Step away from the resume… and do this instead

mm Russ Finkelstein

It seems like far too much of my inspiration for writing blogs comes from the tendencies that frustrate me most when I am coaching or advising others. At the very, very, very top of that list is the request that I provide “feedback on my resume”, otherwise known as the one document you hope to use every time you apply for a position.

It happens so often that I have developed the kind of auto-response that reluctant celebrities must have when receiving requests for autographs (essentially: “I appreciate you want something from me, but I may not want to suffer through this, again.”)

What people want is a resume that will work each time they apply for a job. I don’t think that exists. In fact, each resume should be a tailored response to a specific job description.

So I redirect people to create what I call a “Master Resume” or “Internal CV.”

You should have one, too, especially if you are:

  • unhappy with work and don’t know what you want next
  • unhappy with work and do know what you want next
  • happily employed now

If you do the math, you’ll see that I think everyone should have a Master Resume.

The hardest part of most people’s career search is often that which comes first — getting really clear about your skills and priorities, and finding a way to successfully share that with others. No matter what, it’s essential to do that work if you’re going to be happy in your career.

The Master Resume allows you to freely catalog everything you have ever done, which is an important step along the way towards owning your accomplishments and seeing your unique value. It also positions you very well when it is time to get into productive resume creation mode.

It is always ironic to me that someone asking for your resume is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, there is that lovely moment of feeling that you have intrigued someone enough that they make such a request. On the other hand, you might be filled with an element of dread. What file did I put it in? When did I last update it? When do they need it by?

Build a Master Resume, and update it monthly, as a way of having something in your back pocket the next time an opportunity knocks. Life and work, and their intersection, may require that you need to pivot. Could, or have, any of the following ever happened to you?

  • A family emergency or personal relationship that requires a relocation
  • You no longer enjoy the kind of work you are doing
  • You become intrigued by a new field of role

I know. All possible. I stack the deck, but it’s because I care about you.

What people typically do is have a version of the resume they used to get their current job that they haven’t touched since. Suddenly the need to create a document happens, and then resume madness occurs. Fight the madness.

I’m sharing this awesome sample Master Resume here, as an example. As you can see, someone has been working hard to know their value. Now it’s your turn.

As you go through the process, here are a few hints that I offer to folks:

  1. Format doesn’t matter. You’re not creating a public document, but something you will have access to whenever you need to quickly prepare a tailored resume with a view to landing a specific position. You can put it into a spreadsheet or write it on toilet paper, if you like. Although ideally, the document should be something you can easily cut and paste from.
  2. Aim to be exhaustive. The goal really is to capture everything you’ve ever accomplished in your career, and that, potentially, could be an asset to future employers. Let’s say, for example, you developed an expedited invoicing system 15 years ago when you worked at a pet store. Write it down. How much did you improve the turnover? Perhaps you are seeking a VP of Communications position at a financial firm wherein such a background might bolster your application. You may use some of this less than 1% of the time, but at those moments, why wouldn’t you want it?
  3. Have fun with numbers. Numbers communicate scale and impact. Scale is the resources at your disposal when you have a role: how large is the staff, budget, mailing list, attendees, or event numbers? Every employer is looking to see what you have managed before, because they want to know that you can handle the resource they might be giving you. Impact is what happens when you are in charge:The positive changes that result from your leadership. You can’t use numbers for everything, but you can use them for many things. This data will be crucial for you to make your case when applying for specific positions.
  4. Stop complaining. Yes, doing this the first time will likely take several hours, although it can be a bit shorter if you currently have an academic resume. But it’s worth it. And it’s easier to remember all the obscure details of your professional life when you’re not under time pressure to apply for a specific job.
  5. Improve over time. Make a habit of coming back to this document every couple of weeks. It’s amazing how much we achieve on a day-to-day basis but forget to write down. Wasn’t it hard to come up with those numbers? Wouldn’t it be easier to input every month? When you achieve a success, don’t just bask in the afterglow. Write it down.
  6. Transitioning to resume ready. When you have done your best work on your Master Resume, you can think about how you want to organize the bullets you will want to use in your tailored resume. The stronger the individual bullets, the less you will need to do when you paste in your tailored resume document. As a fun exercise, I sometimes tell people to imagine re-applying for their current job with their Master Resume handy. What numbers would they use? Even if you don’t land a new position, you’ll find that those numbers will be very helpful when it comes to bolstering your confidence in your current role. And, come review time, they may also be helpful when you’re negotiating a raise.

We live in a time of diminishing employer loyalty and changing circumstances. There is an ever fluid state associated with work, and your ability to pivot with changing circumstances can make all the difference in your feeling like you are able to make strategic decisions. If you have a Master Resume handy, you’ll have a document that allows you to pivot more easily, and, if you are drawn to a variety of different roles, to prepare more carefully-tailored job applications in a shorter period of time, giving you the best chance of success as you search for the next position.

Trust me: you won’t regret making one.

Russ Finkelstein is Managing Director of ClearlyNext, a guided online career program that helps people of all backgrounds and incomes figure out what to do next. Read more >