I currently use a word processor to store my resume in a specific format and I can produce a PDF when necessary. Lately, I've been wondering if storing my resume this way is a good idea.

I was thinking of storing it in a plain text file, if I were to send it in plain text (.txt), can it be unprofessional and take me out of consideration for a job? Is it expected I use Word or PDF files?

Edit based on comments:

This question is hugely confusing because people are confusing two separate issues. (A) minimalist, simple text only resume versus "complicated" design. (B) using the file format PDF versus TXT - Fattie

As of right now, my resume is stored as a PDF, but it isn't complex, it could just as easily be in .txt.

I'm looking for any reason why .txt would be unprofessional.

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    What program changes or abandons formats that often that it's an issue?! Word and LaTeX certainly don't, are you using something else? Personally I just have a Word based CV and usually export to PDF when necessary. I've never had an issue with the Word format changing so significantly it makes the file unreadable, and that's been over many years. – berry120 Dec 3 at 15:39
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    @BasementJoe Regarding file format obsolescence, LibreOffice by default uses the OpenDocument suite of file formats. That's an ISO standard; specifically ISO/IEC 26300. That's not likely to disappear in a hurry. – a CVn Dec 3 at 18:15
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    I don't think we need to argue about why OP wants to do it. They're asking if it's unprofessional. – PascLeRasc Dec 3 at 22:18
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    Is it likely that your interviewer is reading their email in pine? Would the job ever involve a man page? – user95289 Dec 4 at 6:37
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    This question is hugely confusing because people are confusing two separate issues. (A) minimalist, simple text only resume versus "complicated" design. (B) using the file format PDF versus TXT. – Fattie Dec 4 at 8:09

15 Answers 15

up vote 160 down vote accepted

Resumes are sales tools. Look at other sales tools you're familiar with. Imagine you're at a conference, and a salesperson at a booth hands you a business card. You'd expect some level of formatting, in order to help convey a level of professionalism at least, if not some overall brand message for their company.

What would you think of the salesperson if they gave you a business card that just had plain unformatted text plopped on it?

Now, unless you're applying for jobs doing page layout, no one is going to be highly critical of your resume's formatting and layout. But, there is a level of expectation among recruiters and hiring managers, that you've put thought and effort into how you present yourself during the hiring process. This is important because it's taken as a sign of the thought and effort you'll put into doing your job, should they hire you. Hence, it's worth presenting at least a minimally-formatted resume.

If you're worried about continuity, it's easy to choose a word processor with a history of stability and backwards compatibility (ie MS Word). Worst case, you end up having to re-build your resume from a pdf or - gasp - a printed copy.

All that said, there may be some merit in keeping a plain text version of your resume, as well. Many job applications require you to enter details of past jobs into an online web job application, and cutting/pasting from a word processor sometimes results in relics that are painful to edit back out (ie a bullet list may collapse and look messy). Having a plain text version can make that easier.

Which brings up a good point - it's best to not think of your resume as a single (static) document, but rather as a collection of information that you need to present with slight tweaks for different audiences. For instance, I have a "baseline" resume with all of my employers/positions/projects with detailed notes on each. It's probably about 5 or 6 pages long. When applying for a job, I run through it and remove content that's not relevant (a process that might take 10 minutes), allowing me to create a document that's focused on the specific opportunity I'm going after. The end result is a typically-long resume that's focused on a specific position.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Jane S Dec 4 at 23:54
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    "a history of stability and backwards compatibility (ie MS Word)", funny anybody thinks this. You can hit many kind of compatibility issues with word where file format is not a proper standard you can rely on – akostadinov Dec 5 at 10:57
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    Plus, Word is abominably bad at rendering text, especially (but not limited to) block-justified text. I know most people today don't "see" it as they have grown up with "word processor" and "browser" output and cannot make out the difference between that and e.g. LaTeX-generated PDF. Believe me, it can make one hell of a difference, presentation-wise. And LaTeX {moderncv} adds some nice layouting right out-of-the-box at no additional cost -- plus, the source is plain-text, i.e. always recoverable no matter what. – DevSolar Dec 6 at 8:53
  • Last paragraph is especially important and to be noted here. – Leon Dec 6 at 13:15

I love when people say it's "unprofessional" and suggest using things like markup. I would assume the person making these suggestions has never been a hiring manager.

