A Make-it or Break-it Resume


I’ve written a couple other articles now and have alluded to the fact that I had lots of stuff to say regarding resumes. So below, please find said stuff I have to say. Sorry – writing introductory paragraphs makes me twitch, especially when I am feeling decidedly decaffeinated at three-something in the afternoon. But aside from all that, I actually do need to preface this article by saying a few things.

First, this is not the end-all be-all of resume information…which will be totally obvious when you get to the end. I have researched these things until the cows came home (and they did…come home, that is) and have included a few links to great sources of information on resumes at the end of this article. This is simply my take on the matter, having used this system, or a variation of it, for years. It works, it really does. But there are others out there who will disagree with me. And that’s okay. That’s why we all have these awesome things called opinions coupled with free will.

Second, I am writing from the heart, but also writing in a somewhat conversational form. I apologize ahead of time if it gets confusing. Please bear with me. Also – you can feel free to comment if you think I’m a dunce or if something is so confusing to you that you need further clarification. I will answer.

Thirdly, take it slow. There’s a lot of information here and while I think it’s mostly good, I refer again to the dunce comment above.

And…away we go.


This is something that others may have thought of – so I cannot claim that it was my idea – but I have been thinking about this for many, many years and for all I know, I could be the inventor of something awesome.

The idea of the Master Resume is simple: Put every, single thing you’ve ever done – job/career-wise – down on paper. Include the company name, the dates you worked there, the title you held, the name of your supervisor, your supervisor’s email address and phone number (preferably direct, if possible), the address of the company or, at the very least, the city and state. Then list, in as much detail as possible (without getting wordy), your job responsibilities.

You: Whoa! Okay…hang on. Every. Single. Job. I have ever done?

Me: Yes.

You: But why? What is the point?

Well, think about it this way. Just imagine for a moment that you are sitting there, at some business establishment or other, preparing to fill out a paper application simply because you inquired about a job. This is great! They handed you an application! You get to fill it out right there and then and show this business establishment all about your work history! Except, if you’re anything like me, you don’t have any of the important dates in your head, like when you started and when you left previous employment. Oh, you could fudge it a little because you know generally when the comings and goings occurred – but would it be accurate? Do you remember how much you were paid when you started? How much you were making when you left? You know they’re going to check up on you, right? They do, actually contact your previous employers – you get that, don’t you? So why not make an effort to be accurate?

All that to say that a Master Resume is a great idea, and here’s why.

So, imagine you’re still at this business establishment, standing there with your pretty paper application, excited that you have the opportunity to fill it out when you realize that though you don’t have dates (or addresses, or phone numbers, or salary info…these things do fade with time, it’s okay) in your head, you do actually have a copy of your Master Resume in the car. You excuse yourself for a moment, run to the car to grab said Master Resume, and come back armed with exactly the information you need to accurately complete the application at hand. 

Alright, so yes, I understand that what I described above is, for the most part, a retail establishment practice – but can you take it further? Of course you can! Think about all the business establishments with an online presence and how most of the time those same business establishments have a careers/jobs/employment (pick your poison) section on their web sites. You search for a job, you find one that interests you, and you choose to fill out the job application online, which is a much more common practice these days. You are going to be faced with the same questions (and more) that you would find on the paper application at a retail establishment. (Actually, most retail establishments have an electronic application process now, too, though some still use the old-fashioned paper kind.) Again, that light bulb pops on brightly above your head indicating, if others could see it, that you’ve just had a brilliant idea. You go grab your Master Resume and get started on the electronic application.

All your dates, names, places, email addresses, phone number and salary and job duties are there for the picking. All you have to do is transfer it appropriately, and click Submit.

You: Wait, wait, wait, wait! I’m confused. I mean, I understand what you’re saying – I think – but…

Me: What? You want me to walk you through the Master Resume Concept from start to finish?

You: <sigh> Yes! Please?

You understand now the brilliance of it because I described it above, so here’s how it works.

Most resumes only list job history for the last 7-10 years. Anything more than that and it starts getting overwhelming for prospective employers.   Prospective employers want to see that you’re working, they don’t want to see gaps in your work history, and they do want to see that the previous work you did is applicable to the job you are applying for.

So what do you do? You give them everything, without giving them everything.

See, a Master Resume is where you keep everything – but when you’re applying for a position, you pull out the key pieces that are relevant to the position you are applying for and enter that into the application.

You: But that means that I could possibly show gaps in employment, and you just said that was a bad thing.

Me: Bear with me, I’m getting there.

You: Okay.

Most electronic application processes allow you to attach a resume along with all the important information you’ve already filled out online. This is where you attach a modified copy of your Master Resume, that you create specifically for the position for which you are applying.

