Your resume is supposed to tell the story of your professional life, showing hiring managers how what you've done in the past will help their company in the future. But many job applicants -- even in Hollywood, where crafting stories is the job -- forget one of the basic rules of storytelling: setting the scene. In a resume, that means giving the reader context for each of your positions to show the scope and nature of your role.
First, you'll need to show where you've worked and when you worked there in a clean and simple way. Like a script slug line, section titles will orient the reader. Make sure the company names in your resume are in bold and that you have a clear timeline to go along with them. And in most cases, your title will go below the company name (sometimes there are exceptions for freelancers). Why? Well, "Assistant to CEO" can mean a few different things -- maybe you supported the head of a studio, or maybe you assisted the head of a health insurance company, and one makes you a lot more qualified for a coordinator role in the entertainment industry than the other. A company name and job title can tell the reader a lot with just a quick glance, so this context is essential if you want a hiring manager to read the rest of the resume. And if your companies and titles don't give enough context, you can always add a professional summary or core skills section to the top of your resume to help tie your resume together.
This formatting seems obvious, but that's just the first step to providing context -- most job applicants stop setting the scene after that initial framing. But that's where the story falls apart! If you want your resume to be great, you need to make sure the hiring manager has enough information to understand how your skills actually played out within your work environment.
We like to use the first bullet point under each company listing in the experience section to give context to the hiring manager. This bullet should be the broadest and reflect your main job function -- sort of an overview of your job. And it will often require some sort of description of the company. For example, if you worked at a small company that no one has ever heard of, you'll want to explain. You might say you worked at a “boutique literary management firm.” With just those four words, the hiring manager can imagine you in a small office with a few co-workers, which means you’ve likely had a job where you wore a ton of hats, had close access to high-level executives, and maybe even had responsibilities beyond the scope of your job title. Additionally, you could also give more information about the type of work the company does, i.e. you worked at an “independent film production company specializing in low-budget horror movies.” Now the reader knows you have expertise in a specific area. This can come in especially handy if you’re applying for jobs in the same space. But even if you’re transitioning into another type of role, you’re still helping the hiring manager picture your work history.
If you worked at a larger company, you’ll want to find other ways to give context. A development executive at HBO doesn’t need to say that they develop content for a premium cable network. Everyone knows what HBO is, so you don’t want to waste valuable space explaining. Instead, give more information about the scope of your job, i.e. “Managed a development slate of 30+ scripted dramas.” Volume can be helpful in your explanation (number of projects, budget ranges, size of events, etc). So can illustrating the type of work you did, whether it's the kind of content (scripted dramas), the type of clients (A-list talent; brands across verticals), or the style of a show (top-rated docuseries). If you work at a well-known company in a lesser-known department you may want to give a little more information about the function of the department before, or in addition to, describing your job.
After your first bullet point, you can break down some of the more important responsibilities and achievements. Even then, you should differentiate between what you were assigned to do and what you actually accomplished -- "managed editors" is fine to say, but "managed a team of 5 editors to deliver episode cuts" is lot better! You could even go one step further, "managed a team of 5 editors to deliver episode cuts for 13-episode season of top-rated reality competition series." The last version explains both responsibilities and results, which will be the most effective way to help an outsider understand your role.
As you can see, there are many ways to give context to hiring managers, and the best resumes don't skip over any of them. Hiring managers have a ton of resumes to review and they don't have time to do guesswork. Connect the dots for them and remove the guesswork, and you'll have a much stronger resume!
-- Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan