Take Five: How to find your professional voice

Date
Written by
Sarah Trounce
Illustration by
Hannah Robinson

Learning to publicly talk about yourself and your career ambitions with confidence takes time and practice. Once you’ve found the right words to describe who you are, the skills and experience you have, and what you’re most interested in; you need to find the best platform to share your story. Creating a professional profile that feels authentic and compelling to you and your audience will unlock all sorts of opportunities – including finding an employer or collaborator that fits your personal values.

A professional voice needs to be carefully maintained in order to stay relevant over time. While consistency and clarity are crucial, there are many different ways to articulate your work self. So choose the style and approach that works best for you. Here are five steps to get you started.

Write your bio

In its simplest form, your professional profile can be distilled into a short bio that you can add to your CV and LinkedIn profile, or feature on a personal website or PDF portfolio. The bio should summarise your current role, your background and previous experience, and what your interests and ambitions are right now. Remember: you can pick and choose which details to include. You don’t have to share every aspect of your education or employment history – only the parts which feel relevant or interesting in terms of what you want to do next. Your bio is a great place to start exploring your professional voice. Do you want to speak in the more formal third person (Paula Scher is a graphic designer based in New York City) or in the more immediate first person (I’m a graphic designer living and working in NYC)? The information you present should be clear and carefully spell-checked, but you can still have some fun communicating it.

Know your audience

You should tailor your bio and any other communications you produce to a specific audience. Many people simply cut and paste the same words across every platform they use to promote themselves and their work. While this is useful from a consistency point of view, it doesn’t leave much room for demonstrating the various facets of your personality. Every time you apply for a job (or a commission if you’re freelance), you should adjust your bio to best express the most relevant parts of your story. Which roles, projects and clients will be most exciting to your potential employer or collaborator? What information do they need in order to invite you to an interview or hire you? While your CV or portfolio will answer this question in detail, your bio is an opportunity to zoom in on the highlights, and share a top-level summary in a concise, punchy – and hopefully memorable – little package.

Next, think about other platforms. LinkedIn is typically a more formal space – though we’ll talk about how to use it as a forum for conversation later. Still, there are clever ways to help yourself stand out from the crowd. For example, can you make your headline a bit more interesting and distinctive? What is it you really do as part of your current role? How does it connect to your passions and values? Try to capture this in your own words. On more visual platforms like Instagram you may feel comfortable in taking a more playful approach where your personal interests can more overtly cross over into your professional world. Do you have the opportunity to share any behind-the-scenes action around your work? What events and exhibitions have you been to? What films, music and books are inspiring you right now? How are you using your working practice as a place to explore and champion the ideas and people you care about?

More than a job title

We all have skills and experiences that go beyond our current job title. When you have confidence in your professional voice, you feel able to share the more diverse aspects of your work life and show people how they combine to create a complex and fascinating picture. All of your past experiences have contributed to your journey and helped you reach where you are today. For example, this writer (hello!) has not always been a writer. At least, it wasn’t always my official job title. For more than a decade I was an office manager, a project manager, an account director… Today I’m a writer and brand strategist but I see my past experiences in other roles as absolutely essential to the kind of work I do today. Working in administrative and production roles has given me knowledge of – and empathy for – the whole ecosystem of a creative studio. I understand how things get done in terms of creative, money, HR and business development – making me a more engaged and aware writer and consultant. When I first started out as a freelancer, I felt nervous that I didn’t have a huge portfolio spanning years of published articles and successful marketing campaigns. But then I realised: I had always been writing, processing complex information, and using my imagination as part of my previous roles. The work just took a different form. So, now my task is to convey all of this diverse experience in a coherent (and hopefully exciting) way, every time I maintain my professional profile.

Get some help

Of course, writing about oneself doesn’t come naturally to everyone. If this is an excruciating process for you, get some help from a paid partner or willing friend. This will give you some distance from the subject matter while allowing you to feed in the most important strands of the story. Love it or hate it, having a professional profile is essential – however quietly you choose to express yourself. While pitching your skills and experience is a vital part of any job application process, blowing your own trumpet can only go so far. There’s a lesson we can all learn from both businesses and freelancers: they know the value of having someone else endorse your claims to greatness. Is there a former manager, colleague or collaborator you can call on to write a short quote about you and your working style? This is a great way to inject some personality and variety into your profile. What’s it like to share a desk with you – day in, day out? What kind of energy do you bring to a meeting? How do you respond when things go awry? These are valuable insights for anyone who might like to work with you in the future – and they have more weight coming from someone other than you.

Enter the conversation

So far we’ve focused on communications that support your own professional profile. Now it’s time to start a dialogue. This is one of the best ways of creating and maintaining genuine professional relationships and getting proactive about identifying new opportunities. Figuring out your personal opinions and sharing them can be intimidating. So start small and stick to your true feelings and interests. If there’s a debate you feel you can contribute meaningfully to, go for it. Another route into the conversation could be celebrating the work of your peers or the people who have inspired you. If you think someone’s done a great job, tell them. If you admire a project, share it with your networks and tell people why it resonates with you. It’s not about sucking up to people and never being critical. After all, criticism can be a great tool for nurturing dialogue when it’s thoughtful and constructive.

Use your voice to champion the kind of work and the kind of working practices you want to see in the world. Even when you’re just starting out; being curious, engaged and honest is a sure way to strengthen your professional voice – and increase your personal enjoyment.


Take Five

If You Could's Journal hosts a range of useful Guides to help you navigate key decisions at every stage of your career journey. Each Guide consists of 5 simple steps, alongside advice from professionals working across the creative industry. Read more from our Take Five collection here.




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