The Role of a Master Resume in Your Job Application Process

Post-its and a paper crane on a desk.What do you do when you start working on a new resume? Let me guess—you look up a template and start filling in the blanks, maybe copy/pasting from a resume you’ve used before. It’s a common strategy, but one with many pitfalls. So to avoid the frustrations of working with a template and on a quick deadline, I suggest a radically different way to write your resumes using a tool I call the “master resume.”

Whether you’re just out of high school and haven’t had a job, or if you’re entering a doctoral program after 20 years in the workforce, this method is a way to prepare for any resume needs you could have for the rest of your career.

A master resume is a document that includes everything you’ve ever done, and it’s written just for you. There’s no page limit and no style to follow—just your own notes saved in one place. The purpose of the master resume is simply to store all of the information that you might put on an individual application’s resume.

You can start the process of writing a master resume in any way you’d like—from jotting down notes in a journal, to creating a fresh Word document, to organizing everything in a digital notebook or database. The goal isn’t to have a finished product, but to have all of the information you will need to write a resume in one place and ready for when you need it.

Why would you need all these notes? Let’s back up a bit. When you’re writing a resume for a job application, it’s important to tailor that resume to the job you’re applying for. This means highlighting relevant experiences over the ones that perhaps are not so relevant, and focusing on some skills and accomplishments over others. Done right, it’ll be very rare to have two resumes you’ve written be identical.

How to Get Started

So, what should be included in the master resume? While there is no template, there are certain things you definitely want to include when taking notes. For each job, internship, volunteer opportunity, fellowship, student group, or any other activity you might ever include on a resume, make a note of as much of the following information as you can:

  • The organization’s name
  • The organization’s city and stateA person taking notes outside.
  • Your role (whether an official title or a short description of what role you had)
  • The month and year that you started, and the month and year that you finished
  • Your duties – what are you expected to do? What does your average day entail?
  • Your accomplishments – where have you gone above and beyond? What have you been recognized for?
  • Any starting metrics – for example, if you’re managing a Twitter account for a student group, make a note of how many followers you had on your first day managing the account, so that you can calculate a percent increase during the time you manage it
  • Anything you can quantify – make a note of what you do weekly, or how many board members you pitched a marketing strategy to, or what ages you tutor as an after-school volunteer
  • Any other information that helps tell the story of this experience

You can also make a note of your supervisor’s name and contact information. Though that shouldn’t be included on any of your tailored resumes, keeping this reference information handy in your master resume will be helpful when it comes time to create a reference list.

What’s Next?

Once you have all of this information collected into one document, you can start formatting it to look more like a resume by creating section headers and writing your bullet points. Unlike your tailored resume, don’t worry about page length. You’ll be copy/pasting from this document into your tailored resume where you can then focus on page length and the detailed aspects of design and appearance.

For the master resume to really work its magic, it’s important to start one now. Don’t wait until you’re already applying to internships or ready to start your post-grad job search. If you start now, it’ll be easier to remember details from past jobs than if you start a year from now. And once those details are written down, there’s no need to strain your memory as you think back to recall details about an experience from five years ago.

Also remember to keep your master resume updated. Did you just start a new internship, or move into a new leadership role in a student organization? Write it down right away. Did you plan a philanthropy fundraiser with your sorority, volunteer with a local nonprofit’s phone bank, or hit a new milestone on your robotics project? Write it down as soon afterwards as you can. This is all to make it easier for yourself later on, and keep the important, relevant details as fresh and accurate as possible.

Have you used a master resume in your job search? Let us know! We would love to share the tips and tricks that have worked for you with fellow students.

By Kyle Inselman
Kyle Inselman Director, Alumni Career & Professional Development