I will assume you aren't a designer, but for most other my answer will apply.

When you apply to a role, the following tends to happen

You will spend a good bit of time customizing the resume to the role.

  1. You upload your resume into an ATS (Application Tracking System)
  2. This scans the resume for keywords, details etc and populates the application form
  3. If this isn't parsed correctly, you will be rejected
  4. The details go (likely initially in an email) to the HR rep, who is prompted to look at it in the ATS (but will often not, which is why the status will zombie to you in the ATS). This will usually be stripped of fancy formatting by the ATS.
  5. If you pass the ATS and the look by HR, the details will be passed to the hiring manager, often by cutting and pasting into an email with a bunch of other applicants.

Alternately the resume is first passed to a recruiter who reformats the resume into a standard format they use.

Now you see the issue, your info gets parsed and munged and copied and pasted. Lots of fancy nice formatting will look great, but will often be impossible to parse, and be lost by the time the person who will hire you will look at it.

So what to do? A text version is perfectly acceptable, as it will be parsed correctly, is easily copy-able into the communique to the hiring manager.

What I do - I use Word rather than straight text, but I analyse the formatting and always export the file to txt to ensure it still looks right.

So use text, keep it clean, don't use = or _ to try an recreate lines etc, just make it simple and clear, and watch as the Tex formatting junkies can't understand why their resume sits in an ATS portal until they get a rejection when the job is filled and closed out.

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    Automated resume screening is the work of the devil. It de-humanizes the whole job application process ... – Time4Tea Dec 3 at 20:35
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    This answer is written as if there were some universal way that these things always worked, but that isn't true, or not with this level of extreme specificity. I'm involved in hiring with a large organization (a community college district with a few thousand employees), and most of what you're depicting is not actually what we do. In particular, we end up seeing a bitmapped image of the person's resume and job letter, not a parsed version that's been translated into plain text. – Ben Crowell Dec 3 at 22:54
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    Taleo by default doesn't auto-reject anything or have any particularly quirky keyword searching. Taleo is in a lot of places, but it sounds like the HR department you're using as a reference here is somewhere on the continuum between "dickish to the detriment of the company" and "understaffed to the detriment of the company" and "completely untrained in the proper use of Taleo to the detriment of the company." There's a company I used to work for that would auto-reject candidates below a certain threshold because they had a candidate:opening ratio of ~3000:1, but that's not normal. – Alex H. Dec 4 at 1:07
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    I work for a huge multi-national (though UK-centric) tech company which uses a popular ATS but we don't do any auto CV parsing. I've also always had the original CV sent through to me - I wouldn't accept anything less. So, I suspect this answer is heavily skewed towards a particular sector or country, or just the poster's personal experience. I'm just trying to say YMMV. – stripybadger Dec 4 at 10:24
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    I've never been a hiring manager, but I have sat with several as they go through applications. Most (including people at Google) print out the entire resume as-uploaded to shift through in meat-space. Saying every company (or even every large company) butchers resumes like this is inaccurate and misleading. – GreySage Dec 4 at 18:04

Not only is plaintext a wonderful idea, you might even consider structured data. My resume ended up very sharp looking formatted as valid yaml. Imports very nicely into job application forms as well.

That said, I specifically created my resume to visually offend those I would not want to work with and attract those that I would. If you want to be a more attractive candidate, giving them what is commonly expected (docx and pdf) will cause less friction in recruiting pipelines and gain you a wider audience.

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    That audience targeting is actually a good strategy if and only if you can get through the gatekeepers to the actual people you would be working with or for. For more expert roles and those found through connections vs. scraped off a site, that may well be the case enough of the time to make this viable. – Chris Stratton Dec 4 at 2:16
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    +1, because specifically aiming to appeal to your intended audience actually is a good idea. I'm a little put off by the tone of the previous comments, though. They seem to try to ridicule a valid, if a little niche-y, approach. – Alexander Kosubek Dec 5 at 16:16
  • I would never want to work with a recruiter (unfortunately I have to), yet about every single resume I get has to come through them unless it is a referral. – Eleshar Dec 5 at 21:10
  • @ChrisStratton I believe silver is probably targetting companies where there are no such gatekeepers. – Chan-Ho Suh Dec 8 at 16:59

One option you might consider is using Markdown-formatted text files as your base. Markdown offers enough formatting tools for the job, and you can use convertors such as Pandoc at any moment to convert the file into PDF, MS Word, ODS, or another of many supported formats as desired, before sending it out.

