Understanding what a professional background is (and how to structure it) is very important.
It’s something almost all people reference or hear about in their career at one point or another.
But a fair amount misunderstand its purpose.
We think demonstrating a solid professional background is one of the most important things any job seeker can do.
A strong professional background can convince anyone that you’re a perfect fit for the job. It tells a story that makes it obvious you’re the right candidate.
Pretty powerful right?
This is why we scratch our heads at the number of people who overlook its usefulness.
They stress about every detail of their resume (all the way down to the margins), but they spend no time looking at their background as a whole.
So here’s what we’re going to do in this post:
- Explain what a professional background is
- Share why we think it’s so important
- Show you the right way to prepare yours
- Give some tips on how to leverage it once it’s ready
If you’re not a believer yet, you will be by the time we’re done.
What Is A Professional Background?
Before we get into the significant benefits a well-crafted professional background can bring, we have to address what it is in the first place.
There’s a ton of misinformation floating around about professional backgrounds that either downplay its importance, or steer people in the wrong direction.
If you spent some time reading other blogs and articles you’ve undoubtedly noticed this yourself.
Article A says a professional background is primarily about the jobs you’ve had, while article B emphasizes that you need to focus on your skills.
This goes on and on the more you search, and it’s pretty confusing.
So we’re going to draw a line in the sand and give the truest definition of a professional background we can come up with.
We’ve used this definition when helping thousands of job-seekers apply for new roles, and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.
So here it is:
A professional background is an overview of your work history and performance, structured in a way that showcases why you’re perfect for the new role you’re applying for.
Now you can see the massive difference between a professional background and a simple work history.
There’s quite a contrast between sharing a list of your past jobs (something anyone could get from your resume) and going a step further. This is why we highly encourage all job-seekers to do some upkeep on their professional backgrounds from time to time.
Why It’s So Important
As you can probably guess, putting together a work history takes quite a bit less time than a solid professional background. That’s ok.
We’ve seen this time after time:
The applicants who spend a serious amount of time working on their professional backgrounds get more interviews, and more job offers.
The ones who spend a minute or two? Not nearly as many.
This is because a well-prepared professional background not only looks great on paper when you apply for a job, it also improves your performance in the job interview.
As we’ve said before, a strong professional background is an overview of what you’ve done and how it’s led to you being the perfect candidate for the job.
When you’re creating your background, you spend a lot of time going over this narrative and getting it ready to be read by hiring managers. This means by the time it’s ready, you’re going to have it etched into your memory.
See how that would be helpful in an interview?
Being able to explain the path you’ve taken in your career without stumbling or leaving anything important out (a common interview mistake) is immensely valuable.
Honestly we think this could be one of the most important skills an applicant can have for an interview. And luckily, preparing your professional background gives you this skill as a side effect.
It’s also incredibly important when it comes to making your application stand out.
This is because:
- Hiring managers are busy
- They scan applications rapidly
- A professional background shows them everything they need
Let’s dig into this a little more.
Depending on the company, hiring managers might have to sort through hundreds or thousands of applications for a particular role.
When this is the case, it’s only natural that they’ll be skimming through applications. Going any slower simply isn’t possible during the first phase of the hiring process.
This means you have to grab their eye in a very small window of time.
A great professional background can help make this happen. In less than 30 seconds the hiring manager will be able to see what you’ve done and why it’s relevant for the position you’re applying for.
This is incredibly powerful when it comes to getting the call for an interview.
Not only that, but it also demonstrates that you’re organized and good at explaining things clearly. This won’t be lost on a good hiring manager.
All of these little things add up in a big way. The fact of the matter is most applicants look very similar on paper.
An awesome professional background helps you change that.
How To Structure Yours (And What To Include)
We’ve probably rambled enough about the benefits of a professional background at this point.
Now it’s time to start working on yours.
Despite us talking up the importance of having a great professional background, the structure is nothing fancy.
Most of the time it’s just a few paragraphs (at most) that paint a picture about what you’ve done.
That might seem overly simplistic, but anything longer would defeat the whole purpose. A background should be brief and effective at communicating the necessary information.
Don’t fall into the trap of writing an essay. It should be much shorter than that.
