No, PLEASE Don’t Submit a Plain Text Resume to Job Postings

Jan 14, 2022 | Resumes

A title graphic featuring the blog's title: "No, You Don't Need a Plain Text Resume"

We break down why submitting a plain text resume is almost always a terrible idea.

By: Grace Mitchell | Contributor for Let’s Eat, Grandma

Back in 1999, a program called Taleo entered the hiring scene, giving overwhelmed recruiters the ability to sort and search candidates in order to find the best fit more quickly and efficiently. Since then, the use of Applicant Tracking Systems has increased dramatically across all job classes, and companies can now choose from hundreds of different systems to meet their hiring needs.

With the rise of this new technology, advice for job seekers has also changed. Unfortunately, there’s one outdated piece of advice that’s still pervasive on websites intended to help job seekers, even though it’s terrible.

Do NOT submit a plain text resume to a job posting.

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Job seeker, you deserve better than a plain text resume. Your recruiter deserves better than a plain text resume. Your hiring manager, especially, doesn’t want to read a plain text resume.

So please do everyone a favor and submit your resume as a PDF or Word document.

What is a Plain Text Resume?

person in mask on computer. Photo by Paul Hanaoka on Unsplash

Just say no to a plain text resume. Photo by Paul Hanaoka on Unsplash

A plain text resume is a resume formatted as a .txt or .rtf document, instead of the familiar .pdf or .docx that most online documents are saved as. It’s exactly what it sounds like: a resume written in plain text without formatting, color, or pizzazz of any sort.

Because reputable job search websites mention that an ATS “reads” resumes as plain text, some well-meaning but misguided folks have jumped to the conclusion that plain text is therefore the best file format to use for your resume.

However, this is bad advice that hurts job seekers’ chances of landing the jobs they want.

Why Plain Text Resumes Are a Bad Idea

Design is important because a human will still read your resume.

Even if you’re not applying for a traditionally creative field, you can still use design to your advantage, reflecting your personal brand and making a positive impression on your recruiter.

It’s human nature to want to spend more time looking at something that we find visually pleasing, whether it’s a Monet or a resume.

Very few people enjoy looking at plain text more than they enjoy a well-formatted PDF or Word document, which means it’s in your best interest to include even basic design elements (even if you happen to be one of those rare plain text lovers).

Elements like color (two max–don’t go wild here!), a nicely formatted header, bullet points, and proper line spacing improve your resume’s readability and help recruiters get a better picture of who you are.

It’s more difficult and boring to try to quickly scan through an unformatted lump of text.

Make the recruiter’s life easier, and they’ll be more likely to hire you.

Recruiters can still see your resume as an attachment in their ATS.

woman looking at plain text resume on computer.  Photo by LinkedIn Sales Solutions on Unsplash

Even if a recruiter uses an ATS to find suitable candidates, they will most likely also look at your resume file. Photo by LinkedIn Sales Solutions on Unsplash

Even if a recruiter is viewing resumes exclusively through an ATS, they’re still able to see your resume’s formatting.

You may have heard that Word or PDF documents may not get parsed correctly through an ATS. First, that’s wrong – writing an ATS-compliant Word or PDF resume isn’t hard. Just use our simple checklist to avoid charts, graphics, and other elements that can cause problems for ATS.

Second, it’s important to remember that if your document gets parsed incorrectly, it might not come up in searches the recruiter makes for certain keywords. However, this  doesn’t mean your resume will be invisible to the recruiter. In most cases, the recruiter viewing your file can, and will, simply click to view your resume as an attachment. And when they do, you want them to see a well-formatted design, not an ugly plain text resume.

PDF and Word documents are easier to open and make notes on.

Maybe you’re the exception, but most people can’t easily open .txt or .rtf files. Best case scenario: They get confused when the Notepad app on their computer opens on clicking your resume, then frustrated that you made them switch programs.

If opening your resume or making notes on it is more difficult than usual for your recruiter, they may just … not open it or make notes on it. Remember that the rise of ATS was due in large part to overwhelmed recruiters receiving more applications than they knew what to do with. Giving your already overworked recruiter extra work isn’t a very promising job seeking strategy.

Very few job descriptions ask for plain text.

Here’s the one caveat: Always, always always follow the instructions in the job posting. If the instructions tell you to submit in plain text, we recommend you follow them.

However, we’re also willing to bet that 99% of job descriptions don’t ask for plain text submissions, in large part because they’re boring and awful to read.

But What About Job Boards?

One of the biggest origins of the plain text resume superiority myth is that some job board websites used to parse Word documents incorrectly.

The key word here, though, is “used to,” as much of this advice seems to only be as recent as 2009. Technology has come a long way since then, and job board sites have advanced along with it. Unfortunately, online job hunting advice doesn’t always move as quickly.
(Lucky for you, Let’s Eat, Grandma only uses reputable job hunting sources, so you can trust the information you find in this blog!)

The Bottom Line: Skip the Plain Text

Job seeker, this formatting choice won’t help you move toward the next job you love. Give your resume the design elements it deserves to showcase the unique contributions you can make to the workplace.

It’s 2022! Let’s leave plain text resumes in the early 2000s where they belong.

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