Guide to Plain Text Resumes

Three common resume file types you will see employers request are Word, PDF, and plain text or ASCII. We discuss the basics of each of these in a previous post, however the plain text file requires a few extra steps beyond a simple “Save As.”

Pros and Cons of Plain Text Resumes

When you transform your Word or PDF resume into a plain text file, it loses all of the formatting/design elements and is stripped down to one font style and size. You can add a little design with extra spacing, all caps, and/or the symbols found on your keyboard, otherwise it’s clear why this type of resume is called plain text. While this isn’t a very visually attractive file, there are many reasons why employers request it: small file size, compatibility with various word processors and applicant tracking systems, and it’s easy to copy/paste or attach to an email.

How to create a plain text (.txt) resume file

Open your resume in Word or other program you may have. If using Word, go to File – Save As and select Plain Text from the drop down menu. You will then have a .txt file of your resume, which will open in Notepad.

Plain Text Resume 1.1

Another way to create your .txt file is to open the resume and use Ctrl+A to select all content and Ctrl+C to copy all content. Next, open Notepad and use Ctrl+V to paste your content in as plain text.

Here is the Word version of a resume:

Plain Text Resume 2

And here is the same resume copied/pasted into Notepad and saved as a .txt file. Be sure “Word Wrap” is selected (found under Format) to ensure your content fits within the Notepad window.

Plain Text Resume 3

As you can see, a little more work needs to be done to clean up the file and make the presentation as clear as possible. Add spacing between sections and replace special characters with common characters (remember, only use what is available on your keyboard):

Plain Text Resume 4

It’s far from pretty, but having a plain text version of your resume on hand and ready to go will save you a lot of time in your job search. Don’t create a plain text version until you have finalized your Word or PDF version. Plain text files are difficult to proofread and edit, so make this transformation your last step.

Word, PDF, and Plain Text Resumes

Which Format is Best?

With so much of the application process taking place online these days, job seekers are finding themselves needing more than just a Word version of their resume. While some employers prefer a Word document, others may request a PDF or plain text file, attached or copied/pasted into an email or uploaded to their database. A good way to save time and frustration is to have each of these formats ready to go so you can apply regardless of an employer’s technical requirements. Below is a guide to the three most commonly requested formats and how to create them.

Word Documents (.doc or .docx)

What it is: A file created in Microsoft Word (.doc), with the latest version being Word 2010 (.docx). If you are using Word 2010, make sure to save both a .doc (compatible with Word 97–2009) and .docx to cater to a variety of end users. The .docx version also translates well for Mac software.

When to use it: Uploading to job boards, making updates/edits, and emailing as an attachment as requested by employers (note that PDFs are best for emailing).

Pros: Widely accepted/requested and editable if you need to make revisions.

Cons: The format can be distorted when uploaded to job boards or opened in a program other than Microsoft Word.

Portable Document Format (.pdf)

What it is: A fixed-layout file that accurately represents a document regardless of the software or operating system being used to view it. A PDF document cannot be edited without specific Adobe software. To create a PDF out of your Word document, open your resume in Word and go to File – Save As – Save As Type – PDF.

When to use it: Emailing your resume directly to employers as an attachment or sharing your resume with those who use a different word processing program. For example, if you create your resume in Word and your recipient only has iWork Pages, email them a PDF to ensure your formatting and content will not be distorted.

Pros: The format stays true regardless of the end user’s operating system.

Cons: PDFs are large files and while most job boards will accept a PDF, your resume will be stripped of its formatting upon upload.

Plain Text (.txt)

What it is: Simple text document that does not use formatting specific to any particular application, and is therefore universally compatible. To create a plain text resume, open your resume in Word and go to File – Save As – Save As Type – Plain Text. Open your plain text resume in Note Pad and make the necessary spacing adjustments: left justify all content, replace bullets and symbols with asterisks (*) or hyphens (-), and use hard returns to add space in between sections.

When to use it: Uploading to job boards with limited ability to translate Word formatting or copying/pasting your resume into a website’s text box. Some employers may request this format specifically or ask you to send it in the body of an email to avoid issues with attachments.

Pros: Uploads correctly to job boards and pastes easily into website forms and emails.

Cons: Extremely basic format and visually unappealing.