Actually, you’ll probably find that you need to spend a bit of time trimming down your professional background.
This is a common step in the process of developing a background that’s effective, so we actually encourage you to follow this formula:
Step 1: Get the important stuff on paper
Think of this as your rough draft. Use this opportunity to get your key points all written out so you can pick and choose from them later.
When doing this you don’t have to worry too much about how applicable everything is, that part will come next.
Simply think about what you’ve done in your career that applies to the new job you want.
Try to go a little bit further than job titles and responsibilities. Write down what you accomplished as well (stats and numbers work great for this).
Step 2: Highlight what’s most important
Now that you have all the potential pieces to include in your professional background it’s time to start trimming the fat. This means going through and identifying the best possible pieces to include.
Remember, your professional background is supposed to be brief. You simply don’t have the space to include everything.
You also wouldn’t want to.
Everything you include should have purpose and punch. You’re alway going to be better off mentioning six great things, than 20 mediocre ones.
The goal is to demonstrate as much as possible with as little as possible.
There’s no exact formula to follow when shrinking your list of main points, but if you look at it through this lens you will do just fine.
If you end up finishing step three and realizing your background is still a bit on the long side, it’s probably a good idea to see if there’s anything else that might not need to be included.
Step 3: Write your professional background around these points
Now that you have all the main points you want to include in your professional background it’s time to write the darn thing!
Take the key points you outlined in step two and start to figure out how you want to include them naturally. This will take a little bit of experimenting to find out what feels best for you.
The most important thing to remember here is you don’t want to use four words when three will do. The more concise you can keep your professional background the better.
A lot of people working on their background end up with something they feel pretty good about, only for them to realize it’s five paragraphs long.
It can be tricky to pare down something you’re really happy with. If you get into this situation, go back to a modified version of step 2 and apply it to your current situation.
It might also be the case that you don’t need to remove any key points. Maybe you just need to trim down your writing a little bit.
This is something many struggle with and it can add a lot of bloat to their writing. Here’s a great resource if you think you could benefit from trimming the fat on your writing.
One last tip to remember when creating your professional background is to write it in the third person. For bios we actually encourage you do the opposite (go with 3rd person) because it helps search engines find your work.
Don’t do that with your professional background.
Writing in the first person will keep things more natural and friendly. You want whoever reads it to feel comfortable with you and your skills before they step in the room with you.
What To Do When It’s Finished (Don’t Forget This)
You now have a strong professional background that you’ve put some solid time into.
Using it to help your career or job search is the whole point. The problem is, many people don’t get much mileage out of their backgrounds.
They might be really happy with what they made, but only end up including it when filling out a job application.
Don’t make this mistake!
Your professional background is not something that should sit on the shelf collecting dust until you apply for another job.
It should always be up to date and easy for you to recall.
Job applications or interviews aren’t the only situations it can be helpful.
If you need to whip up a quick bio about yourself for work, your professional background can be used as a starting point.
If you bump into someone at a conference that could potentially offer you a better (or higher-paying) job, tell them your background.
This is why you need to have the key points up to date and easy to remember. You never know when you could use it.
As you progress in your career, revisit your professional background and make sure it reflects the great work you’ve been doing. If you help roll out a massive project at work, that might be something to add.
Looking at it from this perspective means your background will always be ready for action.
It’s Time To Get Started
By now you hopefully have a better grasp on what a professional background is, and the benefits it can have on your career.
If you get stuck running through the steps of developing yours, don’t worry. This happens to the best of us.
Step back, take a walk, and clear your head. Sometimes the best stuff can’t be forced.
In reality, the perfect version of your background probably won’t come to you right away. By following the steps in this post you can create an awesome starting point, but that’s just the beginning.
As time goes on and you think more about your professional background, you’ll naturally make tweaks and add new things.
This iterative process of constant improvement is what will take yours from good to great. So don’t worry if it’s not perfect on day one!
Also, look for other opportunities to get more eyes on your background. Take a bite-sized version of it and include it in your LinkedIn profile.
If you have a personal website, you can use your professional background as the foundation for your about me page.
There are so many things you can do with it.
Now get to work!