8 Steps to Creating the Master Resume

Everyone these days is talking about job losses. It’s in the media, in line at the grocery stores and around the dinner table. Many who have lost their jobs spend hours each day preparing and sending out resumes. Many who haven’t are wondering if they should update theirs, “just in case”.

Long job searches — and long periods between job searches — are hard. If the last time you wrote a resume was 20 years ago, it can be hard to remember all of your accomplishments. If you’ve just been laid off, it can be hard to look at yourself in the positive light needed to make a resume shine.

There is lots of resume advice out there. Keep it short. Use active verbs. Show, don’t tell. Tailor each resume to each job. But when you’re applying for dozens of jobs, each with a slightly different description, it can be tedious to write an exceptional resume for each different job posting.

The solution is to create The Master Resume: a tool that captures all your skills, accomplishments and loves, makes it easy to customize a resume for any job, and boosts your ego when you need it most.

When you first create your Master Resume, it will take a while. But once you’ve got it set up and running, you’ll never go back. So let’s get started.

You’ll need a clean (unlined, preferably) sheet of letter or A4 paper, a pen or pencil, your existing resume (if available) and a sample job description (maybe your existing job description, or a job that you find in the classifieds). I also recommend having a spreadsheet program available — Google Docs does a great job, and is free!

1) Set up a piece of paper

Even if you’re a techie, it’s important to start with pen and paper.  Later, we’ll move you over to a digital spreadsheet, but bear with me for now.

Turn the sheet landscape (so that it’s wider than it is tall), and draw a line dividing it into two roughly equal columns. Divide the right-most column into two columns again, and then divide the right-most column again into two more columns. You’ll end up with a half-page column, a quarter-page column and then two 1/8th page columns.

From left to right, label the columns “Accomplishments”, “Where/When”, “Skill” and “Rating”.

2) Convert your existing resume (if you have one)

If you have an existing resume, pull it out now. If not, that’s alright — you’ll just have to make it up as you go along. What you’re going to do now is pull out bullet points from your job history and write them on your paper under “Accomplishments”.

For now, just pick one particular job; the most recent one on your existing resume is often the easiest to start with. You’re going to transfer every bullet point of accomplishment (no matter how large or small) listed on your resume to your Master Resume sheet. One accomplishment per line.

Don’t just copy them down, as-is, though! Take time to transform each bullet into a strong statement of what you accomplished. Make every point stand on its own: short and sweet, full of detail and active verbs, highlighting exactly what you did well. A search on Google will reveal loads of tips on how to write strong resume bullet points.

For each point that you write on your paper, use the “Where/When” column to record the job title, company and start/end dates of employment.

Feel free to add in more lines than just those that are on your initial resume. The goal is to have this list be as exhaustive as possible. Every little thing that you accomplished, no matter how big or small, deserves to go on this list. Make sure that everything gets included, even those things that you hated doing (we’ll come back to those later).

3) Categorize the skills

Here’s where the Master Resume starts to work differently. For every line on your paper, identify the high-level skill that the accomplishment demonstrates and write it in the 3rd column. If a certain accomplishment incorporates more than one skill-set, that’s okay, but only include one skill per line. Copy the accomplishment to a separate line for each skill demonstrated.

As an example, here’s a “bullet point” from my existing resume.

Co-lead communications task team, leading to an open house with attendance over 200% of anticipated.

I’d categorize this as “leadership”, although I could also mark it as “communication”. Others  you might find are things like technical abilities (programming, databases, networking, etc.), reporting, analysis, teamwork, conflict management or teaching. I’m sure you can think of dozens more. There are no right or wrong answers here.

4) Reflect and analyze your skill preferences

Remember in step #2, when I told you to write down everything you had ever done, regardless of whether you enjoyed it or not? Here’s the reason why:

For every line on your page, close your eyes and remember what it felt like to do that task. Were you excited? Frustrated? Bored?

Now, in the last column on the line, rate your enjoyment (regardless of how successful your accomplishment was) from one to five, where one is “if I never have to do that again, it will be too soon” and five is “I really enjoyed that and would love to do it often”.

This information is vital, because it will connect you with what you like to do and what you hate to do. Never put something you hate to do on a resume, no matter how major the accomplishment. You don’t want to get in a situation where you are hired to do something based on a skill that you hate using.

