How to take someone’s life and capture it in around 1,200 words? Decades of experience, thousands of anecdotes, perceptions, fleeting impressions. Some facts, achievements, goals, and the occasional failure — all condensed into one short piece.
The starting point revolves around a key question: as a client, what do you want this portrait to do? My experience so far suggests there are a number of possible answers, for one and the same person. It’s a record of what you’ve achieved, a public statement of who you are, a piece of personal branding. And it may even achieve the subtler effect of showing you who you are.
When he approached me, translator and copywriter Richard Mort was embarking on the most comprehensive change in his circumstances for decades — about to leave Japan after many years, and seeking a new career in Germany. He had plenty of talent, personal and professional achievements galore, but no consistent way of expressing those online. His personal profiles on various platforms were more geared to speaking to colleagues and friends rather than clients, and often in a highly idiosyncratic language unique to him — not necessarily designed to win over potential customers coming across his profile for the first time.
Richard took the task seriously, investing significant amounts of thought, energy, time and money into what was essentially a makeover — remodelling his public image so that he could reach out to clients, besides indefatigably building up his network, keeping everyone informed, and deploying an extraordinary ability to get people onside and rooting for him.
In preparing the portrait, Richard sent me reams of material gathered together from various biographical and professional forms he had filled in. We spoke for an hour online — the long interview that forms a crucial part of all my work. I then sifted through the copious amounts of material, looking for threads, clear lines, themes that emerged across his life: in this case an indomitable spirit, a relentless focus on what he wanted to achieve, and a herculean amount of energy dedicated to doing just that. But it was important also to focus on the personal difficulties he had experienced as an introverted outlier, in school and even at university — if only to showcase his later achievements as a talented and multilingual professional.
We batted the draft back and forth a few times, making tiny changes here and there, before I put it in the magazine format you can see here.
Ever a model client, Richard then disseminated the document widely, and it garnered many positive comments. It also formed one part of his complex strategy for angling for that dream job in Germany, including working with branding and even CV experts.
The good news is that several weeks later, he did indeed land a superb job, after a persistent and determined campaign. So did the portrait play any part in that? Impossible to tell, as it’s a complex blend of elements that leads to success. But at the very least, I am sure it gave Richard the added notch of confidence to begin a turnaround in his online presence, and an added burst of energy to get the job done.
Whatever strategic steps you then take to bring about your plan of action, it often begins, deep down, with realising just how much you have to offer and to seeing yourself portrayed in the eyes of an objective onlooker. That’s the key trigger at the heart of any process of personal and professional transformation.
Maybe a portrait could do the same for you?