WHAT IS PLAIN TEXT (aka ASCII) AND WHY DO YOU NEED TO USE IT?
Let’s begin with the problem. Most resumes and cover letters are first produced using a program (like Microsoft Word) that make them look striking. You will see different sized text, bold facing, indentation, and other fancy work that make it stand out. To accomplish this, there is a lot of underlying computer formatting that you don’t see. This is not a problem if you send the resume as an attachment. However, if you try to copy and paste a formatted document into the body of an email, the computer software will translate your work into gibberish when it is received on the other end. Email programs recognize very little formatting. You have the same problem when you try to copy and paste your cover letter, resume, or other information into a company’s online website application. The company’s website application software, called by the general name Automatic Applicant Tracking Systems, may not recognize some of the formatting used for your material. The end result is that your application never gets through the system to the person who might want to hire you.
What do you do to get around this? You must strip your resume of most of its formatting. You need to get it into a very specific format known as plain text or ASCII. ASCII stands for American Standard Code for Information Interchange. It is pronounced asskey, but is also referred to as ASC2, since the final II looks like the Roman numeral II. ASCII is the platform upon which the more intricate formatting used in popular computer programs is built. It is therefore more universally recognized and can be read by a broad range of software.
The steps for changing a document with formatted text into plain text are very specific and too long to go through in a blog. I am providing a link here to the home page of the Applying for a Job Online LibGuide mentioned in an earlier posting. In the right column click on Handout 9 – Plain Text in Microsoft Word. It should come up if you have Microsoft Word 2003 or later on your computer. This will explain, step-by-step and screenshot by screenshot, how to change a Microsoft Word 2003 formatted resume into plain text. Feel free to print it out.
Note on Google Docs: Since I did this post, I have created another set of instructions for Google Docs. Just check out the same link I provided above, but look at Handout 10 – Plain Text in Google Docs. (vea/12 January 2012)
Good luck. Let me know how you make out.