How To Create A Plain Text Resume (With Examples)

By Chris Kolmar - Jan. 20, 2021

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You’re getting ready to land a new job. It could be your first job out of college, or you could be a seasoned professional who is just looking for a career change. It doesn’t matter why you want a new job. The critical takeaway is that you need a great resume and a plain text resume in today’s job environment.

If you haven’t heard this advice before, it’s crucial that you keep on reading. Not having a plain text resume could be the difference between you getting that dream job or being completely ignored for the position.

You could be the best person for the job and would be an excellent asset to the company, no doubt about it. The problem is if you don’t have a plain text resume, they might not even know you’re applying.

It’s terrifying, and it’s the reality of the job market today.

A Plain Text (ASCII) Resume

So, what is a plain text resume? You’ll often hear these resumes called ASCII (pronounced: ASS-kee). ASCII stands for American Standard Code for Information Interchange.

It sounds confusing, but don’t worry, you already know ASCII, and it’s not difficult at all. In fact, it’s about as easy as it gets.

This code was developed in the 1960s, and it’s comprised of the numbers 0 through 9, the alphabet, and then a few other symbols and punctuation marks that are commonly used.

So, an ASCII resume is a professional resume that uses just these basic elements. That means no fancy graphic designs, no funky characters, icons, or emojis. It’s just a straight-up, typed resume that looks incredibly uninteresting.

In addition to using ASCII characters and nothing else, you’ll need to save your resume in plain text.

If you’re using Microsoft Word, it couldn’t be easier. Select Save As option from the file menu and select either “plain text” or “txt” option or the “notepad” option. Then close your document and reopen the new plain text version. You’ll need to do a little cleanup, but we’ll discuss that later.

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Why Do You Need a Plain Text Resume?

If you’re thinking that having a plain, boring resume with only ASCII characters sounds like the exact opposite of the resume writing information you’ve been told for the last decade or so. Yes, that’s true.

You’ve always been told to create a resume that stands out, that catches the eye of hiring managers and gets noticed. You may have even spent quite a lot of money hiring someone to make your resume look amazing. That’s okay because we strongly suggest you have an eye-catching resume, too.

You’re going to need an ASCII resume because many employers and hiring agencies ask you to submit resumes online. Those resumes don’t go directly to the inbox of the hiring manager. Instead, they go into a program called an applicant tracking system.

Applicant tracking systems (ATS) are computer programs that scan the hundreds and sometimes even thousands of resumes that an online job posting can get. They instantly weed out the bad candidates and focus on the ones who have the right qualifications.

The catch is that they typically can only read ASCII data. This means you’re essentially making an ATS resume when you make a plain text ASCII resume. This is the primary reason you want to avoid formatting and graphics that can obliterate your resume’s content.

Think about it; if you’re not using a plain text resume, an ATS may fail to read and process your resume (meaning it’ll never get in front of a human reader).

The second reason, which is still essential but much less so than the one above, is that some companies want resumes to look uniform. It’s also easier for human eyes to review many resumes that look similar, rather than trying to search for where Jim put his qualifications and then where Susie has hers on her resume.

Preparing a Perfect Plain Text Resume

Now that you understand the importance of having a plain text, ASCII resume, you’re probably wondering how to write your resume. The tips below will help you craft a fantastic, stand-out resume.

The wording can be the same as your formatted resume, which will help you save some time. But the way you write your resume for an applicant tracking system needs to have the following considerations:

  • Best resume content. Don’t slouch when it comes to writing a great resume. Make sure you highlight your accomplishments, your qualifications, your education, and job history in the best way possible. You still need to come across as the best candidate for the job.

  • Use keywords. If you’re applying with a scatter-shot philosophy, then you might not be able to tailor every resume. But if you really want a job or you can narrow down your focus, you can work those keywords into your resume.

    In a perfect world, let’s say that you see your dream job as a window dresser at a big box store. You certainly better include the words window dresser in your resume. You’ll also want to include secondary keywords that mean the same thing.

    Getting clever and calling yourself a Front Display Artist might sound cute and creative, but your resume will be discarded if it doesn’t have the keyword window dresser that the hiring agent is looking for.

  • Organize and write your resume. You’re at the point where you’re going first to make your resume in a word document. Whether you use a resume template or just create your own outline, you’ll want to put your information in reverse chronological order.

    Highlight the relevant data and work to make it sound appealing through your word choices.

  • Proofread. Make sure you proofread your resume several times and then have someone else review it, too. Try to avoid all common resume mistakes.

  • Save as plain text. At this point, you have a resume in a word document; you want to save it as a plain text, a .txt, or in the notepad option. This will give you a strange-looking resume, but that’s plain text.

  • Edit. Go through your resume and take out graphics, characters that don’t translate, and any odd text that remains. You can’t use bullets in ASCII, but you can use hyphens or an asterisk to create the appearance of bullet points.

  • Font. You can’t control the font because it will be translated to the recipient’s computer preference.

  • Margins. Set the right margin at 65 or 6.5-inches. The left should automatically justify.

  • Use the space bar. Line spacing is tricky because tabs don’t always translate well into plain text. Use your space bar to indent instead.

  • All CAPS. Because bold and italics don’t come through, use all caps for your category headings to set them apart and create visual breaks.

Other Resumes

One useful thing is to remember to use your plain text resume when you sign up for job services or are asked to fill out a company’s job application online by using a resume. It’s so handy and will save you so much time in the long run.

If the company gives you a place to include attachments to your application, this is where you can have another resume that looks dazzling. Whether you’re using a word or a PDF resume, you can attach it here, and then the data will translate, and they’ll get to see all the work you put into making it look great.

Cover Letters and Resumes

Obviously, in addition to creating a resume (or two) for your job application, you’re going to want to create a great cover letter. The temptation might be to create a plain text ASCII cover letter to match your resume. Resist this urge.

The sad fact is that most cover letters are glanced at, and that’s about it. While they don’t hold the importance they should, especially considering the importance you put into writing one, they’re still crucial.

As we said, your cover letter will be glanced at, remember this. That means human eyes will see it. Not an ATS, like your resume.

Once you see how boring and ugly your ASCII resume looks, then you’ll see why you want to make your cover letter a bit more attractive and distinctive. A plain text cover letter is so bland looking, it might just land you in the reject pile.

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Chris Kolmar


Chris Kolmar

Chris Kolmar is a co-founder of Zippia and the editor-in-chief of the Zippia career advice blog. He has hired over 50 people in his career, been hired five times, and wants to help you land your next job. His research has been featured on the New York Times, Thrillist, VOX, The Atlantic, and a host of local news. More recently, he's been quoted on USA Today, BusinessInsider, and CNBC.

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