Maybe you’ve spent hours making your resume eye-catching with special fonts, bull's-eye bullets and fancy borders -- but if a potential employer wants an unformatted resume, say goodbye to all that hard work. An unformatted resume is a plain text file, sometimes referred to as an ASCII text file. The content contains no tables, borders, images or special characters. Fonts are basic, and you highlight text by capitalizing words rather than making them bold, underlined or italicized. If a potential employer or recruiter asks you to submit an unformatted resume, first eliminate all special formats and then save your resume to your computer with a .txt extension.
Why It Matters
If you copy and paste the content of your resume or upload the file into an employer’s applicant tracking system, or ATS, formatting is likely to get removed or skewed when the ATS pulls your data for analysis. It won’t look pretty anymore and might not even be readable. If you send the document through email as an attachment, the formatting can look different from computer to computer, because the programming behind computer operating systems, word processing software, email applications and websites isn't universal or always compatible. Formatted documents are also prone to viruses, whereas plain text documents aren't.
Preparing an Unformatted Resume
Use standard fonts, such as Arial, Times New Roman or Courier, and keep them between 10 and 12 points in size. Align your text with left justification and use the space bar rather than tabs or first line indentation. Don't use columns, symbols or special characters. Dollar signs, or $, should work fine, but instead of a copyright or trademark symbol, © or ® respectively, use (C) or (R). Avoid bullets, because not all systems will read them the same way, and some will convert them to an ampersand, “&” -- try hyphens or asterisks instead. If you need to highlight section titles, type the title in all caps.
Long before human eyes see electronic resumes, an employment site’s ATS will run its content through automatic analysis, filtering for keywords. The ATS might look for words associated with skills, experience, traits, credentials or other qualifying characteristics. When responding to a specific job ad, tailor your resume to include acronyms, words and phrases in the posting -- as long as you can legitimately claim that they apply to you. Include as many keywords as you can in the first part of your resume to make sure the ATS finds them even if its programming just analyzes a specific word count.
Unformatted Resume vs. Resume Formats
An unformatted resume refers to the formatting of the text. A resume format refers to the layout. The two primary resume formats to consider include chronological and functional. A chronological resume focuses on work history and lists experience in reverse chronological order, starting with the current or most recent position. Jobs are listed by title and company, and responsibilities and accomplishments are linked to specific positions. A functional resume focuses on skills and qualifications. Jobs appear in the same order as for chronological resumes, but by job title, company and dates only, without direct links to responsibilities.
A careers content writer, Debra Kraft is a former English teacher whose 25-plus year corporate career includes training and mentoring. She holds a senior management position with a global automotive supplier and is a senior member of the American Society for Quality. Her areas of expertise include quality auditing, corporate compliance, Lean, ERP and IT business analysis.