What the heck is a plain text resume and when should I use it?

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Have you ever had the frustrating experience of trying to paste your resume text into an online application form only to have the system mess up your text by removing all of your carefully executed bolding, centering, italics, etc.? Fortunately there is a way to avoid this problem.

The solution is to create your resume in plain text (ASCII) format. Plain text is a simple text format that does not use formatting specific to any one application so text saved in a plain text document can be used on any platform or software the recipient uses.

This means that when you copy/paste your plain text resume into an online application system or email message, the recipient will be able to read it without formatting problems. Plain text also allows email recipients to control the format of your email message in their email reader using the type size and font they prefer.

But here’s the tricky part: Plain text limits what you can do to make your resume stand out. For example, you can’t bold, italicize or underline type. You can’t use bullets or wrap type from one line to the next. You can’t include images, colors or different kinds or sizes of fonts. You can’t even center your type … at least not in the usual way.

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Plain text resume example

 So what CAN you do with plain text type?

The good news is you can make your plain text resume stand out by employing simple, but different techniques than you probably use now.

To create a plain text resume, open Word and then save the document as Plain Text (found under “Other Formats”). The good part about working in Word in Plain Text format is that each time you save the document, it will ask you if want to save it as plain text document. When you say yes, it will format the document in plain text so you can see if it will look all right or not. If it doesn’t look right, adjust your line length (or whatever) and save it again. Once you have closed the document, it converts the file to an editable Notepad document and all future changes can be made in Notepad.


Plain text tips  
  • Keep line length to 80 characters or less
  • Use hard returns (don’t wrap text)
  • Use a fixed-width font, which ensures each character takes up the exact same amount of space. Popular fixed-width fonts include Consolas, Courier, DejaVu Sans Mono, Letter Gothic, Lucida Console, Monaco, and Prestige Elite
  • Use spaces to line up your text (not tabs)
  • Keep all text left justified or use your space bar to center select information (such as category headings).
  • Use all capital letters (sparingly) for headings
  • Use a row of equal signs (====) or hyphens (----) to create a line between resume sections
  • Use asterisks (*), hyphens (-) or plus signs (+) as bullets. Note: Typically you can use any character or symbol on your computer keyboard in you plain text documents so exclamation points, the “@” sign, the “#” sign, etc., are all usable either as text or as design elements.
  • Use two hyphens (--) instead of a long dash or em-dash

Benefits of plain text resumes and email messages

Web addresses (including your LinkedIn profile address) are clickable in plain text documents so recipients can visit your web site or LinkedIn public profile directly from your plain text resume. Your email address is also clickable and will open to a new email message with the “To” line pre-populated with your email address. Recipients can also read your plain text email messages on their mobile devices, even if they have visual disabilities or use a text-to-speech converter.

Additionally, plain text email messages are a much smaller file size than rich text (HTML) emails so they can be delivered and downloaded faster. They are also virus-free so they almost never get caught in a recipient’s spam folder.

Final thoughts

A plain text resume can help you speed up the process of applying for jobs through maddeningly difficult online applications forms … and for that reason alone, you may want to get cracking on a plain text version of your resume right now! Just don’t delete your regular resume … you may still prefer to present the nicer looking version of your resume when you go on interviews.

What tips do you have about plain text resumes or what trials have you experienced setting one up? Share your secrets or questions on the Get a Job Tips blog or on a LinkedIn discussion board that may have brought you to this article. Thanks for reading and let me know if I can be of help to you. Invite me to connect on LinkedIn and feel free to ask questions. I want to help youGet a Job! -- Kathy

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3 comments:

  1. Thank you for this information. Exactly what I needed. My first online application attempt was a disaster, and I quickly saw that I needed to use a Plain Text format for an uploaded resume. Your tips are so useful! Most appreciated.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I never knew about this! super helpful!

    ReplyDelete

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