Employee biographies are often the most popular feature in a company newsletter. There's no doubt about it: People love reading about people. So if you're facing the prospect of writing short bios, approach the task as a storyteller might. You cannot tell an employee's life story in 250 words, and that's not the goal. So train your focus on something timely, something telling or something positively enlightening that will capture your readers' attention.
Make time to interview the employee, ideally in person but over the phone if you must. Looking through an employee's personnel folder for information is no substitute for observing her, listening to her and enjoying the give-and-take of a conversation.
Respect the employee's request for confidentiality or sense of modesty. Ask if there is any information that the employee would prefer to stay “off the record” and out of the public domain. Remember that your company newsletter is a public relations tool, designed to build goodwill and breed communication.
Stay alert for an angle or a theme for your short bio. For example, if an employee grew up in the area, left for college and a career in another town but returned for a job with your company, you may have a “hook” for your bio. Or the employee might have found career inspiration in your company president. An angle or theme can provide effective “bookends” for your bio — an interesting way to begin the bio and a way for you to return to it at the end to wrap up the piece.
Cover the basics of the employee's biography: where she went to school, what she majored in, where she lives now and any of her interests or hobbies. Think about what you like to read about people, trust your instinct and let the employee talk. Follow her lead and ask good follow-up questions. And don't be afraid to ask: “What would you like your fellow employees to know about you?” You might be surprised at the answer; it could provide you with the “bookends” that will make her bio the talk around the company lunchroom.
Take good notes and tune your ear to quotes, which will help personalize the bio. But be selective and use quotation marks only around those comments that sound unique, humorous or otherwise noteworthy. In the interest of accuracy, ask the employee to repeat information you might not have heard clearly.
As a matter of professional courtesy, your company may ask or require that the employee review or sign off on the bio before it appears in the newsletter. Be prepared to make changes at the employee's request if this is the case.
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