Updated: Dec 18, 2021
Context plays an important role in the realm of information exchange. We often take proper context for granted and don’t realize its value until it’s missing from the equation. This is clearly illustrated in today’s news industry - we often see news headlines that focus on one aspect of a story without providing appropriate background information, without which, a reader wouldn’t have a complete understanding and wouldn’t be able to make an informed decision on the subject matter.
Resumes, like news articles, are communication devices that serve a specific purpose; in the case of a resume, that’s to provide the hiring manager with enough information to facilitate an informed decision. However, like so many news articles, I see resumes that often throw bits and pieces of information at the reader without providing the full picture, leading to poor results and a perplexed job seeker (“I know I was qualified for that software engineering position so I have no idea why I didn’t get a call back”).
When writing your resume, it’s critical that you provide a complete picture to help the person on the other end understand exactly what you bring to the table (never assume that they’ll automatically know what you’re talking about).
To illustrate, see you’re an operations manager for a company called Richardson & Sons and your resume lists that as is. From the title, your reader would only have a very general understanding of your duties because they don’t know what kind of company you work for. The magnitude of the role would be very different if Richardson was a parts manufacturer with over 5,000 staff than if it were a 10-person trucking company - context makes a very big difference in this situation.
In the next example, Mary is a Specialist with Microsoft and has been in this role for 6 years. The first bullet of her resume under this position reads:
“Provided technical support and strategic guidance to business clients”.
From this bullet, we can infer very little about what Mary actually does and this leaves a lot of unanswered questions like:
What kind of technical support does Mary provide? Does she help users install and configure software products? Does she troubleshoot bugs?
What level of support does she provide? Preliminary? Advanced?
Who are Mary’s business clients? Individuals? Small businesses? Corporations?
How many customers does she deal with daily? 5? 50? 500?
You can quickly see that without a proper frame of reference, this bullet tells us very little.
So how do you provide proper context on a resume? This is where careful thought and preparation take precedence. Taking the time to consider the items below will inevitably lead to a better outcome.
Put yourself in your reader’s shoes. Are they going to understand what you do based on how you’ve written your descriptions? Read and review your content multiple times and try to look at it from your reader‘s perspective.
Have you given enough background information to allow the reader to understand the magnitude of your role (Think of the operations manager above)?
Provide specific numbers whenever possible. If you manage a team, how many people are in it? What are their roles? If you manage a retail store, what kind of annual sales does the store do?
How you present information can make a huge difference in how you’re perceived on the other side. Help the hiring manager hire you by providing an accurate and clear account of yourself. If you’re still stuck, there are tons of free and paid resources, including services such as my own, that will help you get through it.
About the Author
James Cooper is a Certified Professional Resume Writer and has been in the recruiting, career coaching, and writing business for almost 14 years. He began his career recruiting for AECOM, a Canadian engineering firm, and he's gone on to work with and help professionals land roles at top Fortune 500 companies.
Have questions about resume writing? Reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.