This is the latest installment of "Question of Note," in which we take a listener's question — your question! — and find just the right the person to answer it. See them all here as we go along.
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There is no better way to put this: Filling out online profiles — OKCupid, LinkedIn, Ashley Madison(...) — is terrible. For the vast majority of self-conscious humans, translating yourself into date-able, hire-able, searchable form really, really, really sucks.
As listener Katie Shepherd in Oakland, California says:
“I feel like I have filled out so many online profiles – LinkedIn, OKCupid, Coffee Meets Bagel – and I really struggle with how much information to share about myself. On the one hand, I want to stand out. On the other, I don’t want to freak anyone out! How do you figure out the balance? Has anyone figured out any actual rules that can help?”
Turns out, the answer is... yes. And your 7th grade English teacher gave you a preview.
This week, we talk with Lisa Hoehn, founder of Profile Polish and author of the forthcoming "You Probably Shouldn't Write That: Tips and Tricks for Creating an Online Dating Profile That Doesn't Suck." She has built a lucrative business on the premise of writing profiles for other people.
"Pretty much everyone says a variation of the same thing: 'I'm a really nice guy, I'm a really nice girl,but I can't get myself to come across that way online.' And then people will say things like 'I'll try to edit it and the more that I edit my profile, the more self-conscious I get,'" Hoehn says. "They'll say 'I just sit there for hours and can't type a single word.'"
If you can't afford to hire a professional ghost writer (or if you'd rather not), we got her to write some rules for the rest of us.
How to Write a Better Profile
1. Assume people will skim. Hoehn says 400-600 words total is a good ballpark estimate on length — any more, people won't bother; any less, they'll think you didn't care enough to try.
2. Show, don't tell. Make your creative writing teachers proud. Instead of saying "I love my phone but it exhausts me," try "I make a conscious effort to leave my phone in my pocket as I'm walking down the street." Same point, but the reader gets to draw the conclusion for him-or-herself. This is where you should invest the majority of your writing energy.
3. Don't treat your profile like a biography. The chronology of your life is not inherently interesting until the reader knows you. So unless your move from New Jersey to Delaware to Connecticut was particularly formative to your character ("I taught myself to speak Klingon with a French accent on the drive between Hartford and Dover,") save the specifics of where and when and why you moved until you meet in person.
4. Stay positive. Obviously, you should tell the truth about yourself online. That said, you're not under any obligation to share your deepest character flaws at first interaction. In fact, Hoehn tells her clients to stay positive "pretty much always." People assume you're showing them the best version of yourself. Therefore, negativity carries disproportionate weight on an online profile.
5. Keep your expectations in check. An extension of rule five: People are not showing you their darker side, so it is up to you to remember that they have one. Don't go in expecting perfection. The IRL version of your date (or job candidate, or partner in crime) will be a full-fledged, flawed human. Hopefully.