What Exactly is Plain Text/ASCII

August 31, 2011

Formatted and Plain Text Versions


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.

vea/31 August 2011
Newton Free Library
Newton, Mass.
Applying for Job LibGuide


Why is it so hard to apply for a job through a company’s website?

April 16, 2010

This is a question I have been getting quite a bit lately and I decided to do some research.  It comes down to the fact that companies are adopting software known by the generic name “Applicant Tracking Systems” or ATS.  Companies simply do not have the manpower to go through all the job applications they are receiving.   This, naturally, complicates the life of the job applicant.

Whether you are copying and pasting requested information or your entire resume into a site, the formatting used in your original documents may be incompatible with the company’s software.  Then you don’t even make it to first base when you send off your information.  If you are having this problem and need to strip your documents/resume of formatting, click on the tab above labeled Plain Text ASCII.  This explains what plain text is, why we use it, and how to create a plain text copy of your work.

I have found two articles that give additional  tips in dealing with ATS.  Just click on the titles if you would like to look at them.  The first is “The Automated Applicant Tracking System – AKA: The Resume Black Hole” by Samantha Greenfield from the Northern Virginia Daily.  “Pass the Applicant Tracking Systems by Tweaking Your Resume” from the blog Browse Local Jobs is the second.

If this helps or you have suggestions based on your own job search, could you leave a comment below?  You could save other people a certain amount of  frustration in dealing with this entire process.  Thank you and good luck.