You might see the phrase “professional background” popping up now and then in your job search, but what does it mean?
The quickest summary is that they're asking for your work history. But you shouldn't stop there–no one really wants a dry list of previous employers. When a hiring manager wants to hear about your "professional background," they are looking to learn about your performance and history in your current and past professions.
Where Should You Put It?
The best place to share this information is perhaps at the top of your resume, in a summary of your qualifications or a career profile—both much more effective than the outmoded “Objective” section. With each job you apply for, make sure you’ve made a convincing map of your skills and experience as matching the requirements for the job.
On a resume, the best way to format your work history and professional accomplishments is probably chronological. But you can also try formatting it in a way that emphasizes jobs you’ve had that are particularly relevant—by type.
What Should You Say?
Be as honest as possible about what you’ve done and where you’ve worked, but, with that in mind, emphasize your particular skills and expertise as strongly as possible.
If you don’t have a white-collar background with fancy managerial positions, that shouldn’t matter. What matters most is your professionalism, how you conducted yourself on the job, and how much you have grown. Showing your record of acting responsibly and accountably, with excellence and integrity, will do you a world of good. It’s still a “professional” background even if you feel your job is not fancy.
Go Beyond Just Paid Jobs
Remember to include training and education—which are more than just academic credentials. Any certifications or skills training or onboarding you’ve acquired in the course of your career are relevant and quite important.
Remember, how you look on paper is only the first step. Your resume is a partial summary of your professional background. Use it to get in front of a hiring manager or recruiter, and then expand upon the bullet points while you have the face time.
And keep in mind: when an interviewer asks you to tell them about your professional background, remember that they want more than just a chronological list of jobs that they could read straight off your resume. Present yourself professionally, and your background can provide the extra boost you need.
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