Where you want to be in five? Your profile (like everything you write) should take account of (and contribute to) not just your immediate goals—like to generate new connections—but where you want to be in the future. Maybe you hope to forge alliances with businesses that dovetail with yours; or find people to brainstorm with; or realign your company product with a changing marketplace. The clearer your goals, the more your messages’ content, focus and style will help you achieve them. That goes for the everyday stuff like e-mails as well as proposals, reports and the like.

Read other people’s profiles and you’ll find that the best are very clear on where the person is now and what she or he wants.

3. Make it easy for people to grasp who you are with a strong opening statement that positions you immediately—along the lines of your elevator speech, if you’ve worked out that challenge. Resist the temptation to include a bunch of disparate activities. If you tell people you’re a wine dealer and create model airplanes as well, you’ve served neither enterprise. Keep the core piece of your story simple and focused.


I’m a wine dealer specializing in fine South American wines, and I travel all over the continent to bring back exciting wines that are exceptional values.

My business is 1-2-3-Get Comfy, which designs air conditioning systems for large office buildings.

You may not like the idea of being pigeonholed, but people you meet in a business context need to make sense of you, quickly, preferably within their own framework. If your goal is a business relationship, it’s not helpful when others admire you as a master jack-of-all-trades.

4. Show your passion, or at least enthusiasm, for your work. As in all written and spoken communication these feelings are contagious. Who wants to work with an insurance salesman who seems bored by his own spiel? Or a lawyer who talks in technical legalese and doesn’t relate to people? You don’t necessarily have to say “I love what I do,” but it doesn’t hurt, especially if you can back that statement up by saying why you love it. If expressing love is not simpatico for you, try statements that include the words “I help…”

People respond to passion in other people, especially when we don’t expect to find it in a particular profession, often due to our own ignorance. Given a choice, we’ll always opt for the enthusiastic, dedicated individual. They’re more rewarding to deal with and we want them on our side.

5. Find the achievement in what you do—the things you’re most proud of. A good competitive resume doesn’t present a list of responsibilities; it proves what you’ve accomplished. Why look like someone who just does what you’re told?  An online profile too has room for evidence of what you’re good at. Think about how to use that idea. Your most glamorous credentials or connections might have a role. If you can come up with an anecdote about something you did, or how you helped a client, more power to you. (Full disclosure: As a native New Yorker who resonates with self-deprecating humor of Woody Allen and Robert Klein, I have trouble with this. Can you envision Woody telling a story that makes him look great?)

6. Get past the abstractions and empty rhetoric to the concrete facts behind them. What you do is probably much more interesting than you’re making it sound.

I recently reviewed a resume for a young communications professional looking to move up the ladder. She’s a bright person and had filled her resume with bullet points like,

  • Monitor executive email shadowboxes and manage the executive correspondence processes.
  • Manage and implement enterprise-wide employee contests for intranet sites.
  • Write and edit executive and employee focused memos and Q&A’s.

What exactly did she do? I pressed.

It turned out that the first sentence meant that every week, she scanned about 300 emails from the company’s general in-box—coming from the public at large—assessed their importance, responded according to her judgment and reported on trends to top management.

The second statement meant that she invents a new fun competition every week to engage employees, and succeeds in drawing more than 2,000 entries each time.

Statement #3 actually meant that she keeps alert to speech and presentation needs of the conglomerate’s top executives—and drafts talking points for the CEO (a famous person) and other top organization leaders.

The lesson: Try to explain in real, living detail exactly what you do rather than hiding what’s interesting and important behind those glib generalizations.

Natalie Canavor is Co-Owner of C&M Business Writing Services and Workshops
and Co-Author of The Truth About the New Rules of Business Writing.
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