Domain Knowledge: What Is It And Examples

By Caitlin Mazur - Jun. 2, 2021
Skills Based Articles

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The skills necessary to find a job in a field in software development, project management, or information technology typically require applicants to have a good understanding of domain knowledge. Domain knowledge is a broad term so it can be challenging to understand exactly what it means.

In this article, we go into detail on domain knowledge and how it can aid you in job exploration, in landing the job you want, and how to best highlight your abilities in your resume or cover letter.

What Is a Domain?

Historically speaking, a domain is a territory controlled by a ruler. You may have heard of “eminent domain,” where a country can compel landowners to sell their land to the federal government — the “domain” in that term refers to the area controlled by the state.

In computing, a domain a discrete subset of a network. A consistent set of rules will always function within a given domain.

In the professional world, however, domain takes on a different meaning. A domain refers to an area of expertise or a specialized discipline. This gives us our first hint at what domain knowledge refers to.

What Is Domain Knowledge?

Domain knowledge is defined as the knowledge of a specific, specialized discipline, profession, or activity, in contrast to general knowledge. In other words, the term domain knowledge is used to describe the knowledge of specialists or experts in a particular field.

For example, in software engineering, domain knowledge can apply to specific knowledge about a particular environment in which the target system operates.

Typically, those with domain knowledge work in a specialized field. When developing software for any given industry, it’s important to recognize the significant differences between industries.

For example, software for a finance company will look drastically different than software for a pharmaceutical company. Finance companies need to worry about the numbers, tracking finances, and ensuring payments and transfers are done appropriately. Pharmaceutical companies might need to focus on appropriate legal, medical, and regulatory reviews and the software they used must take that into consideration for quality purposes.

Domain knowledge is significant and valuable to organizations because it is usually a targeted skill learned from software developers. When a specialist has domain knowledge and can translate that knowledge into computer programs and active data, it can transform software and ensure it is specialized for a particular field, making it extremely valuable for end-users.

With the type of technology available in the market these days, ensuring software is specifically tailored for your audience can make all the difference against competitors. That’s why domain knowledge is such a valuable and sought-after asset.

Domain knowledge can be used to describe a variety of fields, but some of the most popular domains are finance, retail, telecom, legal, medical, sports, education, and more.

What Is Domain-Independent Knowledge?

Domain-independent knowledge is knowledge that is applicable across a variety of domains. Think of things like mathematics, the use of grammar, and general programming knowledge.

You don’t need to be working in a highly specific domain for domain-independent knowledge to be useful. Of course, domain knowledge is hyper-specification of these general concepts, so having a knowledge of the general features of your field or industry is just as important as understanding things at a granular level of detail.

Those who possess domain knowledge should always be careful not to miss the forest for the trees.

The Value of Domain Knowledge

Domain knowledge is a niche skill that can bring you an abundance of value, if used properly. The first way you can use domain knowledge to your benefit is using it when negotiating a job offer. Domain knowledge can be a skill you didn’t even think you had.

If you have significant experience or knowledge about how a certain industry operates, it can often be translated into a job in the same industry. For example, if you have worked in the finance sector for any amount of time, then apply for a job providing software to a finance audience, your work experience insight could be invaluable for software development.

You will know the ins and outs of the process and what the audience you’re targeting is looking for. You’ll be able to articulate the pain points this audience experiences and what they really want to see when they’re using a specific type of software. Be sure to prioritize and use this to your advantage when you negotiate your employment contract.

How to Improve Your Domain Knowledge

Since this is a valuable skill it’s important to know the ways of how to build domain knowledge to the best of your ability in an industry of your choosing. These tips can be applied to an industry you’re already familiar with or an industry entirely new to you.

  • Research the specific knowledge that is most beneficial to build. Planning is the most important part of this process to ensure you have a targeted plan to build your knowledge efficiently. Thanks to the digital era, there is a wide variety of knowledge to consume and it’s easy to become overwhelmed.

    Make a short list of questions or topics you’d like to dive into further, which will allow you to build knowledge in a structured way. When you do your research, be sure you are looking at legitimate websites that offer up-to-date and trustworthy information. Even better, go straight to a personal source, if at all possible.

  • Ask a lot of questions. Knowing the right questions to ask is a skill in itself. As you dive into your research, write questions down as they come. Once you have all of your questions written down, go over and condense them. Some questions might have been answered as you continue your research, but others may not be clear.

    Then, see if you can find someone in the industry or your field of choice to ask. Questions can be important to clarify what you’re learning or how certain processes work.

  • Extend your studies by taking classes. One of the most efficient ways to improve domain knowledge is to sign up for a class. This class can be for general learning like a course at a local community college, or you can take a more specialized class that may result in a specific certification which you can add to your resume for additional credentials.

    Your decision will be impacted by where you are in your domain knowledge journey and what knowledge you’re looking to obtain. Taking a course will also put you in a classroom with a knowledgable professional to whom you can ask questions, as well as like-minded students that may have similar ambitions as you.

