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Home > Blog: Resumes > Plain Text Resumes: How to Make Them a Little Less Ugly

Plain Text Resumes: How to Make Them a Little Less Ugly

plain text resumes stink, but you still need oneAt some point in your job hunt, you'll probably be asked to submit a resume as plain text (aka, just text or ASCII text). When this happens, you'll have to convert your handsome, professional-looking resume into a bare-bones document with no formatting. Just line after line of ugly, typewriter-ish text. Bleh.

Although a text resume can't have any bling, with a little keyboard creativity, you can at least give it some zing.

Why would anyone ask for a plain text resume, when a formatted resume is so much more attractive and easier to read? Blame technology. Many larger companies scan resumes into a database for sorting and storage, and scanners don't like formatting.

Some organizations also prohibit opening email attachments for fear of viruses; they want plain text in the body of the email. And posting your resume on an online job board usually requires plain text.

Making a resume look good in plain text is challenging, but not impossible. Some mild creativity with your keyboard can make your text resume more attractive and more readable, without creating problems on the recipient's end.

Formatting You CANNOT Use in a Plain Text Document:

  • NO text effects such as bold, italics, underlining, centering, etc.
  • NO special characters or bullets (you can't use the Ctrl or Alt key, or the Apple key on a Mac).
  • NO tabbed indents (don't use the Tab key at all).
  • NO lines more than about six inches long (that's about 60 characters, in 10-pt type) — use the Enter key to create line breaks where necessary.

Formatting You CAN Use in a Plain Text Document:

  • Any basic keyboard character — letter, number, symbol, or punctuation mark — in upper or lower case.
  • Line breaks to create spacing (hit the Enter key two or more times).
  • Rows of one character to create a "line" (===== or ~~~~~)
  • Bullet substitutes such as plus signs (+), asterisks (*), or hyphens (-) combined with spacebar indenting.

Here is an excerpt from a plain text resume as it might normally appear:


Pat Jobseeker 123 Main Street Yourtown, ST 12345 (555) 444-3333
Summary of Qualifications
More than 3 years supervisory experience leading teams of up to 12 retail associates Consistent record of 7 to 8% sales growth in each of the past 5 quarters
Earned top regional sales award for 2006 and 2007
Work History
Sept 2004 - Present
Retail Supervisor
Germani's Emporium, Yourtown, ST
Spearheaded team-based sales initiative in upscale men's clothing store that produced unprecedented quarterly revenue increases

Not so readable, eh? Below is the same plain text resume with some keyboard-created "zing." All I did was enter line breaks to separate the sections; add rows of squiggles (~) and all CAPS to draw attention to the headings; and type asterisks (*) followed by two spaces to simulate bullets. For two-line bullet items, I inserted a line break at the end of Line 1, and hit the spacebar three times to indent the second line.


Pat Jobseeker
123 Main Street
Yourtown, ST 12345 
(555) 444-3333


*  Retail sales professional with more than 3 years of supervisory
    experience hiring, training, and leading up to 20 associates
*  Consistent record of 7 to 8% sales growth for past 5 quarters


Sept 2004 - Present
Germani's Emporium, Yourtown, ST

*  Spearheaded team-based sales initiative in upscale men's clothing
   store that produced unprecedented quarterly revenue increases

Not breathtaking, but certainly better. Are you wondering HOW to convert your resume into plain text? It's easy.

Pongo Resume Members: Open the resume in your Pongo account, click Download, and choose the Download as Text option. (Your text resume will already be optimized for readability.)

From MS Word: Open your resume in Word, then select Save As and choose Plain Text from the Save as Type dropdown. (Then add your keyboard-based formatting.)

All in all, a plain text resume may not be as gorgeous as its professionally designed and nicely formatted counterparts, but it can still do the trick. And when it wins you an interview, be sure to bring along paper copies of the nice version to hand out!

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