Do Resume Distribution Formats Really Matter?

In the past before the internet and email, sending a resume for a job opening was quite standard. You would simply make a copy of your printed resume and place it in a stamped addressed envelope along with a cover letter and drop it in a mail box. This was simple and direct but time consuming and had it’s pros and cons. Since it was time consuming it kept the non-qualified applicants from flooding company mailboxes with their resumes giving qualified applicants better odds for their resume to be viewed. On the flip-side sending a resume via email or internet is time efficient, applicants send resumes to more job openings, increasing the range of jobs openings they are applying. There is a bit of a push & pull with both eras but we live in current times, so please take the time to review this section to have a clear understanding of how to increase your odds of your resume being viewed.

One thing many people are not aware of today, with internet and email, if you don’t send out or post your resume in the correct distribution format it can greatly decrease your odds of your resume getting reviewed by the companies you are applying.

Whenever we would post a job online we would always request for the resume to be emailed to us as an attachment in PDF format, we can’t tell you how many times we would receive it in Mac, Word Perfect, MS Works, Claris Works or some other format. You need to understand that many systems don’t have the ability of opening attachments in all formats. In our experience there were about 10% of resumes received that the company’s systems could not open without taking the time to convert the attachments. To be honest hiring managers don’t take the time to convert any of these resumes and just delete them, especially in our current job market where hiring managers are flooded with resumes from those who followed initial instructions.


Always supply the resume in the format and method of how the company is requesting. With many larger companies, your resumes are reviewed by an ATS (Applicant Tracking System) before any human eyes view them. In these cases when you don’t follow the instructions of how to send your resume it’s highly likely your resume won’t even be seen by a human. Even if a recipient can open your resume and it was not sent in the exact word processing software version as the recipient is using, formatting may be compromised. Margins, bullet points, indents, etc. might be changed giving your resume bad formatting, which can give the impression you’re not detailed in your document presentation. For example opening a resume in a different version of MS Word can change some format aspects.

Note: If you chose Career Thinker to write your resume we will deliver your resume in all needed formats – MS Word (Traditional), PDF and ASCII (Plain Text)
It is recommended that you save a copy of your resume in each of these formats for each version.

Types of Distribution Formats

The Presentation/Formatted Resume or Traditional

This is normally the method you write the resume in, most commonly Microsoft Word and this format is normally the one you see in printed form. This is the format where you would create your resume with the most eye-appeal for the human reader to draw the reader’s attention to key areas of your resume. Microsoft Word is considered the standard in business but this has started to change as more companies use Apple platform or tablets. If you send your resume as an attachment in Word or any other word processing format that wasn’t requested by the job posting you are leaving yourself open to possible issues of the resume not being read. The recipient of your email attachment needs to have the same word processing software (also same version) to be able to view it in the format you used. Many companies have security concerns and might not accept attachments outside their company’s formats, like Microsoft Word or Word Perfect since these formats are vulnerable to viruses. If a company asks you to send your resume as an attachment and they don’t specify in which format, we recommend sending it in PDF.

The PDF Format

Portable Document Format (PDF) is an open standard for document exchange, a format created by Adobe Systems in 1993. PDF is used for representing documents in a manner independent of application software, hardware and operating systems. This means recipients of your emails don’t need to have your particular version of word processing software. PDF is accessible on PCs, Macs, Tablets and most smart phones, and they are virtually virus proof. There is one negative with sending your resume in PDF, it can’t be sent directly from email into a keyword-scannable database, unless it is physically scanned into the database. Most companies who are using a scannable database will have you paste your resume on their website or in the body of an email which should be in ASCII or Plain Text Format which we discuss in the next paragraph. They may also request that you send your resume as an attachment in ASCII or Plain Text Format. If you are given a choice to send your resume in MS Word or PDF always opt for PDF.

ASCII or Plain Text Resume

ASCII resume also referred as Plain Text resume, ASCII stands for American Standard Code for information interchange. This is a simple text format that allows your resume to be readable on practically any computer system and platform. An ASCII resume received in email can be entered directly into an applicant tracking system or scannable data base. There are millions of people and thousands of companies exchanging resume information on the internet, within this complex network of many different computer platforms and word processing applications many companies are requiring a ASCII resume on their sites.

ASCII resumes are needed when you are instructed to “Paste” your resume into an online form for the job you are applying. Some sites will give you the option to paste or upload your resume in word or PDF, if you are pasting it needs to be in Plain Text. It’s also needed in Plain Text when you are posting your resume on general job search sites and posting in online resume databanks. You need to always have an up-to-date ASCII (plain Text) resume saved on your computer.

Since ASCII resumes are in Plain Text they lose most of the fancy formatting that we carefully layout when it was written in the word processing application, this is by design so all systems can read your resume.

Steps To Convert MS Word to ASCII (Plain Text)

  1. Open your MS Word resume
  2. Re-Save the resume but please use Safe As option
  3. Chose a file name for this resume “MyResumeText”
  4. Change the File Type to Plain Text so this file will be saved with a “txt” extension converting it a plain text document.
  5. Click Save to perform the conversion.
  6. Click OK without changing any of the settings

Now you have saved a copy of your resume Plain Text Format, open the file you just saved “MyResumeText” with the (txt) file extension.
What you are now looking at is your resume in Plain Text stripped of any fancy word processing formatting and you will need to clean this version up a bit.

  • Delete any page number references
  • There is no bold type, underline or italic in plain text so you might want to use all CAPS for words that you might have used special formatting.
  • When you converted bullet points might have been converted to Asterisks (*) which is fine and can be left in that format or you can replace bullet points with other standard keyboard symbols
    • Dashes (-)
    • Plus Signs (+)
    • Asterisks (*) or Double Asterisk (**)
    • Greater than sign (>)
    • Dash and Greater sign (->)
  • Left Justify all text
  • Highlight all text and convert the font to a non-proportional font such as Courier
  • Change font size to 12 for all text In page set up change margins – Left 1.0 Right 1.75 (using this font size and margins will limit each line to 65 characters including spaces)
  • Quotes need to be changed from Straight Quotes to Smart Quotes
  • In Plain Text, tabs don’t work so you might have to clean up tabs used in MS word by using the space bar
  • Check dates and other alignment and clean them up
  • Proofread your new ASCII resume carefully as some of the text and lines might have  jumbled around in the conversion
  • Save these changes

We recommend pasting this Plain Text in an email and also as an attachment, then email it to yourself or someone to confirm the results.