This is what a job-specific resume should look like (please locate and use your imagination):

Resume of:      John Q. Jobhunter

Address:          123 Anystreet, Anytown USA 12345

Mobile:            (123) 456-7890

Email:               jqjhntr@email.com

Summary of Qualifications and Related Skills: [Type out a paragraph explaining how your qualifications and skills relate to the position for which you are applying; use the job description as your guide.]

Employment History:

CURRENT EMPLOYER: Start Date to End Date (Start Date or Present, if still employed) – Your Job Title – Company Name – Company Address – Supervisor’s Name – Supervisor’s Title – Supervisor’s Phone Number – Supervisor’s Email Address

Job Duties [be clear and concise. In fact, bullet-pointing is an excellent idea.]

PREVIOUS EMPLOYER 1: Same thing – keep going and include job duties.

PREVIOUS EMPLOYER 2: Same thing – keep going and include job duties.

PREVIOUS EMPLOYER 3: Now let’s say that this job was one that does not relate to the position for which you are applying – but it shows you were working. All you do here is enter the start date, end date, your job title, the company name, address, and supervisor’s information – then move on to the next employer.

When you get to a point where you’ve got 7-10 years of experience clearly completed, stop. Now, save the document as something you’ll remember – something, maybe, that indicates which position or company you’ve created it for – and then attach it to the electronic job application!

And you’re right – I suppose this could be a somewhat confusing and complicated concept, but if used correctly it could be such a wonderful tool. And yes, it means that you could, at any one time, have a saved copy of your Master Resume, and multiple position-specific resumes.


 My research tells me that there are varying degrees of thought on this particular portion of one’s resume. Some say to yank it altogether, that it’s an outdated thought and what good does it really do? Your objective is to get a job, right? Enough said. Others say to keep it and make it “employer-centric” – meaning not to simply say that you’re looking to, for example “build your editing skills and leverage your interest in journalism” but to explain what it is that you can do for them. Remember, they’re the ones hiring you and though they care about what you can do, they want to know how you can apply that to their company’s specific needs and the position they are looking to fill. Ultimately, though, I personally believe it’s up to you whether to keep the objective or do away with it.

I tend to land somewhere in the middle, clearly stating what skills and experience I have related to the position I am applying for and building off of that. I call it Skills and Related Experience. How many years of experience do you have in your field? What programs or applications have you used and do they jive with what the potential employer is looking for? What applications are you comfortable with? How fast can you type? Do you have experience answering phones? Handling mail? Things like that.


Ah – the all-important, “Do I put References on my resume,” question. My answer is: That depends.

You: What? That’s so wishy-washy. Why am I even listening to you in the first place?

Me: Would you, kindly, give me a chance to explain my reasons behind that so-called wishy-washy answer?

You: Um…OK?

You see (I say kindly) there are times when submitting a list of references is totally appropriate and there are other times when it’s just…well…not.

You: How do I know the difference?

You’ll know. No, really – you will. Sometimes the specific electronic application (or any application, really) you are completing asks you to include references and, therefore when you are prompted to attach an electronic copy of your resume, it should, by reason of consistency, include those same references. Sometimes, it’s just not appropriate to attach a list of references; you can save that for the physical interview when you hand your potential employer a hard-copy of your resume and say professionally, “I brought you a clean hard-copy of my resume, along with a complete list of references.”

 As a general rule, I recommend having anywhere between three and five professional references and two or three personal references on hand, ready to go. It’s common courtesy, however, to let these people who you’re using as reference know that you intend to do so. Make sure you have all their contact information correct. Also, you will want to list next to, or below their names whether they are on the list as a Professional reference or a Personal reference.

For example:

Davy Jones                  Executive Director – Under The Sea, Inc.

(Professional)             123 Mermaid Lane, The Ocean, The World, 12345 ♦ Mobile: (123) 456-7890 ♦ Email: d.jones@utsinc.org

 Arial Mermaid             Owner, Voice Studios

(Personal)                    456 Mermaid Lane, The Ocean, The World, 12345 ♦ Mobile: (123) 654-0987 ♦ Email: arial@voicestudios.com


  • Try not to make your resume more than 2 pages long. In fact, it’s better if you can keep it to one page, or two pages printed on both sides of one sheet of paper.
  • Bullet Points are your friend. Paragraphs work, too, but you want to make it easy for employers to see, at a glance, what you’ve done at any one job. Use this only in the job-duties section under each current or previous employer.
  • Formatting is also your friend. Formatting and fonts are important because these things draw your potential employer’s eye to key pieces of information. You want them to see what your job title was? Make it bold.


5 do’s and don’ts for building a winning resume


How to Handle These 5 Common Weaknesses on Your Resume


Resume Writing: How to Write a Masterpiece of a Resume (Rockport Institute)


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