Having a text version of the CV/resume is a good idea. I don't use it to send to somebody but I do use it as part of the application process.

I have on some sites run into the situation where I have to copy the parts of the resume into their interface. Having a text version ready to go can help make that process quicker, and makes sure that the information still is readable when it has been cut and pasted into the text box.

I have found that doing this conversion on the whole resume makes it easier to make sure that I don't forget to account for some formatting that I might overlook if I am doing the conversion one paragraph at a time.

Presentation is the second most important thing to get right in your CV next to the actual content.

While there are CV templates that take the whole presentation thing too far, sending your CV as a text file is going much too far in the other direction. Even if you all you want is a clean and clear document, a text file won't provide the options to set things like spacing or columns that actually enhance readability (which is presumably your end-goal with your no-frills CV).

There are no options to emphasise the important parts of your CV. Even bold text formatting or subtle colour changes that catch the eye but aren't distracting cannot be done in .txt files.

What you will be left with is a long, boring-to-read list of things that you want to sell yourself with. Your CV is supposed to be your sales pitch, your advert. What a .txt file will say to me is that you might be talented but you clearly couldn't give many ****s about this job.

Make your CV in a word processor, then export as a PDF to send to companies

PDFs have a few distinct advantages over just about every other format going:

  1. They are supported by just about every word processor out there. Word, LibreOffice, hell even LaTeX will all make PDFs without much issue

  2. They are supported by just about every modern system going in terms of reading them. PDF support is integrated into all modern browsers, and almost all modern OSes have some inbuilt ability to read them perfectly. Which brings me to my next point

  3. The document you see on your screen will be exactly what they see. This may not seem obvious but it can be a problem for documents sent in DOC/DOCX formats. Formatting discrepancies can happen with different versions of Microsoft Office but is especially prevalent with word processors that aren't Microsoft Office. With PDFs, you can trust that the formatting will not be messed with.

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    "Presentation is the second most important thing to get right in your CV next to the actual content." That's almost a meaningless statement. What other things are there in a document besides its content and its presentation? – David Richerby Dec 4 at 18:29
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    Well, you've also got sending it to the right place in a (computer) format that can be read by them. The point is, presentation is a big deal. Maybe not as much as the content but if you have an exam paper with two questions, one worth 60 marks and one worth 40, you'd still be stupid to completely ignore the second one entirely. – 520 Dec 4 at 18:39
  • It might be clearer to say "Presentation is nearly as important as the actual content". – V2Blast Dec 6 at 4:46
  • @V2Blast Fair point. I'll keep that in mind for next time :) – 520 Dec 6 at 12:04

There are big risks associated with a pure text resume sent as just text (a .txt file): there are no standards for it, you have no idea what it will look like. Among the things which may change from one computer or user to the next:

  • Line-ending conventions: CR+LF in the Windows world, LF in the Unix & macOS world.

  • Word-wrapping. Some editors/viewers will word-wrap, others won't.

  • Charset/encodings: there are dozens of them, with all the ISO 8859-* and window-* variants, along with UTF-8, UTF16, and more. This is less of an issue in the english-speaking world (usually no accents), but there's always the odd character that isn't pure ASCII.

  • Fonts: mono-spaced vs proportional fonts may break any kind of formatting you may try to add.

  • Tabs. No comment needed.

Beyond that, a pure text resume prevents you from doing any kind of formatting. You don't necessarily want fancy formatting, but I feel that a little bit of formatting helps make things clearer. Even something as simple as bullet points (as above), or bold text helps a lot for readability. Or indentation, which as shown above, can be quite an issue with pure text.

  • All of these reasons are reasons not to send any source format for the document (whether plain text or ms word or whatever), but rather a presentation/publishing form (i.e. pdf). If you do that, most of your objections to text as the source go away. – R.. Dec 4 at 23:28
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    In the first part, I'm indeed talking explicitly about .txt files rather than "pure text" sent as a PDF. But that was the OP's question. – jcaron Dec 5 at 8:09

Here's a "ridiculous" (over the top, complex, over-designed) resume:

enter image description here

(I believe that is what the OP, correctly, does not approve of.)

