How to Create a ASCII or Plain Text Resume - and When to Use It

Have you ever been asked to submit an ASCII or plain text resume for an onine job application? It’s a resume that’s been stripped of most formatting in order to be scanned by an applicant tracking system. An ASCII or plain text resume is an electronic resume in plain text that any type of computer or software can read.  

Forget those lovely Pinterest worthy resume layouts. An ASCII resume is just plain ugly. But it gets your job history, skills and experience past the bots and gets the job done. 

ASCII (pronounced "askee") is an acronym for American Standard Code for Information Interchange.  ASCII text is used for entering (or pasting) your resume information into online submission forms and for pasting your resume into the body of an e-mail.

Due to the sheer volume of applications that are submitted to online job applications, most companies use a computer system called ATS - Applicant Tracking system - to scan resumes looking for keywords that match the job description. Converting your resume to ASCII before pasting it into an online job application form ensures it will display properly and be read correctly by the system. Fancy formatting, graphics, columns, unusual fonts and bullets may not be read correctly by the ATS - or even read at all.  Your resume may be rejected before even reaching the hiring manager. 

How to Create an ASCII or Plain Text Resume

The Simple Way:

On a Mac or some PCs, you can simply export your word or pages document to a plain text version. Here’s the easy way. 

1. Make a copy of your resume and paste it into a separate document. 

2. Click on Export or Save As and click the plain text option. This will strip your resume of all formatting. Again, it’s going to look UGLY. But it works.  

3. Proofread the resume. Some words may have run together.  Capitalize any words that may have changed. Fix errors but do not add formatting.

4.  Add spaces between sections to make it more readable. You can use rows of hyphens ————- or equal marks =========== to simulate borders and separate sections. Asteriks can serve as bullets. 

5.  Click Save and name the version Yourname plain text resume.

That’s the easy way.
If that doesn’t work, here’s the do it yourself version. 

Here’s the long version, the not so simple steps,  to create a plain text version of your resume.

  1. Open your document in your word processing application (e.g., MS Word)

  2. Be sure your margins are set no smaller than one inch.

  3. Change all font to 12-point size text and eliminate any formatting (e.g., bold, italics, underlining, etc.)

  4. Convert to non-proportional font, such as Courier or Monaco.

  5. Remove all graphics.

  6. Replace all non-ASCII characters (e.g., bullets, em dashes, en dashes, or (in MS Word) smart quotes) with ASCII characters such as asterisks, hyphens, and standard quotation marks. (It may be easier to do this using the search and replace editing feature within your word processor).

  7. Avoid capital letters except in main headings.

  8. Left justify all text; this may include moving some text to the left margin by replacing tab stops with spaces.

  9. Save this version as "Text Only" or "Plain Text" with **no** line breaks. (Mac users: after saving as plain text, select "other encoding" then "Western (ASCII)".)

  10. Open this new file with a plain text editor such as Notepad or Text Edit. (Mac users: go to Preferences and be sure "plain text" is selected.) This will display your resume as it will be seen in ASCII format.

  11. Proofread your new ASCII resume carefully as some text may run together. Also, check for (and replace) any remaining non-ASCII characters that appear as question marks, square blocks, or other odd characters.

What’s the most important feature of your resume? The actual content.

Remember that the most important part of your resume is the actual content - the words. The computer (and hiring manager) are looking for the words that relevant to the job description and your skills and experience. These are those all important keywords.

This content is the meat of your resume - what’s going to help you land that all important interview. Make sure your tailor each resume for each job application, using key words listed in the job description. Use action verbs that show your successes and accomplishments. 

It’s true. A plain text or ASCII resume is just plain ugly. But it helps you slip through the Applicant Tracking System so your skills and experience can shine through, giving the hiring manager that information he or she needs to call you in for an interview - and hopefully, offer you the job. 

Good luck out there!

Anita Flowers, MA, BCC

Anita Flowers, MA, BCC

Anita Flowers is a Board Certified career and life coach and resume specialist at Blue Sage Career Strategies. A little different than most life coaches, Anita’s background in clinical psychology and years of experience as a counselor gives her a rich understanding of human development and family dynamics. Her work history includes 13 years working with an international business company and 14 years doing individual and family counseling as well as career counseling. This blend of counseling and business experience gives Anita a unique perspective on the world of work and life. Anita works with people literally all over the world to help them discover a life and career they love. Contact Anita here to get started on your new career and life!