Why You Need a Plain Text Resume to Apply for Jobs Online

by Xin Lu on 22 August 2009 17 comments

There are countless products out there that help job seekers format and lay out resumes to look beautiful and readable on paper. I believe that the appearance of a resume is definitely important, but I think on the internet the best and most useful formatting for a resume is plain text. Here are some reasons why you need a plain text resume if you are applying for jobs online.

1. Some companies want your resume only in plain text.
For security reasons, some companies do not accept email attachments from outside of their networks. One company I worked for in the past specifically asked for resumes in plain text, and did not even open the Microsoft Word or PDF attachments even if they have been virus scanned. Their reasoning was that the candidate did not follow directions on the job description if the resume was not in plain text. In that case all the candidates that spent hours formatting their resumes really wasted their time because their emails went straight to the trash.

2. A plain text resume can be quickly read and forwarded in email.
If you are sending your resume by email, then the quickest way for someone to see your experience is to read the resume in the body of the email. It will reach the reader immediately and save him or her the step of opening another file. Some human resource professionals read dozens to hundreds of emails a day, and having your resume right in their face in the email will give you an advantage because you are saving them time.

3. Your formatted resume may not appear as you intended. When you use a program like Microsoft Word to create your resume, you cannot really guarantee that your resume will look the same on another person's computer. I have seen resumes created in Word that looked pretty weird because the candidate used some fancy font my computer did not have. Creating PDF documents alleviates this issue, but you cannot guarantee that the person on the other end can open PDF documents created on your computer. If you use plain text you could at least make sure that your resume is readable through emai.

4. Online job applications websites prefer plain text. Most large companies have online job application systems that collect information from candidates with a web form and obviously it would take hours to type your information in from scratch. It is much easier to copy and paste into these forms if your resume is already in plain text. Otherwise you may get weird characters, spacing, and punctuation issues if you copy from some fancier word processing program. 

Send your resume out in plain text unless the job description specifies that you can use another particular file type. You cannot assume that everyone in the world has Word or PDF programs installed on their computers, and making your digital resume overly fancy may cause you to miss some opportunities. Your goal is to catch the attention of a hiring manager and give information about your expertise through a resume, and if it takes more than 30 seconds to actually open your file you might have already lost your chance. A plain text resume is really simple and direct and cuts right to the substance, and I have found that it was the most effective resume formatting for my job searches in the past. My next post will be a simple guide to creating a plain text resume.

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Guest's picture

It depends... Recruiters prefer resumes in Word. They often remove the contact information for the applicant from the resume and substitute their own. Why? They don't want the employer going around them and contacting the applicant directly.

Have you ever seen what a large piece of forwarded text looks like? Not sure that would represent me in the best way.

Guest's picture
Karen

You need both. A text formatted resume may be necessary to apply for jobs online, or to send by email. A lot of HR departments screen resumes with keyword searches, and text is better for that. However, a Word or PDF resume will give a better impression. You can make your most important achievements stand out, and it's just easier to read a resume that's nicely formatted. Most places still want a resume in Word format, especially if you make it through the initial screening and they want you to come in for an interview.

Either way, you should make sure your resume works on many different computers. Don't use unusual fonts or non-standard formatting. Check your resume on other computers. Go to someplace like Kinkos and see how it looks on a bare bones computer with a standard operating system. Send it to a friend via email and see how it comes out.

And unfortunately, if you go through a headhunter, they may completely screw up your formatting when they put their name and contact info on the top of your resume. After seeing my carefully formatted resume completely butchered by a headhunter, I now ask my headhunter to put his info on the top and then let me fix it so it looks OK. After all, he wants me to look my best so I can get the job (and he can get the commission).

Guest's picture
Kevinsky

#2 can be applied to many types of documents. I've had clients send me a list of 5 or 6 instructions as an attached Docx file - now I have to open it in OpenOffice since you can't open it in older versions of word, and copy and paste the text into something else, and I have an email with an attachment taking up too much space in my inbox.
And I hate attachments.

It's surprising how some people can't grasp the concept of just putting the text right into the email, even when you explain it

Guest's picture
katie

DO you *want* to work for a company that doesn't use Office or Acrobat Reader? I don't! But I agree you need a plain text resume in case someone does not want to download your attachment.