Here's what mine looks like:

enter image description here

However in both cases, to send the file, just use PDF.

It's really that simple.

Don't try to be tricky and send a .txt file to indicate that you are minimalist.

Simply save the completely plain text file as PDF and send.

Please note that this (excellent) QA is confusing two unrelated issues.

  1. the "design" - whether to have minimalism (one typeface only, zero bold, zero headings, zero colored flowers) versus "fancy design"

  2. whether to send that as a .pdf or a .txt file

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    I upvoted but I believe your "over-the-top" résumé sample is actually not that bad (it's just a sort of big wordart on the right which makes it fancy). I've seen much worse. – Pierre Arlaud Dec 4 at 9:20
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    @Fattie This one maybe? pjreddie.com/static/Redmon%20Resume.pdf Though the maker of that also knows what he's doing... – ShreevatsaR Dec 4 at 10:21
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    I don't think that "ridiculous" example looks particularly bad, personally. If you ignore the art to the right, it still actually looks like a résumé. The background might make photocopying slightly tricky, but that would be about the only impediment. Depending on the job you're applying for, the artwork might be neutral or positive, but I don't think it's likely to be detrimental. – a CVn Dec 4 at 10:42
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    @ShreevatsaR Dear god... I've never seen anything like it -- And hope to never see anything like it again. – psaxton Dec 4 at 20:36
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    +1 for the point of "send as pdf", but you've omitted part of the reason. It's unprofessional to send a document in a format for editing (whether .txt or .doc) when a format for publication/read-only use is appropriate. It shows that you don't know or don't care for the difference. – R.. Dec 4 at 23:24

The long and short of Resumes is that readability is every bit as vital as the words themselves.

The goal of a Resume is to provide all relevant information about your skills, knowledge and experience in one easily digestible package.

Plain text might be technically efficient, but without use of formatting to emphasise the parts that matter it will struggle to compete against other applicants that put more effort in.

A plain-text Resume might as well be hand-written.

So yes. It's unprofessional and the only way it'll work is if you're so impressively qualified that it doesn't matter, or there are no other applicants and the company is desperate.

Just to be clear, Formatted does not have to mean fancy graphics or a lunch-menu style of listed information.
It certainly doesn't require you to be a graphic designer.

Recruiters that need plain text typically extract the text and remove all the formatting before feeding it through their system, but they still send the original file to the actual employers. You don't need to impress recruiters.

Done right, your formatting will draw the employer's eye to the parts of your text that they need to read.
Use of headers, bold-text for keywords, bullet-pointed lists and dividing lines here and there will make otherwise plain text very readable with little effort.

This Answer is itself a brief example of exactly this technique in action, albeit it doesn't lend itself quite so well to this context.

There is no decent reason I can see to leave it plain-text if you actually want a job.

No, a resume stored in a text format is not unprofessional; actually, it's the most professional way of handling your resume because you can use a version control system such as Git. It's easy to create different branches to be handed for different companies, and then merge some of the branches back to the master branch. The version control also can act as an effective backup of this very important file. Version control systems such as Git can push the data to a number of remotes.

Word, on the other hand, has very rudimentary version control system with no branching and merging.

Theoretically, you could version control a binary Word file with ordinary version control systems, but in practice you can't.

However, you shouldn't hand out the resume stored in a text format (and also, you shouldn't hand out the resume as a Word .doc/.docx file). You should hand it out as a PDF. That's where tools such as LaTeX come in. They can turn a text-only source code into a beautifully formatted PDF.

