Answering profile questions

No matter how much you polish your profile, people tend to tune it out when they’re in ‘browsing mode.’ These basic tips for answering profile questions in creative new ways will make people want to keep reading, and get in touch ASAP!

1) Don’t answer the expected question. This unpredictability makes your profile more interesting. 6 things I can’t live without? How about: 6 things I most like to cook? 6 apps I constantly use? 6 pets I’ll never own again? You can annotate each thing with a little detail about why; this makes your ‘6 things’ section stand out.

2) Write like you talk. When you write as if you’re chatting with a reader, it forges a stronger emotional connection. Include conversational tics like “haha,” “um,” and “like,” as if you were chatting with friends. Try using voice dictation software, or transcribing a voice recording. You can also insert imaginary dialog. But avoid using text shorthand like “jk” or “lol.”

3) Show, don’t tell. Don’t list attributes about yourself, i.e. “I’ve been told I’m sensitive and compassionate.” Instead, paint a picture:

“I can’t help but choke up a tiny bit whenever I see a ‘lost cat’ poster. Those poor owners! That poor kitty!”

4) Embrace self-deprecation. If you express a lack of success in one area, this actually shows innate overall confidence: underneath your jab is the vibe that you’re so secure in yourself and your other strengths that you’re OK admitting this weakness. It also makes you seem WAY more approachable! You can even get away with a little humblebragging if there’s enough self-deprecation to keep you from seeming cocky.

In the field “What I’m doing with my life,” try:

“This sounds eerily like that over-bearing uncle at family gatherings, you know? ‘So, Leo, did you finally figure out that being a film major was a worthless life choice?’ I’m doing JUST FINE UNCLE JERRY; I’ll have you know one of the films I directed won an award at Sundance. Pass the potatoes, please.”

Imaginary dialog: check. Painting a picture of following your dreams: check. Humblebragging about career prowess: check. Slight family disapproval self-deprecation: check. Revealing how you earn your living, while avoiding a boring, expected answer: check.

5) Be inviting. Pepper your profile with invitations for conversation, or mention restaurants you’d like to try. When you list TV shows, try:

“I’ve been holding off on The Walking Dead, because I need someone’s arm to death-grip while I scream and cover my eyes (with my other hand, duh.) You’re in charge of popcorn. Extra butter, please.”

These little tweaks will transform your profile from just another click into an intimate, exciting hook that leaves readers dying to get to know you!

More on how to answer questions atypically

“Six things you can’t live without.” “You should message me if…” Ugh. These are LAME, right? They’re boring questions! Look, actually, ALL questions in most online dating profiles are boring at their core, because they’re all the same across all users of the site. That gets old no matter how punchy you aim to make it. But by answering questions in an atypical fashion, you can help your profile stand out and seem more human compared to the other dating drones. 😉 Let’s walk through some examples of how to break the mold.

Six things you can’t live without

This is basically begging for a list of comma-separated adjectives. Or maybe, MAYBE items on separate lines, with a hyphen in front. At best. Right? So people get sick of glossing over the boring lists.

Try answering this one in a more prose format, perhaps with a twist. Write a little mini-essay about an awesome perfect imaginary Tuesday, in which you got to share a beer with your brother, walk your best friend’s dog out in the glorious unexpected springtime sunshine, and catch up on a Game of Thrones marathon at home after cooking up an awesome vegan Pad Thai for a friend you hardly get to see because… he’s your boss, and he’s too busy to hang out at work.

Then work backwards to extrapolate: what are the important things? Beer, family, pets, outdoorsiness, physical activity, friendship/generosity, nerdy TV binges, cooking/veganism/animal welfare (AND generosity and friendship again), a job you love. Right? PLUS, this demonstrates that you can cook, that you keep fit, and that you have an active social life, and it showcases some of your values.

You can even dare readers to figure out the six things for themselves, and send their best guess in a message. It might not work, but you never know, and it invites conversation… and breaks the boring six-things mold. That part is key!

What I’m doing with my life

This one sucks because it basically sounds like it’s asking for a LinkedIn headline. So here’s a tip: no matter how cool your job actually is, or actually sounds, it’ll seem boring if you just list what you do here. Even if you do so creatively. Why? Because most other people are doing that, too. So you have to have some more fun with it!

Try poking fun at yourself, alluding to the fact that you’re using your BA in Macroeconomics to craft excellent espresso shots because economic downfall. Try saying you use your expensive Harvard Business degree to ultimately slave away at a nonprofit that means you’re on track to pay off your loans ten years after mortuary tables indicate you’re likely to die. (It’s a bit of a humblebrag, but it’s also a way to sneak in that you’re smart, hard-working, professional, and passionate about your cause, so it kinda works.)

Self-deprecating isn’t your style? Joke about how you’re “opening up a browser, typing in OKcupid….oh, you didn’t mean like RIGHT now, did you? Sorry! I’m slowly decaying until my body expires. Oh! Too broad? OK, gosh! I’m an accountant who runs an Etsy storefront on the side; did that one work? Oh, good. This question is freaking me out.”

ANYTHING atypical like this will be more exciting than simply reading about your career and goals, even though those are ultimately what makes you interesting as a person. The profile isn’t just about you as a person, after all; it’s a tool to capture the extremely fleeting interest of people who might actually get along with you as a person. So it’s OK to game it a little; the system is begging to be toyed with!

You should message me if

God, this one is awful, because it begs for negativity. It sort of leaves room for an otherwise charming, well-written, positive profile to veer into “you’re not a creep or a fatty” negativity, or it asks for a witless “uh, if you’re still reading and you want to?” answer. Those can both be totally valid sentiments, by the way, but expressing them in this particular way will end your potential date’s profile-reading experience on a sour note, so it’s likely to backfire and scare them away.

Again, try being prosey. Try essentially answering a totally different question. Or just be geeky if that’s your thing; “…you’re a carbon-based female life form seeking an optimal companion with which to share your fleeting existence on this planet.” A trifle morbid, sure, but a heck of a lot more interesting than “If you want to,” ya know?

Advice for any dating site

The above examples are all OKCupid questions, because most of my clients as of late have been using that platform. But the philosophy behind Q&A strategy applies to all different sites. Break the mold; talk like a person; invite conversation; be playful; try to introduce humor.

Oh, and a golden tip I tell people when I work with them directly? Fill out the last section first. (You know, the one called “All about me” or “self-summary” or whatever.) By the time you’re done with the rest of your profile, you will have loosened up a bit as a writer, and you’ll also be a little sick of filling it out… so you’re more likely to be both punchy and brief, both of which are effective and will set you apart from other profiles.

More creative profile resources

Up Goer Five—This XKCD comic actually serves as pretty great inspiration for profile writing. Play around with gamifying your profile and see what you come up with. Anything that’s playful and unexpected is great, especially if it has a geeky bent and you do too and you want to attract similarly geeky mates.

I’ll add other posts/sections here over time. But subscribe to my newsletter to see them first!

(This page is adapted from an Online Dating University piece, a prior Heartographer newsletter, and various blog posts.)

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