How to Take the Pain out of Resume Writing Using a Master Resume

Your months of job searching have paid off – you found an opening for a position that’s perfect for you. Next step, dust off your resume and get it ready to go.

Only one tiny hitch — the last position listed on your resume is your first job after college.


Sound familiar? 

Combing the depths of your memory to piece together years of job duties and career accomplishments could be one way to fill an evening. But if that doesn’t sound like your idea of fun, try this instead: take the opportunity to create a master resume.

A master resume is a document only you will see. It pulls together all of your work experience, education, and other career-related activities.  It doesn’t have to be fancy, it just has to be remembered – add to it every so often when you do something new.

This source document will be your starting point each time you apply for a job and create a tailored resume for that position. Start now by listing everything you can think of under these section headings:

Work History

Start with jobs and internships you had in college and work forward. If you’re having trouble remembering start/end dates, check old W-2s or contact the HR departments at your previous employers. Contact the IRS for more recent work history.

They can provide you with an income transcript for the current year plus the three previous years.

If you’re significantly experienced, you’ll most likely not want to list an internship or the summer job you had in college on your resume, but it’s good to have it on your master resume anyway.

You’ll be able to see a complete overview of your work history and with it maybe find some patterns, like skills you’ve been recognized for.

Education and Training

In addition to college degrees, you’ll want to add all training courses you have taken that might relate to work, even if they were not necessarily professional development courses.

Think of any class you’ve taken that had to do with delivering presentations, public speaking, coaching, counseling, leadership, financial management, writing or foreign languages.

After that, look through old college or grad school materials to remind yourself of large research projects that might be useful to refer to in a real resume.

Baby boomers have had on average 11 jobs by the time they reach age 48. Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics


Think back on any job you have held and tease out the hard and soft skills you developed. A bullet-point list is fine here. Consider soft skills like working under pressure, team leadership, problem-solving, customer service, research, negotiation, and flexibility. These are often as sought-after by employers as technical expertise.

Then add the hard skills you obtained through academic studies or on the job, such as technical troubleshooting, account management, bookkeeping, tax preparation, programming languages, maintenance and repair, statistical analysis.

Awards and Other Recognition

You’ll probably remember significant awards you’ve received at work, like Sales Leader of the Year or Teacher of the Year (and you no doubt have a plaque somewhere that proves it).

But you may have to contact some former colleagues if you cannot remember smaller awards, like employee of the month, or awards you shared with a team, such as division with the year’s best safety record.

Also recall how you might have been recognized for outstanding performance – being chosen to represent your company at a conference, for instance, or being one of only 10 junior managers selected for leadership training program.

Professional Associations

In many career fields, membership in professional associations is all but expected (e.g. American Institute of Chemical Engineers, American Society of Landscape Architects) so those go down first on the master resume. But you should also jot down any other career-related organizations you’ve been involved, now or in the past. Examples might be Toastmasters, Women Who Code, Business Network International, or a foreign language discussion group.

A recent study reveals that 82% of people who change careers over aged 45 are successful and make more money than before. Source: American Institute for Economic Research

Volunteer Experience

Many people include a volunteer section on their resume because it speaks to their interests outside work (although your volunteer work may fall in line with what you do for a living) and shows their engagement in the community.

Again, go back to your college days and jot down all the volunteer work you have done, especially those where you can show a measurable achievement (“organized charity marathon that raised $15,000 for cancer research”) or a leadership role (“elected editor of newsletter for a community group with 500 members”).

Potential References

Along with remembering all the people you’ve worked with over the years, you should give some thought to those you might use as references if the prospective employer asks for them.

Write down all the people who have supervised you, worked closely with you, or who have worked for you. Highlight the ones whom you think would provide a balanced, thoughtful – and positive – recommendation.

If you haven’t been in touch with these former or current colleagues in a while, now is the time to reconnect via LinkedIn or Facebook.

Like anyone, jobseekers face short and long-term memory loss. Commit to creating and maintaining a master resume, and you make the overall task of applying for that next job much less painful. For some tips on tailoring a resume for a particular job, take a look at these resources:

What It Really Means to “Tailor Your Resume”

The Part of Your Job Search ONLY You Control

How To Tailor Your Resume and Gain More Job Interviews

How To Target a Resume for a Specific Job

Do you need more interviews?

Hey there! My name is Teena Rose. I help millennials start and grow their careers. Will the next career be yours?