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My friend’s husband has a saying (that I can’t repeat) but let’s just say it’s a warning that a choice you make in the moment could be one your future self is going to regret. That’s sage advice. But so is the corollary. You can also do something now that your future self will thank you for! In this case I’m talking about writing a master resume.

What is a master resume?

It’s a resume! But one that you will never, ever send. It’s everything you could ever cite on the resume you will tailor for each job application. That is an absolute, 100% necessity. Do not think you can just shoot off the same resume over and over and get results. It’s a waste of your time. So you need a master resume, a document from which you can copy and paste to make tailoring your resume easier.

Writing your master resume for the first time takes a lot of time. So this isn’t something you do when there’s a job that closes soon that you need to get done. But the time you take to do it now will be time your future self will thank you for, because when a cool job alert comes along, you will be ready. A great time to do this is when you’re in the doldrums of the job search, in those weeks when you just aren’t seeing anything that fits your criteria. You could do this when you haven’t even built a job search yet. This keeps your job search momentum going and helps you think about all of your awesome KSAs and achievements.

How to Write a Master Resume


Photo by Georgie Cobbs on Unsplash

For my master resume, I find a quiet space and a big block of time – at least a couple of hours. You probably already have a resume somewhere – save a copy of it as Resume-Master. Now, rather than editing down your resume, you are going to add, add, add. For a master resume, more is more.

Starting with each section of your resume, for each heading add on any and every accomplishment, award, promotion, job, project, and achievement you could ever want to cite as a testament to your abilities & experience.

Take your current position, for instance. If you’re working with a good resume already, you probably have that section winnowed down to the most impactful and significant things about your work. But what else have you done there? Have you managed projects you don’t have listed? Have you supervised students or interns but left that off because it was only a semester or two?

Now apply that to the rest of your master resume. Have you left out jobs because they don’t fit nicely within your academic trajectory? Add those back in, along with the dates, accomplishments, etc.

Under Publications, Awards, Professional Memberships, Education – have you left off volunteer work? communities of practice you publish in online? memberships in organizations unrelated to your current job? certifications that don’t related to your current work? Add all those back in.

Why do this?

When you are looking for a new job, you might see some that catch your eye but which are, well, a little bit outside of what you do now. So you want to be able to quickly cobble together a new resume for that job that attests to your experience and abilities to do that kind of work, or in that industry. And that is incredibly time consuming when you’re starting from scratch.

Plus you’re liable to forget key details if you’re doing this under the pressure of a looming deadline. And the last thing you want is to make the mistake of  leaving experience and credentials that are really applicable and transferable off your resume when it’s a job you’re super excited about but one that you’re not perfectly aligned with. You don’t want your application ending up in the discard pile simply because you left off that job giving campus tours to potential students when one of their minimum qualifications is someone with public speaking experience.

What to do once you have your Master Resume

If you want to take this to the next level, you start saving versions of it for roles you’re pursuing. But before you do this, make a backup copy of your master resume. I’m telling you from experience. I keep a master resume and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought I hit “Save as…” but instead hit Save after tailoring it. (Thank the universe for Dropbox versions!)

But you can start making slightly less generic versions of your master resume, stripping off the bullet points, projects, jobs, and achievements that are not going to be directly applicable to that field of work. You might have one writing/editing resume. Another might be your marketing resume. Another might be your resume for project management jobs. And then even those can (and should!) be further tailored to be position-specific once your job search query returns the result in that.

And above all, be sure to update your Master Resume regularly – at least once a year. You’ve invested all this time making one. Now make sure you tend to it and keep it up to date.