  • Network and attend industry events. There are plenty of in-person or online industry events you can register for and attend. These events can range from free to paid, but depending on which you choose, will give you a plethora of knowledge to choose from.

    Attending an event gives you the opportunity to sit in on specialist-led sessions that can build your knowledge in short bursts and typically provide you with content you can reference after the fact.

    It also gives you the ability to network with like-minded professionals and hopefully build a network of people you can tap for additional knowledge once the event is over.

  • Organize your research. As you continue on your knowledge-building journey, it’s important to stay organized. Building a knowledge base for yourself that you can refer back to and continuously update is one of the best ways to keep your information organized and easily accessible.

    A knowledge base doesn’t need to be fancy or complicated. Opening up a spreadsheet and putting everything in there can work just fine. Printing out your information and putting it into a binder is another method you can consider. Whatever your method, be sure you organize your information so that it’s easily accessible later.

Domain Knowledge in the Workplace

Domain knowledge can sometimes be an underrated skill for programmers, so it’s important to use it wisely in the workplace. Domain expertise can be hard to come by. True domain expertise requires both a considerable amount of study and experience. You can use your domain knowledge to heighten your expertise and value within any organization.

One way to do this is to volunteer to train new employees. You can compile the high-level points of your domain knowledge in a presentation which can be used to train new members of your team or educate others across the organization who may not have the specific knowledge you do. It can also be valuable as a written resource, like a playbook or general FAQs that you can share company-wide.

Offering up your knowledge in an accessible way not only highlights you as the credentialed expert in the field, but it can tap you in ways you might have not considered.

For example, marketing may want to interview you for your knowledge of a content piece to post on the website. Executives might reach out to you for your insight and expertise in a specific topic. Developers may want you to test ideas they are discussing to make sure it will meet the needs of the specific industry you’re targeting.

What Is Functional Knowledge?

Functional knowledge is the understanding of a specific function, like management or human resources. People often think of functional knowledge as the same as domain knowledge, and they are similar.

Functional knowledge differs from domain knowledge, however, in that it is still fairly general. Someone with functional knowledge may have working knowledge for how to navigate certain domains, but they’ll require a subject matter expert if things become too specific.

How to Highlight Domain Knowledge on a Resume or Cover Letter

In order to make your resume stand out, especially now that we are in the digital age, it’s imperative that you upskill yourself and arm yourself with as much domain knowledge as you can.

Once you’ve acquired this type of knowledge, it’s equally as important to articulate it on your resume and cover letter for potential job opportunities, even if it’s an entry-level position.

It might be tempting to rate yourself on a scale, but it’s actually far more effective to describe what you can actually do and what you do in your current position. You can easily articulate this in the description of your positions.

For example:

Wrote scripts (in JavaScript) to stand up the initial foundation of the current software sold globally to six of the top 10 pharmaceutical companies.

Remember that this is a chance to sell yourself, but ensure you’re selling yourself appropriately and not undervaluing yourself or promising skills you may not be able to attain for the position you’re applying for.

It’s okay to keep things high-level if there is a lot of detail associated with any given project. This will give you an opportunity to discuss your technical skills in further detail during your interview.

Domain expertise and knowledge are critical skills for many careers and industries. Having an understanding of the inner workings, processes, procedures, and other key aspects of any business is incredibly valuable. Having that insider knowledge puts you in an optimal spot to succeed in job opportunities, in the workplace, and throughout the remainder of your career.

When discussing your domain knowledge on a resume, keep a few tips in mind:

  • Read the job description carefully. The job description is your best friend when it comes to tailoring your resume for a specific job opportunity (which you should always do). Highlight keywords you find throughout the posting that seem extra important, and make sure to incorporate similar language in your resume.

    For jobs where domain knowledge is critical, making sure that you emphasize essential technical abilities is your way of getting past applicant tracking systems and into the interview room. Remember that including a few soft skills (interpersonal abilities) can help balance out your hard skill-heavy resume.

  • Accomplishments, not responsibilities. It’s all well and good that you’re well-versed in the day-to-day duties of the job, but hiring managers have countless applicants that are just as qualified. To stand out, you need the majority (if not all) of your work experience bullet points to be focused on achievements.

  • Use numbers. Hiring managers and recruiters love to see numbers because they translate well with minimal context. Whenever possible, quantify your achievements to give more detail about the direct impact your domain knowledge had on generating positive results.

  • Be specific with your skills section. In most jobs that require extensive domain knowledge, the hard skills become extremely specific. Again, turn to the job description to see which of these are most essential.

    Regardless of whether your qualifications match up precisely, you should still aim to give the highest level of detail possible, to show that you appreciate how granular the field is.

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Author

Caitlin Mazur

Caitlin Mazur is a freelance writer at Zippia. Caitlin is passionate about helping Zippia’s readers land the jobs of their dreams by offering content that discusses job-seeking advice based on experience and extensive research. Caitlin holds a degree in English from Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, PA.

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