Guest's picture
Stephane

Yes I want :) An open-minded company that not blindy use poor products just because others do it. A company that not throws their money to buy overpriced licences for tools just to create documents with some words in bold and italics... Yes I want ;)

Paul Van Lierop's picture

I have to say that even though I work for a Fortune 100 company that makes much of the software you probably use our system requires a text input for applications.  So many times I've seen candidates cut and paste their Word docs or other formats into the text box and you get a garbled mess.  Just don't give anyone an excuse to pass you over, with hundreds to thousands of candidates these days you need to put your best foot forward every where.

Guest's picture
BT

At my last job, I would help out our recruiter by 'harvesting' resumes for her off Monster. Resume text was either copied/pasted off the site, or downloaded (if a file was provided) and then imported into a fairly well-known recruiting software system.

The import *tried* to recognize the general info on a resume and would look for addresses and education to automatically put those things in the appropriate places within the software - but it was horrible no matter what type of file it was (names ended up in the phone number field, education under last employer, etc)!

In my experience, keeping updated copies of your resume(s) in EVERY format (Word, PDF, Plain Text, etc) is the best option. I love that Open Office can save in nearly any format imaginable. Use Plain Text when you have to paste your resume into an application...and use Word or PDF when applying via email.

You never know who is 'harvesting' your info out there anyway, but for those that you're voluntarily submitting your resume to - may as well make it easy for them to access.

Guest's picture
Matt

Just wanted to thank you and appreciate the tips. Been applying for a plumbing apprenticeship online and in person but haven't had much luck.

Carlos Portocarrero's picture

I agree that you should at least do both. If everyone else submits a resume in Word and yours comes in in Notepad, then you're going to look like a total noob.

Not a good thing. Sending both sends a different message. It says, "I know what I'm doing and here's why I'm sending two versions." It makes you come across as knowledgable and as thinking ahead.

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Guest's picture

I have some other resume tips and ideas on my site, plus a job search. Click my name to get to the site and hope you find the information helpful.

Guest's picture
Guest

- Remember all text isn't the same. Text made with Microsoft products use a carriage return (CR) and line feed (LF) as the "end of line" marker (called "newline"). Text made on Unix/Linux/BSD systems use only the line feed (LF) as the "end of line" marker. All text isn't the same.
- As a rule of thumb, the more sophisticated operating systems (Unix/Linux/BSD) can handle the Microsoft aberration, as well as their own standard.
- So, if you have a choice, specify the CR/LF as the end of line marker.
- I know this annoys the Unix/Linux/BSD people (I'm one). I (grudgingly) accept that getting a resume read is more important that a small victory in the OS wars. The exception being, when I want a Linux related position, of course.
- In my experience, most HR people are not highly skilled computer users. They rarely know that Wordpad can open a Unix/Linux/BSD text document correctly. (Notepad can't) Unfortunately, if HR can't open the text document and see it correctly, they assume the sender is wrong (not their own lack of education or computer skills).

Guest's picture
Mel

Many eons ago (at least by Internet standards) I worked for a company that handled resume processing for large companies, and I mean paper resumes. At this time (and we're talking 1999) companies still placed ads in newspapers and included mailing addresses, a lot of those addresses came to us. We scanned the resumes, quality checked the OCR, and dumped all of that into a searchable database for recruiters and hiring managers to work from. But we also handled the online portions - again remember, this was 1999 - and people would regularly just copy and paste from Word into the online submission forms. What a mess that would make.

It's really not hard to have both, and when I send mine out if the posting doesn't specify a format I attach a Word format (saved in an OLD Word format to hopefully keep it readable by the widest audience) *and* include the plain text in the email itself, explaining in the cover letter that I do both to make sure they can read it. Never had any complaints, gotten a few phone calls back, so I guess it's working out that way.

Guest's picture

What's up Dear, are you genuinely visiting this website daily, if so then you will without doubt obtain nice know-how.

Guest's picture
Guest

So, plain text = notepad, or = typed into the e-mail body?

Guest's picture
Dele

Considering this problem, I thought of a more pleasing and professional solution.

Attach the formatted resume to google docs, make it publicly avaliable and send the link with your email body and/or cover letter.

Here's a sample of mine: http://www.bit.ly/dele_resusme

Guest's picture
Dele

Ouch...the correct link is: http://www.bit.ly/dele_resume

Guest's picture
James

I have also encounter a company who wants to have my resume as my email content not attachment. and i know this because they have included an instruction on the ad they posted so i guess it is important to read Job AD instructions, know the company before sending your resume.