Editor’s Note: A CV is essentially a long-form resume, and is not a term used by most employers in the U.S. However, creating a true CV, as opposed to a simple resume can help you stand out in a job market in which hundreds of others may be vying for the same position.

As a student, interesting people and opportunities might pop up at any moment. A new connection, a scholarship opportunity, a decision to head abroad or apply to an internship might come along any time.

I know very few people who enjoy pulling a CV together—from framing work experience to formatting your document, a resume process is often a stressful one. I highly recommend creating and maintaining a “Master CV” with all experience down in writing, ready to be edited and sent off at a moment’s notice.

A “Master CV” is not what you send as an application. It includes all of your experiences, skills, and references. When an opportunity comes along, you create a new document tailored to that particular application, omitting irrelevant experiences to sharpen your message.

For example, I have extensive experience with prison education work and volunteering, which might not be relevant if I’m applying to a blogging job (like HackCollege, for instance). But if I’m looking for an opportunity with teaching or a more social work-focused job, then I would (probably) de-emphasize my blogging experience by deleting some of the shorter-term writing projects and highlighting that prison-related work.

Starting with a complete, well-formatted and fully edited resume document allows you to not only respond quickly to opportunities, but it also provides you with a full insight into what marketable skills you have. It can be really empowering to get all this down in a single place, and know that you’ll continue adding and nuancing your document as time goes on.

Here’s how you can start building your own master CV (resume):

Start Early 

The ideal time to create a CV is NOT when you’re in the process of applying for something. Ideally you have something ready to go, which can be adjusted, edited by friends, and added to as time goes on.

Immediate follow-up can sometimes make the difference between a successful networking interaction and a lost opportunity. Get your resume together as it stands today, right now.

List EVERYTHING 

I mean everything. A “Master CV” includes all of your skills and experiences, regardless of how quirky or “not applicable” they might be. You will probably never send the master version to anyone, but you never know what opportunity might arise that will make even the most obscure experience relevant.

Make a list. Ask your family members for help. Think through everything you’ve done that could count as a job or volunteer experience, or as a skill gained. List blogs you’ve written for and crafts you are good at, the YouTube video you helped create and the campus events you recruited for. List the babysitting and the tutoring and the awkward public speaking you did once for a youth group. Get every single thing down on the page.

Before going to the next step, take a moment and think about what this list represents. This is where you’re at right now. Are you happy with this list of experiences? Does it represent you well? Are there steps you can take to improve your future resume?

Categorize

Take your list and sort it. There are different resume-building strategies (jobs vs. volunteering, chronological, etc), but I personally like to group my experiences by “type” since I am interested in a wide variety of fields and subjects. So, for example, my experiences in writing (paid and unpaid) go all in one place, broken down by whether it’s creative writing, copywriting, blogging, or research-based. I have a category for work I’ve done with kids and young people, and another category for public speaking.

These categories will help you clarify and structure your resume document. Experiment with some different ways of breaking down your list, and see what will work out for the best.

Check Out Some Examples  

Up until this point, you’ve essentially been accumulating a list. To bridge the gap between what you have and a useable CV, it’s a good idea to check out a couple of examples in your field (or fields). Check a couple of places for this—individual people’s websites often have them; professors sometimes post them on departmental websites; some businesses include these in employee bios.

Read over a couple of resumes to get a feel for how you should describe your past experiences. Should you write one sentence or one paragraph? What order should things go in? What kind of language is used?

Style and conventions vary enormously in different fields. Figure out what will make sense for you.

Write Descriptions

Your experiences should be explained in a clear, concise way that includes information both about the organization/context of your experience and your role or tasks specifically. If your experiences are focused in one specific field, you can assume your reader has a certain amount of field-specific knowledge.

However, if you have a wide variety of interests and experiences, make sure to give enough simple background information that even someone with no knowledge of the company or organization you worked for will have some idea of what you did and what that means for your personal development and career potential.

This part is hard. It’s also why it’s so important to think ahead on this stuff: you need to get this right.

Organize 

Use your categories and the examples you found to get your resume into a rational order. Make sure it makes sense. Use both categories and a chronology that will make sense.

Formatting and organizing should make it so no one feels confused while reading your resume. All key experience should be neatly presented and correctly sorted. Let me repeat: your resume should not be confusing. Whoever you’re handing it to, you want them to know exactly how to follow your document through your experiences.

While your “Master CV” might be long and complicated when compared to whatever you eventually turn over in an application, it is essential that you get everything nicely formatted and organized. Move things around. Re-write your category headings. Use clear job titles.

Always always always make sure your resume is clearly and easily readable.

Edit Everything, and Be Thorough

Once you’ve gotten everything written out and in order, revise it.

Ask for help. Read it through again. Take it to a campus career services office or to an advisor. Have a peer edit it for you. Ask for feedback. Edit again.

Add As You Go

A “Master CV” is an evolving document. Each new experience you have should be included in the list. Keep this in mind as you move through each semester: what new internship/job/volunteering/honors should I add? What responsibilities have changed within my existing commitments?

It’s a good idea to create a new document for each year. So you’d have a “Master CV-Sophomore Year” and an updated, longer document “Master CV-Junior Year” once the new school year rolls around. That way you can easily track your most recent version (and for anyone into tracking personal progress, it’s a nice marker of where you are each year).

Generally speaking, you shouldn’t delete much from your “Master CV.” If you know with 100% certainty you will never work with kids again, then go ahead and delete that summer as a nanny. If you know you’ll never work in food prep again, then get rid of the two semesters working in the campus cafeteria.

That being said, most experience can be used to demonstrate something about you. Even jobs you didn’t particularly like can serve as reference points for you as a leader; a good self-motivator; a committed team member; an innovative employee.

Mostly your list should grow longer with time. And as it does, you’ll have more to work with toward future applications.

Using Your “Master CV”

When you have the opportunity to apply for a position or to send a CV to someone in your network, open up your “Master CV” document and consider what will be most relevant and compelling to this particular audience. Copy and paste everything into a new document, and then start deleting. Let’s say this is a copywriting job, for example.

You can take away lifeguarding and babysitting (although there could be a good reason to leave in the lifeguarding—give it some thought before it goes), but be sure to leave in things like your work with student organization publicity and winning an undergraduate research award. Depending on the circumstance, it might make sense to move categories around or to add (or delete) some information from your descriptions.

Depending on your level of experience, you might send a resume that’s half the length of your “Master CV” document. If an opportunity comes out of left field, you might find yourself highlighting skills and experiences you never knew might be relevant before.

And, if done right, your “Master CV” will allow you to create a tailored resume document in a matter of minutes. The hard work has been done already.

A resume is about where you want to go as much as it is about where you’ve been. It explains how you’re qualified (or at least have some background in) whatever you hope to do next.

Your “Master CV” on the other hand, is about everything you’ve done. It’s a full list of all the options of how you can demonstrate your competency in the myriad of situations that will (hopefully) come your way.

 

So if you don’t currently have a “Master CV” document, sit down right away and start your list of experiences. Start thinking through where you’ve been and how that relates to where you want to go.