5) Convert to a spreadsheet (optional)

Once you’ve completed steps 1-4 for a few jobs and you’ve got the hang of it, it’s time to up the technical ante. You’re going to now recreate your paper list into the Master Resume by loading it into a spreadsheet. You can use something like Excel for this, but I prefer Google Docs because then I can update and access it from anywhere.

The format for the spreadsheet will be exactly the same: four columns on a sheet which are labelled “Accomplishments”, “Where/When”, “Skill” and “Rating”. This spreadsheet is now your Master Resume document. 

Why put it in a spreadsheet? Well, as I already alluded to, it’s more convenient in a universally available spreadsheet. It also is much easier to copy-paste entries from your Master Resume into your “to-send-out” resume when it’s in digital format. The ability to sorting and filter also makes a huge difference.

If you’re a spreadsheet whiz, you can do some advanced steps, like setting up a filtered table so that you can group entries by accomplishment (Google Docs makes this really easy). You can see a really basic example of this online, where the first tab is allows you to filter and the second is the “raw data”.

6) Repeat for other jobs, hobbies, experiences, education

Technically, you can do this step before number 5, but personally I get squirrely when I have to write too many things out by hand only to copy them into a digital format later.

Basically this step is where you flesh out the rest of your Master Resume. The key is to analyze all of your hobbies, experiences, jobs and educational history in the same way as you did for your jobs. Look at what you accomplished, even if it’s something you don’t think you could ever use in a resume.

Why? Because the Master Resume is not just about making it easier to send out resumes for “the man”. The Master Resume is for you, too. It’s a reflection of how you have lived your life — your talents, experiences, special abilities and more.

The fact that, after 14,000 games, you finally managed to beat your great-great uncle at chess may not ever get you a job (then again, it does demonstrate critical thinking, strategy and persistence!) but it does make you realize that you are actually a pretty cool person. Sometimes, when you’re looking for a job, it can be easy to lose sight of that. And remember to rate them — doing so can also give you hints about what you might like to try next!

7) Test your Master Resume

Finally, you’ve got this Master Resume on your hands. It’s got all of your achievements, the highlights of your life; career history and education, yes. But equally important, it highlights what you love (and hate!) doing, and all of the hobbies and experiences that make you who you are today. It’s got everything broken down by skill, by company and by enjoyment rating.

Now it’s time to transform your Master Resume into a resume you can send in for that job you’ve got your eye on (your “for-the-man” resume). Go get the job description, and with a pen go through and look for skills words — things like “excellent communicator”, “dedicated team member”, “problem solver”.

Now, sort (or filter) your Master Resume for those key phrases. Match your abilities and experiences to exactly what the job is looking for. Any line that has a rating higher than two goes into the first draft of your “for-the-man” resume. If you find you have too many items to make a good one or two-page document, maybe only use those bullets with ratings of 4+, or even just the 5’s.

You can format your resume however you like. Because you’ve got it in a sortable spreadsheet, you can organize your resume by job or year (a chronological resume) or by skill-set (a functional resume).Your content will be great and tailored perfectly to the job at hand, so as long as as your resume template is clean and readable, you’ll be able to send out a custom resume in a matter of minutes.

Another tip: Before you head out to your job interviews, make sure you to review your Master Resume as well. Look out especially for items that were rated 1s and 5s. In the interview, you’ll want to make sure that the job doesn’t have many if any of the 1s, and that it’s loaded up on the higher rated items.

It’s also a good way to bring in additional experience, in case the interviewer asks you about something that isn’t directly demonstrated on the resume you sent them.

8) Stay up-to-date

Last but not least, now that you’ve got your Master Resume built, keep it up to date. There is nothing worse than having to scramble to put together a resume from scratch. By having everything always in one place, updating your resume to capture your latest experiences is much simpler.

How do you know when to add something to your Master Resume? Simple: whenever you’ve accomplished something new or different. Yes, your Master Resume will get long, but that’s the idea.


By creating and maintaining every little thing in your Master Resume, you’ll be forced to recognize that you have accomplished many things, that you do have a wide number of marketable skills, and that you do have a valuable contribution to make. And as a nice bonus, it may even just save you some time the next time you’re looking to change jobs.

2 thoughts on “8 Steps to Creating the Master Resume

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