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    If you're gonna go with this approach I would heavily recommend using Pandoc. Great little utility for converting documents to different formats. – 520 Dec 4 at 18:15
  • You can store your Word doc in Git also. If you want to do a diff between them (which I usually don't because I only store the master document with the long descriptions) use save it in doc format instead of docx (docx is compressed so text comparison is worthless). – J. Chris Compton Dec 4 at 18:41
  • @J.ChrisCompton: While you can store binary blobs in git, doing so is considerably less useful because there history doesn't compress as diffs and there's no easy way to view changes as part of the revision history. – R.. Dec 4 at 23:26
  • @R.. I was addressing "in practice you can't". The .doc extension can be compared with Beyond Compare and other tools. It will be a little out of order, but the text differences are readable. You're correct about Word .docx which I excluded in my answer (yes, you can change the extension to .zip and unzip it - but that's too messy). I wouldn't normally store the final form of my resume in a version control system - just the overly long text descriptions that I use to customize my resumes per job. I store each finished resume that I send to a company docx - but that's me (-: – J. Chris Compton Dec 5 at 18:51
  • This is sooo amateurish... You create an XML with your entire professional relevant info, and then with an XSLT you create the versions that you send to the different business. Seriously now, the issue here is the lower graphic quality of any text-only document, not how to create versions of it. A resumé must be brief, and it is not that complicated to keep a master resume and customize it as needed, or even to keep a couple of versions tailored to specific niches. You are giving the correct answer to the wrong question. – SJuan76 Dec 6 at 15:20

You need to sell yourself, but mind that not all customers like the same way of presenting things.

Plain text resume may be good for technical people who often work with plain text and do not like decorations that distract attention. Some of these may even work under Linux, Mac or otherwise may be unable to view your application in MS Word format or anything the like.

One problem with using an uncommon format is that it shows unwillingness to adapt your choice of tools to industry standards, however good or bad they are. This can make some bosses uneasy, especially if they are looking for someone to put into a customer-facing role: They have to expect a person like that to act condescending, arrogant or inflexible towards a customer about THEIR choice of tools.

Leaving that kind of impression is only good where it is good, and very bad in all other cases.

It's always been said you tailor your resume to the job for which you're applying, and that includes the formatting. Some employers ask for Word, some ask for PDF, some ask for some other format. Some insist on electronic, some insist on paper.

The only thing 'unprofessional' is if you ignore what the prospective employer asks for in submitting a text file as your resume. Other than that, go for it.

No, in many places its the preferred form. I provide my resume in Word upon request, but my default is .txt, as its universal. Unless you're a graphics designer I don't want a colored, flashy, highly visualized resume- I'm just going to be scanning it anyway. In general if you feel you need to impress me with anything other than your skills/experience, it means those are lacking.

  • Unless you're a graphics designer I don't want a colored, flashy, highly visualized resume- I'm just going to be scanning it anyway. In general if you feel you need to impress me with anything other than your skills/experience, it means those are lacking. - Well said, this is exactly what I think every time someone suggests a fancy template. – user95261 Dec 3 at 21:31
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    There's a huge gap between a "coloured, flashy, highly visualised resume" and a neatly presented and well structured resume which requires at least a little bit of formatting. And a .txt file is far from universal. CR+LF vs LF, automatic word wrapping or not, monospaced vs proportional fonts, size of tabs, charset/encoding issues make it a very risky proposition. – jcaron Dec 4 at 14:16
  • @jcaron No, there really isn't. When I'm reading them, I don't want any distractions. Just plain text is fine. In fact its what the majority of tech recruiters ask for. All the issues you asked for don't matter- I'm going to read it in the system default font, it will look fine for plain text files because I read them all day. And size of tabs doesn't matter, just use them consistently. – Gabe Sechan Dec 4 at 14:18

Text is perfectly acceptable, if not terribly secure. It needs to be clean.
There is a reason we use text for an RFC.

Unless they ask for a specific format, UUENCODEd Multimate or such, text will set you apart from the candidates submitting a drinks menu.

If you want to go all the way, find a typewriter with a Centronics port.

Otherwise draft it in text and pay someone else to typeset it.

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    Why would a resume need to be "secure"!? – BittermanAndy Dec 4 at 9:41
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    @BittermanAndy: Dishonest headhunters – Ben Voigt Dec 4 at 20:13
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    @mckenzm most of your references will go over the heads of readers. UUENCODEd Multimate is... niche on a good day. Typewriters with centronics ports are straight up obscure in 2018. Please try to clarify what you mean. – Jules Dec 5 at 0:24
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    Typewriters... printing... no proportional fonts... is this answer from 1992? And let's just remember this is for a resume. Which you want prospective employers to read. – BittermanAndy Dec 5 at 9:53
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    @mckenzm good StackExchange answers are self-contained, especially when referencing archaic, rare, or otherwise obscure technologies; otherwise almost every answer would be "go read wikipedia." – Jules Dec 5 at 21:08

protected by Jane S Dec 4 at 21:48

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